by Charmaine Tanti
Image by Nico Grimm
They might be small and cute, but vampire children are also the most dangerous and disturbing of the undead. With their innocent and harmless appearance, and their voracious and uncontrolled appetites, they embody a fatal combination that often makes them more treacherous and more deadly than their adult counterparts.
Momma’s Little Girls
The development of the child vampire in literature harks back to the 1950s and is perhaps the most disturbing development of the genre, depicting childhood as dangerous and innocence as corrupted. Manly Wade Wellman’s ‘School for the Unspeakable’, in which a group of undead adolescent schoolboys haunt the premises of their former school, was among the first stories to introduce the notion of non-adult vampires. The boys of this story are horrific parodies of unruly school children, devil worshippers who, in life, drove their headmaster to insanity, provoking in him a murderous rage that resulted in their death at his hands. After death, these bad boys continue to lurk around the school, which is now closed, attempting to lure victims into their unholy ranks.
But the 1950s also embodied the horror of vampirism in much younger children, such as Kathy Renner in ‘The Antimacassar’ by Greye La Spina and the nameless child narrator in ‘Dress of White Silk’ by Richard Matheson. The ambivalent response that these undead children elicit suspends the reader between sympathy for their plight and their helplessness, and a horror of their nature. Matheson’s little girl, a seemingly normal child who loves wearing her deceased mother’s white dress, becomes suddenly terrifying when we realize that her mother was a vampire, that the red design on the dress is actually a blood stain where a stake had penetrated her heart, and that the little girl herself turns into a vampire after she attacks her friend Mary Jane for insulting her momma.
The most disquieting aspect in La Spina’s story, on the other hand, is not little Kathy’s vampirism, but her mother’s role in it. It is Mrs Renner’s extreme attachment to her daughter, and her obsessive love that have turned Kathy into a vampire. The child should have died, but her mother’s denial of the fact and her refusal to let her go transform the little girl into a body without a soul, forever hungry and forever dependent, a vampire that Mrs Renner feeds on her own blood and on the blood of unsuspecting strangers.
The high, sweet evil laugh of a child
The 1970s proved to be another significant decade for fanged tots, producing two of the most iconic vampire children in literature and, later, also in cinema – Stephen King’s Danny Glick in ‘salem’s Lot and Anne Rice’s Claudia in Interview with the Vampire.
With ‘Salem’s Lot, King rewrites Dracula while debunking the myth of the idyllic and wholesome small American town. The Lot and its inhabitants are steeped in evil long before Barlow sets foot in it, and when the vampire does arrive he finds the town fertile breeding ground for his plans of invasion. Danny Glick is one of the first victims to join the ranks of the undead, and features in some of the most unsettling episodes in the novel. By far the most iconic image of Danny is that of him hovering outside an upstairs window trying to get his school mate Mark Petrie to let him in, a sequence that was immortalized by Tobe Hooper in the 1979 film version of the novel, and recreated by Joel Schumacher in his 1987 film The Lost Boys.
With Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice marked a new phase in the vampire genre, rewriting and revitalizing the myth for future generations. Through Claudia, Rice tackles hitherto unexplored aspects of the problematics surrounding child vampires. She focuses on Claudia’s anguish and frustration as she grows into a woman trapped in a child’s body, and on her anger at the realization that Louis and Lestat have fashioned her into their own personal doll. Claudia embodies the female as a male construct and her creation is one of Lestat’s most selfish acts, which leaves her stunted and disempowered. Her attempt to kill Lestat stems from her rage at his dogged refusal to take her emotional and mental maturity seriously. Eventually, Claudia is burnt to ashes by the coven of vampires in Paris, but her presence continues to haunt the Vampire Chronicles to the very end, often as a projection of Louis’ guilt.
Pre-Teen Pop Idol
The 1980s produced a plethora of unforgettable vampire fiction among which is S.P. Somtow’s Vampire Junction whose protagonist, Timmy Valentine, is a two thousand-year-old vampire with the aspect of a 12-year-old boy. Timmy is a pre-teen pop star searching for the meaning of his existence in relation to humanity. He engages the services of a Jungian psychiatrist, and delves into the meaning of himself as an archetype, his place in the world, and the nature of evil, which inevitably has a human face. As happens in other stories of the undead, the vampire’s predations pale in comparison to the savagery and cruelty that human beings visit on each other. The real horrors in Vampire Junction have nothing to do with the vampire, and everything to do with human greed, power-lust, and perversion.
Best Friends Forever
In 2008, Eli, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s androgynous vampire waif in Let the Right One In, joined the pantheon of unforgettable child bloodsuckers. Linqvist’s novel, which inspired two film adaptations in one year – one Swedish and one American – is firmly rooted in the bleakness of a 1980s Swedish suburban town, while, at the same time, harking back to nineteenth-century vampire tropes. Before Dracula vampires were often intimate and dangerous friends to human beings. Let the Right One In is the story of the friendship between a 12-year-old boy – a social outcast who is neglected by his parents and bullied by his peers – and a vampire who is centuries old, the new kid on the block. The relationship between the two is depicted in quasi-poetic terms as Oskar and Eli learn to trust and look out for each other. Despite the violence committed by the vampire, it is human children, Oskar’s schoolmates, who are depicted as merciless and brutal in their unrelenting bullying. Adults, on the other hand, are alienated and totally out of touch with this world of childhood violence.
At the end of the novel, Eli decapitates Oskar’s oppressors, who are out to kill him, and the two run away together, with Oskar taking care of Eli during the daytime. Critics of the novel tended to interpret this as signifying that Eli had intended all along for Oskar to be a substitute for her former protector, who is now dead. Lindqvist put an end to such readings of the relationship between his two protagonists when he published a short story sequel to the novel, “Let the Old Dreams Die”. Here, we see the two, many years later, both still together and still of child-like aspect, thus implying that Oskar is now also a vampire and Eli’s equal.
Oh My! How Fast They Grow!
Finally, one cannot fail to mention Renesmee, the controversial daughter born of the equally controversial relationship between Bella Swan and Edward Cullen in the Twilight Saga.
Of all the vampire children mentioned above, Renesmee, a human-vampire hybrid, is apparently the least threatening, but her conception, her birth and her very existence are steeped in violence of one kind or another. Conceived during her parents’ honeymoon, which gave rise to critical concern over the implications of domestic abuse it portrayed, Renesmee’s birth is an extremely violent and bloody affair that effectively kills her mother, forcing Edward to turn Bella into a vampire. Then, her existence nearly provokes a war between the Cullens and their allies and the Volturi who consider vampire children uncontrollable and therefore a threat to the fanged community at large.
However, the most controversial aspect about Renesmee remains her relationship with Jacob Black. Despite Stephenie Meyer’s attempts to normalize the notion of imprinting, which is problematic even for adult characters, the implications of paedophilia in a romantic relationship between infants or children and an adult are still strong and unsettling, especially in today’s cultural climate.
It’s Halloween. Children knock on your doors, shouting ‘trick or treat’, looking cute and innocent in their little vampire or monster outfits, with painted pale faces and plastic fangs. But appearances deceive. If you open, don’t invite them in. If you do, make sure you only let the right ones in.
Charmaine Tanti just completed a PhD thesis about vampires in literature and film with the University of Malta, and is eagerly awaiting her graduation. She has recently expanded her horizons and is now researching werewolves and other shape-shifters. She has recently given a paper at the first werewolf conference in the UK at the University of Hertfordshire. If you’d like a glimpse of her, follow this link and look for the person in black with the huge red scarf.