May You Live In Interesting Times
You may not like vampires in your fiction because of the blood sucking and the biting…and well, you may just simply be sick of them. They’re everywhere in romance these days, and they’re endlessly sexy and often omnipotent.
But I continue to write about them because of their longevity. It’s not quite immortality because they can be destroyed in a small handful of unpleasant ways, and immortality by definition implies life unending. But vampires, like a tiny number of other mythical and fantasy species, get to live very, very long lives, which means they pass through history and observe it changing.
That’s the fascinating part. A vampire that is one thousand years old was around to see the Normans tearing up England and tossing the Anglo-Saxons around. How cool is that?
Or depending on where they were sitting at the time, they could have watched the fall of Constantinople a few hundred years later. Wow.
If you’re interested in history at all, think of all the significant events you’ve read about that have stirred your interest. You don’t have to go all that far back, either. The landing on the moon in 1969: Would you like to have been an adult, or even around for that?
Personally, I would have loved to have visited Hollywood during the golden age of movies in the 1930s and 1940s, just before the war broke out. And that’s just one of a long list of events and eras and locations on my list of time travel stops.
There’s just a wee catch.
No one gets to just visit anything. Even if vampires have been around for thousands of years, passing as humans through the centuries, none of them would have got to just watch history pass them by. They would have had to participate in each event as it happened, right alongside the humans they were living among. Every war that came along would be their war. Every famine, every tsunami, drought, disease, disaster, recession, revolution, evolution, changing currency, change of weather, change of outlook, change of language, change of seasons, tides, continental shift…it would all affect them just as much as their neighbours.
They would have fought, lived, and pretended to die. And they would have mourned the passing of the humans they lived with…and loved.
We as humans live these days for eighty to one hundred years (it’s extending with each succeeding generation). We consider ourselves most fortunate to live a good, long life free of wars, strife and disease, to be surrounded by family and loved ones, and die peacefully in our own beds, with our families around us. That recipe holds none of the “interesting” events I’ve just listed.
No one wants to live through “interesting” events. I have personally lived through a civil war. Twenty three years later, I still sometimes dream about wild rides in jeeps, while machine guns fire from the jungle. Even if it sounds romantic, the reality is very different. No one likes interesting times, which is why “May you live in interesting times” is considered a curse, not a blessing.
Vampires, because they live for so long, are beating the odds. Sooner or later they’re going to hit interesting times. The longer they live, and the more they move around (which is often, in order to avoid detection as a vampire), the more frequently they’re going to get caught up in “interesting” historical events and have to call on all their hard-won survival skills to live through them.
After a few centuries of surviving interesting times, a vampire has to get mighty tired of it all. Live for long enough – a millennium or two – and a vampire would be in danger of developing severe psychoses. Except, vampires don’t change – it’s a factor of their longevity. If they can’t change and therefore their brains don’t change, it should be impossible for vampires to develop mental illnesses at all. They can, however, choose to change their behaviour.
After a millennium or two of constantly adapting to changes in human society and surviving “interesting” events, it’s reasonable to assume that some vampires would chose to opt out. Suicide is next to impossible for vampires without concerted effort and help from others (although in some fictional universes it is as simple as stepping out into the sun, but the resistance to ending a long life is high).
Another way of opting out of human society is to completely withdraw. For well-monied vampires (compound interest does, well, “interesting” things over several decades), buying up an island or mountain retreat far from the madding crowd, and cutting off nearly all contact from the real world is completely possible. A vampire could recreate his own original environment that he remembers from his youth, or an ideal moment in time, and live as he or she prefers, almost without interference.
Live long enough alone in these rarefied fishbowls, and it’s possible that the vampires within would develop quite unique and bizarre behaviours and ways of thinking. They would be disconnected from society and could have real problems interacting with the world when they really need to. They would need help – an interpreter – when from time to time they needed to reach out.
This is the theory and structure I built to explain The Unspoken Ones, the ancient, hidden and aberrantly petulant vampires that bring Nial’s plans to a grinding halt in Blood Stone simply because they have objections to their private lives being ruffled.