Sunday, March 28, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: The Vampire with Iron Teeth

The normal course of casual noodling around among Fortean sources led me to this story earlier this week: Child Vampire Hunters Sparked Comic Crackdown. It's a feature from the British press, basically advertizing a BBC program about the 1954 incident, to be broadcast on March 30. I presume it'll get to American cable in a year or so.

The core attractive element for the juvenile/YA writer is this: Hundreds of children aged from four to 14, some of them armed with knives and sharpened sticks, were patrolling inside the historic graveyard.

Their target? A 7-foot tall vampire with iron teeth that had already eaten two children. The police broke up the mob, but so convinced were these kids, not only of the vampire's existence, but of their responsibility to bring him down, that many of them sneaked back out that night and the following one to resume patrol.

Personally, I think that shows a lot of spunk. Kids who'd behave like that are kids who'd make great protagonists. However, the parents in the neighborhood were, understandably, more concerned with the possibility of their children mistaking each other for vampires in the dark. As an author, I can see how you could make a thriller out of events either way: a supernatural battle to which the adults are stubbornly oblivious, or would-be heroes wrongheadedly charging off into tragedy on a tide of emotion unchecked by facts.

No children were in fact missing, and it's not clear what started the rumor, which brings us to the other interesting facet of the tale. Although the local boogyman was known as the Iron Man (it was an iron-industry area, and an ironworks overlooked the graveyard) and there are iron-toothed monsters in the Bible and in a poem taught in local schools (text not given, and a quick google gives me no good candidates), parent groups seized on the ever-popular idea of blaming the media.

EC horror comics were hard to get and therefore highly desirable in the area, and in 1953 Dark Mysteries #15 featured a story titled "The Vampire with Iron Teeth." So, it must be all the fault of comics nobody had ever read acting on passively impressionable youngsters as if by magic instead of (heaven forfend!) actively imaginative youngsters creating a social phenomenon on their own. To anyone interested in censorship, moral panic, and mob action, the symmetry of the parents' charging after the imaginary Evil Brainwashing Comic Book in response to their children's charging after an imaginary Evil Bloodsucking Vampire is almost too perfect.

Possibly, what this needs is a book-length non-fiction treatment for the middle-school market. In fact, absolutely, someone should do that! But there's at least two or three other novels lurking in there, too. I'd have to change the setting, presumably to modern Texas, but perhaps it would work best as a period piece. I live, after all, in the home of the Moral Panic, but nobody wants to hear that about themselves. It can be safer to displace such behavior in time, into the days of McCarthyism and lynching when everyone is acknowledged to have behaved badly, but We Know Better Now. (No, we don't.)

How the story plays out depends a lot on who your protagonist is, whether there are or are not any missing children, and whether or not you want to use supernatural elements. Is there a real monster? Is there a human murderer? Is there a ringleader in the mob, perhaps a campfire storyteller whose creation runs away with him? How much of the mirrored cases of mass hysteria are based in sincere but wrongheaded emotional reaction and how much is a matter of conscious manipulation of media? How in control of their own actions are the characters?

I'm much too deep in other projects to deal with this embarrassment of riches right now. Feel free to take it on for me, and I promise to read what you come up with. You won't do it the way I would, but that's fine.

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