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Peterborough

A thirst to understand our vampires

Lyceum presenter argues rise of vampire novels represents modern morality

  • Speaker Margot Adler speaks to a crowd at the Unitarian Church in Peterborough on Sunday, as part of the free summer lecture series, the Monadnock Lyceum.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Speaker Margot Adler speaks to a crowd at the Unitarian Church in Peterborough on Sunday, as part of the free summer lecture series, the Monadnock Lyceum.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Speaker Margot Adler speaks to a crowd at the Unitarian Church in Peterborough on Sunday, as part of the free summer lecture series, the Monadnock Lyceum.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Speaker Margot Adler speaks to a crowd at the Unitarian Church in Peterborough on Sunday, as part of the free summer lecture series, the Monadnock Lyceum.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Speaker Margot Adler speaks to a crowd at the Unitarian Church in Peterborough on Sunday, as part of the free summer lecture series, the Monadnock Lyceum.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Speaker Margot Adler speaks to a crowd at the Unitarian Church in Peterborough on Sunday, as part of the free summer lecture series, the Monadnock Lyceum.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Speaker Margot Adler speaks to a crowd at the Unitarian Church in Peterborough on Sunday, as part of the free summer lecture series, the Monadnock Lyceum.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Speaker Margot Adler speaks to a crowd at the Unitarian Church in Peterborough on Sunday, as part of the free summer lecture series, the Monadnock Lyceum.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Speaker Margot Adler speaks to a crowd at the Unitarian Church in Peterborough on Sunday, as part of the free summer lecture series, the Monadnock Lyceum.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

PETERBOROUGH — Margot Adler had never been a fan of vampires or vampire novels. She certainly had never expected to write a treatise on the subject of how the current literary and cinematic portrayals of vampires reflect the modern age’s struggle with our own morality.

But on Sunday, in front of a gathered crowd at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough, Adler gave a talk on “ Vampires, Morality and the Fate of the Planet,” as part of the 2013 Monadnock Summer Lyceum.

Adler, a National Public Radio correspondent and author, was in an airport in May of 2009 when she picked up the first “Twilight” novel, a best-selling vampire romance, to while away time on the flight. Somewhat hooked, she read the second one on her way back. That might have been the end of it, except for a twist of fate. Ten days later, her husband, John, was diagnosed with stomach cancer. And less than a year after that, he was gone.

Suddenly, Adler was much more invested in the vampire novel, and their common themes of the struggle of immortality and morality. She dove into the wold of the vampire novel and television shows, reading more than 250 books, from teen to adult and running the gamut of genres. She had a lot to choose from, she said — because in the past 50 years or so, but especially recently, it seems the world of literature is just as obsessed with vampires as Adler.

Not that vampire novels are a new phenomenon. The vampire has been a part of popular literature dating back to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” But not every generation of vampires is the same, argues Adler. Femenist scholar Nina Auerbach postulated that “Every society creates the vampire it needs.” Auerbach argued that Stoker had created his version of Dracula in reaction to England’s biggest fears of the time: Outsiders, disease and immigration. During the rise of AIDS, vampirism was depicted in literature as a virus. After reading that article, Adler began to remunerate on what kind of vampire the current generation was creating.

So one day, she sat down and began a list of the most popular vampires of the current culture: Eric Northman and Bill Compton from True Blood, Damon Salvatore from the Vampire Diaries, Angel and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and so on. And as she made her list, she noticed a pattern. These were conflicted characters, who often fight against their nature as bloodsuckers. They are attempting to find a morality in a world where they are the apex predator.

“They’re all guilt-ridden and conflicted. They’re struggling to be moral. Vampires are exactly us,” Adler said.

The reason this is the vampire that fascinates this generation, Adler told the audience, is because this is the vampire we identify with. Since the 60s, and the beginning of the rise of this breed of vampire, we have become increasingly aware of the fragility of our planet. There has been an increased push toward recycling, the invention of Earth Day, and an increasing realization that we are overly dependent on oil and other fossil fuels. We are the vampire, and the planet is our prey. And even with this awareness, and as we strive to make small changes to save the planet, our individual efforts do little to solve the underlying problem. That is our attempt to maintain our morality, while still feeding off of the earth.

“We are sucking the life out of the planet,” Adler said. “We’ve been as addicted to oil and fuel as a vampire is to blood.”

All talks during the Monadnock Summer Lyceum take place at 11 a.m. at the Unitarian Church in Peterborough, followed by a reception in the Parish Hall. All talks are free, although donations are accepted. All talks will be broadcast on New Hampshire Public Radio the following Sunday at 3 p.m. For more information about upcoming talks, visit www.monadnocklyceum.org.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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