The Vampire Tapestry – by Suzy McKee Charnas

The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas (Simon and Schuster, 1980):

In my opinion, the most coherent and believable presentation of vampire-as-alien ever published. The first section of this five-part novel, “The Ancient Mind at Work,” published in the February, 1979, issue of Omni, presents the vampire, Dr. Edward Weyland, as a single-minded beast of prey with superior intelligence.

A South African housekeeper at the small college where Weyland works as a professor of anthropology shoots down the vampire as she would any dangerous animal. At the end of this novella he escapes, apparently mortally wounded.

The rest of the novel moves from an external view of the vampire as simply a ruthless predator to a more intimate and sympathetic view through the eyes of a teenage boy who befriends him, when imprisoned by his “rescuers,” and a middle-aged female psychologist who, faced with the task of “curing” Weyland of his vampiric “delusion,” makes the imaginative leap of realizing that he actually is the nonhuman creature he claims to be.

In the novel's final section, Charnas places the reader entirely within Weyland's point of view, Demonstrating how the chain of events begun by the nearly fatal attack has compelled Weyland to grow and change, unwillingly forced into relationships with the human beings he prefers to consider his “livestock.”

The lengthy period of deathlike sleep he uses to escape from intolerable conditions, withdrawing into suspended animation until it becomes safe to start a new lifetime amid an unsuspecting prey population, serves as his escape from the temptation of becoming too human.

He knows the long sleep will wipe out the traumatic details of his Weyland life and let him “rise restored, eyes once more as bright and unreflective as a hawk's and heart as ruthless as a leopard's” (1981 Pocket Book edition, p. 294). Animal metaphors dominate this story; Weyland is a lynx, a tiger, a raptor in deceptively human shape.

The author draws analogies from the animal kingdom to lend credibility to Weyland's extraordinary speed, strength, endurance, sensory perception, longevity, and restricted diet. His human appearance is merely an evolutionary adaptation to enable him to mingle unnoticed with his prey. Even his sexuality is camouflage; he is unique and claims he has no need to reproduce, since with care he may live virtually forever.

Unlike the erotically alluring vampires of much contemporary fiction, he has no sexual interest in human beings and engages in intercourse for appearances' sake only. The one exception is his relationship with Floria Landauer, the psychologist who shares his secret; he treats her as an equal rather than a victim, and their interaction forms the turning point in Weyland's reluctant growth toward humanity.


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