Vampires, Fairies, and Succubi: Inside the Shapeshifting Mind of Laurell K. Hamilton

Ardeur: 14 Writes on the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series
Edited by Laurell K. Hamilton
Smart Pop, 224 pp., $14.95

Laurell K. Hamilton writes supernatural mysteries — overtly erotic and political thrillers that sell millions of copies around the world. Sometimes her protagonists are actual detectives or police surrogates; other times they’re vampires, fairies, succubi, or necromancers. Bizarre though such casting may seem, during the early ’90s Hamilton began proving the viability of blending gothic romance, horror, Celtic mythology, and the police procedural. Her books now top the New York Times bestseller list with surprising regularity, and her international fandom is almost as avid and well-organized as Neil Gaiman’s.

Despite comparisons to the currently higher-profile Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse properties, those multimedia franchises appear little better than updated rewrites of Dracula compared to the complex story arcs Hamilton crafts — for a moody necromancer named Anita and a fairy princess called Merry. Moreover, Hamilton’s witchy, combat-ready heroines intentionally evoke tragic tribal avengers like Britain’s warrior-queen Boudicca more than Joss Whedon’s Buffy — with all the depth and sociological resonance such a distinction implies.

That’s why the critical essays in Ardeur: 14 Writers on the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series couldn’t arrive at a better time. After more than eight years of authorial blogging and online fannish debate, the many controversies raised by the characters and content of 18 Anita Blake novels get formally addressed, not only by fellow novelists like Lilith Saintcrow and Vera Nazarian, but by “role-play” game writers, professional academics, and the author herself.

The pieces explore Hamilton’s signature innovation of juxtaposing zombies (the ugly living dead) and vampires (the pretty living dead) against shape-shifters (viral, hyperabundant life) in interpersonal situations where body image, body strength, and bodily urges all loom equally large in determining character motivation. They discuss the symbolic meaning of unrepentant female violence in a series about female empowerment. And they examine the pivotal moment in book six when Hamilton transformed her quasi-virginal, sexually repressed vampire executioner into a sex-positive, polyamorous maverick.

Hamilton confesses the autobiographical nature of her process. Plotting by subconscious impulse, she playfully indulges then explodes the rules and tropes of classic horror fiction. Some essayists have a better grasp of exactly how and why she does this than others. But all the contributors agree that, despite the fact that Hamilton habitually defies conventional pacing and audience expectations, her stylistic transgressions function to liberate not only Anita Blake, but the narrative potential of horror fiction itself.

Published in: Village Voice, April 6, 2010