The night I stole a copy of Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned from my father’s bookshelves, I became obsessed with all things vampire. The idea that a creature existed who could not only cheat death, but bottle youth, control minds, and beguile the senses, spoke to my little Slytherin heart on so many levels.
Thus began my love for all things paranormal, which only grew with time. Of course I followed all my trusted reader friends down the Harry Potter rabbit hole, just as I lost sleep over Twilight and all things Team Edward. And before anyone starts grumbling, I won’t apologize for it. Our society spends enough time denigrating the things young women love, and I refuse to participate in such hogwash.
But all the while I considered myself an OG vampire lover. I reread Dracula until the book fell apart. I bought the soundtrack for Interview with the Vampire, music I still use to this day for writing inspiration. I even read George R. R. Martin’s obscure vampire novel, Fevre Dream, which I will contend is among the best things he’s ever written. Fight me on it. I’m not afraid to draw blood.
Since I believe myself to be such an expert on the matter, I present to you my list of the five most badass vampires in literature and pop culture.
Dracula / Vlad the Impaler
There are so many fascinating tales of lore from all over the world, detailing creatures that rise at night and subsist on the blood of others. But it seems fitting to start with the name most synonymous with the word “vampire.” I’m cheating a little, too, because Dracula and Vlad are two different people, but since the character in Bram Stoker’s novel was based on stories of this bloodthirsty madman who ruled Wallachia in the 15th century, I feel as if it’s justified. Also I think it’s a little wrong to dedicate an entire post to good ole Vlad, who murdered 100,000 people in his heyday for a sundry of awful reasons, chief among them genocide.
But I digress. Dracula will always be a favorite for me because he is, first and foremost, a character in a tragic romance. One who wishes for nothing more than to be loved, despite what he is. I’ll always be a bloodsucker for stories like these. (I’ll show myself out, mmkay?)
I know, I know. B-b-but what about Lestat? Look, I have been a die-hard fangirl of Lestat de Lioncourt since I was a teenager. The thing is, there are so many famous dude vampires. I think it’s high time we give the ladies a moment to shine. Anyway I’m not worried Lestat will ever be forgotten. And if you ask me, Maharet is the quintessential badass vampire of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. She is the only vampire in Rice’s world who never succumbed to the madness prevalent in the “ancient ones”: the vampires that were there from the very beginning. Maharet has tracked her human family for over six millennia. She has been a pillar for them throughout the centuries, and she is one of the main reasons the vampires are able to overcome Akasha, the Queen of the Damned, when Akasha tries to take over the world midway through the series. Sorry, I should have done a spoiler alert.
But if you haven’t read Queen of the Damned, then you should get on that right away. It’s one of my absolute favorite vampire books in the world, mostly because it gets to the origin behind how vampires came to be, and the unglamorous side of living forever. Truly this book gave me first existential crisis at twelve years old, and I’m still jealous of people who get to read it for the first time.
Pam Swynford de Beaufort
While I adored Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books so much, my reference to Pam here is mostly based on the one in the TV show True Blood, where she is played by the fabulous Kristin Bauer van Straten. I lusted after Pam’s wardrobe and her makeup throughout the series, but I most loved her amazing one liners and her steadfast loyalty to her maker, Eric Northman. When this show got it right, it really got it right. It was the first show of a paranormal sort that struck me like Buffy did, because it was lighthearted and dark, and fun and disturbing all at once. Plus it married fae lore with vampire legend, and the whole things was delicious.
And who could not love a vampire like Pam whose life philosophy can be summed up in a single quote: “I don’t know what it is about me that makes people think I want to hear their problems. Maybe I smile too much. Maybe I wear too much pink. But please remember I can rip your throat out if I need to. And also know that I am not a hooker. That was a long, long time ago.”
The vampire movie that launched a thousand careers is, alas, not the one most people expect these days. While Twilight will always be an absolute moment in vampire cinema—who could ever forget Robert Pattinson’s hair!—the original badass undead movie is Nosferatu, a German expressionist film from the 1920s. The vampire in that tale, Count Orlok, was largely inspired by, you guessed it, Dracula, a novel that had been a huge success in the literary world since its publication in 1897. Unfortunately, Bram Stoker’s estate would not grant the director of Nosferatu the rights to the book, so they changed around the names and settings, hoping no one would notice. Alas, a rose by any other name was not as sweet in this case. Stoker’s heirs went as far as to sue the filmmakers for the movie, but the image of the hauntingly pale creature with fangs and darkly rimmed eyes set against an eerie Transylvanian backdrop was already seared into the public’s mind.
And let’s not forget Orlok was pretty badass in his own right. I’ll always give a hat-tip to a man rocking a smokey eye.
I warned you that I had read ever obscure book about vampires ever published. Ruthven is a character from John William Polidori’s The Vampyre, and he is one of the first blood drinkers to appear on the page in English literature. The novel takes a reader all throughout Europe, from London to Athens to Rome, and in it we realize how every person Lord Ruthven is fated to meet invariably suffers as a result of the association. Written in homage to Lord Byron—another one of my personal favorites—Polidori did not intend to have it published. It was done in 1819 without his consent, and the story behind this book intrigues me almost as much as the tragic tale itself.
Ruthven’s badassery for me comes from the fact that he travels the world, befriends people, and then wreaks havoc on their lives in the most poetic of ways.
At least he will always be remembered for it.
Renée Ahdieh is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her spare time, she likes to dance salsa and collect shoes. She is passionate about all kinds of curry, rescue dogs, and college basketball. The first few years of her life were spent in a high-rise in South Korea; consequently, Renée enjoys having her head in the clouds. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their tiny overlord of a dog. She is the author of Flame in the Mist and Smoke in the Sun as well as the #1 New York Times bestselling The Wrath and the Dawn and its sequel, The Rose and the Dagger.