The desire for immortality and the discovery that it's not all it's cracked up to be characterizes several contemporary Byronic heroes.
A review of The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh
Rice's own references to Byron suggest that she deliberately casts Lestat into a Byronic mode, and as Kathryn McGinley points out, "For Byronic heroes [. Throughout the novel, Lestat is the rebel, defining his own moral code, and rebelling against all authority, both human and vampiric.
Lestat sees himself "as a hungry, vicious creature, who did a very good job of existing without reasons, a powerful vampire who always took exactly what he wanted, no matter who said what" As such, he provides a powerful vicarious experience for readers who can't always take exactly what they want. The vampires are appealing characters because they allow readers to experience what they cannot have themselves and , at the same time, they share the readers' possible longings for purpose and meaning in a confusing world. Lestat seems reminiscent of Byron's Childe Harold and Cain when he says, "I'd been born restless—the dreamer, the angry one, the complainer" VL The novelist herself, explains, "I've always been fascinated by the vampire, the elegant yet evil Byronic figure.
It's easy to say it's a metaphor for the outsider, the predator, anyone who feels freakish or monstrous or out of step but appears normal" Beahm Rice plays on the rebellious aspects of her outlaw hero to increase his popular appeal, for "the antiestablishment messages of rock music contribute to the vampire's freedom from conventional moralities and the power of this subversive appeal" Roberts Lestat is not only an outlaw to human society by virtue of being a vampire, but he is also a rebel among vampires, disregarding their rules and conventions.
He conceives of his planned rock concert at the Cow Palace in San Francisco as "an unprecedented rebellion, a great and horrific challenge to my kind all over the world" VL Lestat defiantly announces, "Old rules didn't matter to me now, either. I wanted to break every one of them" 16 , and he instantly appeals to every reader who ever broke rules or wanted to but didn't have the means:. The last sentence is telling—to feel alive would be worth sacrificing his immortality, just for the sensation, a sensation lacking in his vampire existence. When the ancient vampire Marius comes to Lestat in a dream and accuses, "You act on impulse, you want to throw all the pieces in the air," Lestat shouts in return, "I want to affect things, to make something happen!
His impulsiveness is simultaneously destructive and the source of his appeal to readers.
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The author herself confesses her affinity for her hero, Lestat: "He's my devil, my dark lover, my alter-ego. Sometimes I think he's my conscience. Yet without his humanity, the Byronic hero would ultimately alienate his readers.
We envy his power and autonomy, his ability simply to do what he wants without fear of authority, but we are drawn to his humanity. If such a powerful being suffers from feelings of isolation and confusion and makes terrible errors in his dealings with others, then our own feelings and errors are more acceptable, particularly when we see them glamorized and romanticized in the form of vampires or other similarly powerful entities.
Another superhuman Byronic rock star figure is the hero of the film The Crow dir.
Alex Proyas, , a favorite of many of my students. Eric Draven Brandon Lee dresses completely in black, and sports white and black clown make up on his face. Like Lestat and Q, Eric lives by his own rules, resisting the authority of the police department and seeking vigilante justice on his own terms. In a contemporary version of Manfred perched on an Alpine height, daring the avalanche to come and kill him, Eric crouches on top of an urban skyscraper, strumming haunting chords on an electric guitar, a very portrait of angst.
No Sorrow To Die : An Alice Rice Mystery
The Crow is a good way to discuss the origins of the Byronic hero in the Gothic villain, for Eric, in his madness and bloody vengefulness, is barely one step over the line from the criminals he pursues. This often generates a classroom discussion about the appeal of villains in popular culture and the particular appeal of heroes whose souls are almost as dark as those of their enemies. Eric also exudes a Byronic arrogance; as a ghost and an outlaw, Eric transcends the law and moral codes of ordinary people.
Like the Byronic hero he achieves an almost total autonomy. In his initial encounter with a cop who tries to arrest him, when the cop yells "don't move! The contemporary Byronic hero is almost always dressed in black; Rice even comments on the way Lestat has created fashion trends among his fans and even other vampires. In his epic series of Sandman comic books, Neil Gaiman also envisions his hero, Dream, also known as Lord Morpheus, in the same terms. Gaiman describes him as looking "like the skinny, undead king of the style biker punks from hell" Gaiman 26 , and as "pale, tall, brooding, dark, relatively humorless, and Byronic in a late adolescent kind of way" Bender Dream is the lord of the realm of dreams known as "the Dreaming" , and he is immortal, older even than the gods.
While he is extremely powerful, he remains vulnerable in his relationships with women, which invariably fail.
The Sorrow of War
After one lover leaves him, his emotions create rainstorms all over his realm, and he orders her rooms erased and forbids any mention of her name. We see him, in Chapter 2 of Brief Lives , leaning on a balcony in a quintessentially Romantic pose, barefoot, rain streaming around him, and his dark cloak flapping in the wind. His face is set and grim, and the drops running down it could be either rain or tears or both. Dream's melancholy is countered by the ever-practical Mervyn, a handyman with a jack-o-lantern head who does odd jobs around the Dreaming.
When the faerie girl Nuala sympathizes with Dream, remarking that he must be "very sad ," Mervyn retorts,. Gaiman creates a protagonist who embodies existential angst, and he clothes him with all the attributes of the Romantic hero: black garb, black hair, pale skin, and a hopeless love life. But he also includes the voice of an anti-romantic, who dismisses it all as a pose, and the artist's drawings of Dream corroborate Mervyn's suspicions.
Like Manfred, he is pompously arrogant and largely unsympathetic to human concerns. But his end is a heroic one, like Manfred's. Having incurred the vengeance of the Furies, while performing an act his sense of conscience and duty told him was right, he braves their attacks on himself and his realm. His death is inevitable, but like Byron's Manfred, he defies those who come to claim him and dies on his own terms, in a state of defiance, thereby, like Byron's Prometheus, "making Death a Victory.
The most recent example of a Byronic hero that I use in class is the vampire Angel David Boreanaz , who began as a character on the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer , and now has his own spinoff series, Angel. Angel, a vampire whose soul has been restored by a gypsy curse, broods over his guilt for his crimes in his past. He was among the most powerful of vampires, Angelus, a conscienceless and remorseless killer with a sardonic and bitter sense of humor. Angel's evil self is shown both in flashbacks to his past and in a series of episodes in which he has temporarily been stripped of his soul and returns to his evil ways.
The heroic Angel, however, rarely smiles, and his eyebrows are knitted in an almost permanent frown. He dresses in dark clothing like our other heroes vampires are apparently very concerned about fashion , usually wearing a long black coat that gives the effect of a cape. He has devoted his recent years to fighting supernatural evil in the form of other vampires and demons, in an attempt to make up for his decades of murder. He dispatches the bad guys with arrogant panache, allowing himself flickers of satisfaction before returning to his almost-perpetually serious and gloomy state of mind.
In the episode "In the Dark," Angel comes by a magical ring that will allow him to be outside by daylight. Despite his feeling of awe and wonder at seeing the sun, he announces to his friend and colleague Doyle Glenn Quinn , "I'm not going to wear the ring. He insists that his role is not to enjoy himself, but to continue to work for redemption—at night and in the dark.
Angel is not only Byronic in his guilt, but also in his love for one who is perpetually inaccessible to him, the Slayer, Buffy. The two characters had a passionate affair but discovered the hidden clause in the gypsy curse: a moment of "perfect happiness" will strip Angel of his soul and turn him evil again. Thus, he must remain apart from his love, Buffy, in a state of perpetual longing. In a recent crossover episode "Sanctuary" , Buffy Sarah Michelle Gellar tells Angel about her new boyfriend, Riley, and Angel angrily characterizes his own forced isolation: "You moved on.
I can't. You found someone new. I'm not allowed to, remember? I see you again, it cuts me up inside, and the person I share that with is me.
Thus, a mutually beneficial learning process ensues. My students' own expertise as "consumers" of popular culture contributes to my own understanding, and the work on popular culture some of them do in their own papers gives them an enhanced critical ability and a new tool with which to examine both nineteenth-century texts and their descendents from a complex critical perspective. Like Gaiman, Angel's creators undermine his Byronic pose in a coyly self-referential fashion as much as they exploit it.
In the episode, "The Yoko Factor," Buffy's new boyfriend Riley Marc Blucas worries that she isn't over her attraction to Angel, and comments on his appeal to women: "Even when he's good, he's all Mr. Angel has just rescued a young woman from being killed by a drunken boyfriend, and Spike, watching from a rooftop, provides a sarcastic voiceover, presenting his own version of the dialog. He has the rescued woman ask, in the mode of a stereotypical damsel in distress, "How can I thank you, you mysterious black-clad hunk of a knight-thing?
Your tears of gratitude are enough for me. You see, I was once a bad-ass vampire, but love, and a pesky curse, defanged me, and now I'm just a big fluffy puppy with bad teeth. Like Byron, contemporary creators of Byronic heroes realize that there is something comical as well as tragic about the brooding, self-absorbed loner.
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Discussions about contemporary Byronic heroes in class allow students to explore the longstanding and pervasive appeal of Byron's creations. Like popular culture scholar Henry Jenkins, my students and I can be fans of popular culture at the same time that we examine it from an academic perspective, and I believe that doing so enriches our experience of the texts under consideration. I would argue that the appeal to the audience is the same in Byron's times and ours: Manfred and the heroes I've described here can successfully act on their desires to defy authority and can successfully confront obstacles in their path.
They do not have to bow to institutional power or to oppressive forces, for they have both the supernatural abilities and the attitude required to fight them. At the same time, they validate their audience's own doubts and fears and sorrows. Many fans can relate to Eric and Dream and Angel's grief over the unattainability of perfect love. Many fans can relate to Lestat's perpetual questioning of his purpose in life. As fans we may envy Manfred and Q and Lestat and Angel's power, but we do not envy their boredom with their immortality and their perpetual gloom and isolation.