It's an old story: Boy meets girl, boy sneaks into girl's room and gnaws on her neck, girl joins ranks of the undead, boy turns into a large bat and flits out a window.
With one foot in eastern European lore and the other straddling 21st-century popular culture, vampire legends are now the topic of a Virginia Commonwealth University literature course, Vampires from Dracula to Twilight, which explores the birth of the original undead bloodsucker and his seemingly eternal life in pop culture.
The class charts his bizarre evolution from ghastly ghoul to lisping breakfast cereal pitchman to irresistible teen heartthrob.
English professor John Brinegar tapped this vampire artery in an attempt to grab the attention of students: “The impetus for offering this was basically that since the English Department is now offering large classes to nonmajors, we're trying to find topics that large numbers of people are already interested in.”
It's worked. With 220 students currently enrolled, Brinegar says he rebuffs frequent requests for overrides to get into the class.
And while he freely admits to leaching onto a popular phenomenon in a vain attempt to keep students from sleeping during class, Brinegar says there's also plenty of reason to explore the myth of the vampire.
After all, the vampire — though an iconic character in literature and lore — is also experiencing an image-transforming rebirth at the hands of modern authors. It's the sort of societal makeover that other bloodthirsty undead murderers can only dream of.
“They're cool, they're strong, they're smart, they're beautiful,” says Brinegar of modern vampires, reborn in the currently popular Twilight book and movie series and before that in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles.
“It's what sort of cultural and social issues that are touched in by vampires that are so interesting,” Brinegar says, adding that Bram Stoker “is clearly literature.”