It’s perfectly normal to love monsters these days. Millions of teenage (and not so teenage) girls have spent the last few years swooning over a particular poufy haired vampire, or his muscular nemesis werewolf. Before those vampires and werewolves Buffy had her Angel, Willow had her Oz. The explosion of the paranormal pop culture genre over the last few years has vampires, werewolves, succubi, incubi, and even zombies (yes, there is such a thing as Zombie Romance eeww!) turning on the charm and being characterised as all together human. This trend has turned the monster on its head, removed the fear and made us all sympathise with these not so devilish devils.
I want to look at two “Sympathy for the Devil” (thank you Mick Jagger) novels. Glen Duncan’s recent werewolf book The Last Werewolf, and the novel that arguably started it all, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.
Both of these books are first person narratives told from the perspective of their monstrous protagonists, the werewolf Jake Marlowe and the vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac. Jake with his diary and Louis with his interview reveal their inner worlds and show us the sympathetic men inside their monstrous forms. When Anne Rice did it, it was revolutionary. By the time Glen Duncan got around to doing it thirty five years later, the whole Sympathy for the Devil (or werewolf) routine has become very common.
Sympathy for The Vampire – Interview With the Vampire
The figure of the vampire in literature and folklore was for centuries one of terror and loathing. In 1897 Bram Stoker’s famous Count Dracula set the fear inspiring vampire character firmly into the popular consciousness as the ultimate antagonist of Gothic fiction, a type that was to be played out time and time again in countless novels, films and television programs. Vampire were evil, demonic creatures of pure malevolence. Vampire stories were human stories, a struggle against good and evil, with evil always losing. We were happy about that. Good should win.
In 1976 Anne Rice published Interview With the Vampire, a novel that sets a challenge against formerly established perceptions of these undead figures. This challenge was the vampire Louis who struggles desperately to retain his human soul despite his vampirism. It seems clear. We like Louis. We hate Lestat, Louis’ ruthless vampire sire. Louis drinks blood as does Lestat, but where Lestat enjoys the hunt and relishes the kill Louis drinks blood only to survive. Louis is indeed responsible for some fairly monstrous things, siring the child vampire, Claudia for one. The important thing is, however that he is tortured by it, agonises for centuries and despises the evil of his vampire nature.
“You are in love with your mortal nature! You chase the phantom of your former self. Freniere, his sister…these are images of what you were and what you still long to be. And in your Romance with mortal life, you’re dead to your vampire nature!” ~ Lestat to Louis
It is this mortal nature, the attachment to his humanity and his refusal of his vampire nature that lets us sympathise with Louis despite his monstrousness. His humanity is defined by his love for his family, his guilt for his brother’s death. In his vampire life, Louis finds a new family in Lestat and Claudia and even though he claims to detest Lestat, he stays with him for decades. Perhaps Louis fears what Lestat might do to him if he were to leave, though it seems more so at times to be Louis’ unquenchable thirst for companionship, a very human feature that holds him to Lestat.
Vampirism also let Louis experience the world like he had never before been able to. When he is turned, his experience of everything is heightened – colour, sensation, beauty and life itself.
“I never knew what life was until it ran out in a red gush over my lips, my hands.” Louis
Ironically, in being a vampire Louis has become more human than he was in his mortal life as it is in this state he has realised exactly what defines humanness.
Louis is a human vampire trapped in a world of other vampires completely removed from their humanity. Lestat, Armand, Santiago, the other European vampires, and to a lesser extent, Claudia – we’re given few, if any opportunities to sympathise with these vampires. In the end of the book, the decrepit and withered Lestat evokes a type of sympathy, a more of a pitying of his pathetic fall from power. I suppose to Lestat’s devotion to Louis could be regarded as human. Lestat is in no way a one dimensional character of pure evil, but through Louis’ account we’re only allowed to see him for the majority as the malevolent opposite to Louis’ humanness. What about Claudia? . Claudia is in between the polar personalities of Louis and Lestat. Although Claudia possesses Louis’ sensitivity, she is also a fierce and ruthless killer like Lestat. But despite her likeness to Lestat, the reader is allowed by Louis in his narration to pity and sympathize with Claudia’s extremely tragic situation as a woman condemned to remain in the body of a child forever. This sympathy is felt for her despite the fact she is another devil figure within the novel, but it’s not the same humanising sympathy we feel for Louis. Claudia was born a vampire child, she barely remembers what it is to be human if at all.
Sympathy for the Werewolf – The Last Werewolf
Jake Marlow is a different type of beast to Louis, not just in the type of supernatural creature he is. Marlowe is the last werewolf alive, waiting for the WOCOP (The World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena) to come and cut off his head. Bored and tired of life, he plans to go quietly.
Like Louis, Jake is a tortured creature. Most of this comes from eating his wife during his first werewolf transformation, later discovering by way of her diary that he had also eaten their unborn baby.
While Jake is haunted by this, a part of that torture lies in his wishing that she was a werewolf along with him. That he had transformed her, instead of killing her and that they would have shared the last hundred and sixty or so years together.
Jake’s humanity is loneliness. He never really laments that he is a werewolf. He just accepts it.
“I didn’t ask to become a werewolf, but once it happened I got used to it pretty quickly. You surprise yourself. You surprise yourself and then realise that even the surprise was a bit of a sham.” ~ Jake
Jake recovers his lust for life (lust in general he never really lost) when he meets the female werewolf, learns he is not alone afterall, finds out that there may be others, but more importantly he can do what he’s wanted to do every full moon for the last hundred plus years – have sex with a female werewolf.
Jake and Talulla, the She, fall in love and we’re given a whole new side of humanity to Jake. Granted, this new side to his humanity doesn’t exactly sit comfortably with the image of them having sex, muzzle deep in the viscera of their victim.
Tallulah does evokes our sympathies, and perhaps she is more so deserving than Jake as at least she feels remorse for her kills, and regrets the monster in her. But once Jake gives her a permission to be wild, when he helps her justify her monstrousness as natural, that remorse seems to fall away.
Jake and Tallulah are monsters, they don’t care and oddly, neither do we. These are just creatures doing what comes naturally to them. Jake and Tallulah are the true sympathetic devils.
The true monsters in The Last Werewolf are the humans and the vampires. The bad guy humans and vampires are looking to recreate the werewolf breed and set an army of new wolves out into the world. We have to assume that none of these new werewolves will have existential monologues like Jake or Tallulah, we have to assume they will be as mindless killers, otherwise the sympathy we need to feel for Jake as the hero trying to stop them won’t work.
Our sympathy for the devil Jake, is not the same as our sympathy for Louis. Louis shows us the dark side of the human as a thing of torment, where Jake’s dark side is just a thing inseparable. We deal with it as he does. If the Rolling Stones were signing about either of these devils, it was Jake. The saints are sinners, two sides to the same coin, the human and the devil are working together.
We live in age saturated with pop culture werewolves and vampires who we’re meant to love, and who are largely human. We are expected to sympathise with the monster. In a lot of paranormal pop culture this is made all the easier by making the monsters barely monstrous at all. Can we see Twilight’s werewolf Jacob knee deep in viscera and a relentless and overpowering sex drive like Jake Marlowe? Or Edward ripping out the throat of a priest, prostrate at the altar just to see if God would react, like Louis? I might have liked Twilight if that was the case.
In the wake of this trend I hope to look forward to a new breed of paranormal pop culture in the spirit of The Last Werewolf where the monsters are loved, sympathised with and endeared but still get to be monsters, blood, guts and all.
The Rolling Stones ‘Sympathy for the Devil’
by Kate Krake