Pop culture has created many different variations on the vampire story. Television (True Blood, Vampire Diaries, etc.), films (from Nosferatu to the Twilight series), and music (Smashing Pumpkins, Vampire Weekend)—these are just the tip of the vampire iceberg in our pop culture lives.
The vampire monster has been through many changes. From villain to anti-hero to hero, we’ve seen it all. Should we fear him, have compassion on him, wish for him to save you? Whatever your favorite flavor of the blood sucker, this post will be limited to Bram Stoker’s version in his novel, Dracula. Though not the first written vampire story, it has singularly had the most impact on the genre. Sorry, Stephenie Meyer (j/k, j/k, Twilight fans are welcome here, too).
Well, what has the vamp to do with Christianity? Quite a lot, actually. I was very surprised when I finally read Dracula in my twenties. To me, it was a <gasp> better Pilgrim’s Progress. It tells the story of what it means to fight for life in a world of unknown darkness.
The unknown darkness is Count Dracula from Transylvania. He is set as an anti-Christ, and that’s why he’s so scary. Let’s see how Stoker sets him in opposition to Jesus Christ.
The light is a big theme in this novel, and (no surprise here) it’s a big metaphor. Dracula lives in darkness, he’s weak or can die in the light. The darker the better. The metaphor that John uses for Jesus is “light of the world” (Jn 8:12, 9:5, 11:9). Darkness hides things, the light discovers them, darkness prevents life, light gives it.
Dracula is a shapeshifter. He can turn into other animals: bat, dog, wolf and doesn’t need to eat or drink anything except his victims’ blood. These aspects are a removal of humanity’s physicality. What’s more basic to all humans than to eat and drink and our human appearance? Jesus, though He’s God, came into a human form, and will always be that way. He eats, drinks, is physically human. And after His resurrection, He is a perfected form of humanity—something we all desire to be—and He still eats and drinks and is physically human.
Like Jesus, Count Drac can control nature. But as the anti-Christ figure, he controls nature toward chaos represented by fogs and storms. Jesus found Himself in a storm while on a boat in Matthew 4. He “rebuked” the wind, and he spoke that nature be still. Jesus controls nature toward order.
Dracula celebrates the anti-Eucharist. He steals vitality from others by drinking their blood, literally sucking their life away. Christ offers his own blood, that all may receive life. That’s what each Lord’s Supper is, an offering of life that we may receive it. Unlike Dracula who must hunt and kill for his followers, Christ was hunted and killed by the ones He came to save. In this act of divine submission, Christ shares His life with all who desire it.
Unlike Dracula who sleeps in his own coffin and every night, over and over must go back to his grave, Christ was in the grave and will never go back. Christ saw the grave once, then ended its power, not just for Himself (which He didn’t even need to do), but as a selfless sacrifice for many people (again, which He didn’t need to do).
Dracula’s actions create death for the living, Christ’s action brings life to the dying. The Count is painted as irredeemable, the only way to end the undead reign is to cut off his head and stab his heart. Separate the head from the heart. Jesus is the one who brings redemption, who recreates our heads and hearts and reconnects them so that we may flourish.
Maybe the real horror in Stoker’s Dracula is the idea of the irredeemable. There is no way to “heal” the Count except kill him. Was he a man once? If so, what is it like to have no other hope outside this world? And what does it mean for us, who live in a world with this kind of irredeemable horror present? These are the questions that plague us in our dark places. They propel us into work or our family or relational connections, trying to squeeze out any kind of meaning to be found in a world of horror that we don’t understand.
Dracula is scary because we believe it to be true. The horrors on the screen are the projected horrors in our hearts. We need a Van Helsing, someone who will save us from this horrible truth.
Read other posts in the Theology of Horror series.
Brilliant. I love it. I’ve often thought about why there has been a renaissance of the monster genre in the last few years – especially zombies. I think there is definitely a spiritual element to it. Can’t wait to read your whole series.