EVEN BOY WIZARD Harry Potter - whose movie franchise-based theme park opened in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month - has been drained of his powers by the vampires among us.
With apologies to radio personality Howard Stern, the undead clearly have claimed the title King of All Media this month. "True Blood," HBO's popular series set in current-day Louisiana, started its third season on June 13. "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer's latest book "The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella" was released on June 5 and has already sold a million copies. And "Eclipse," the third movie in the multimillion-dollar franchise, opens today. (See Gary Thompson's review, Page 35.)
Justin Cronin's "The Passage," a new postapocalyptic novel featuring vampirelike creatures was published June 8 and is No. 4 on the New York Times best-sellers list. (Fox 2000 reportedly bought the rights to a film version of the book three years ago, before it was even written.)
The appeal of vampires seems to cut across all ages.
William Baker, 58, of Waldorf, Md., is addicted to the HBO series. He was introduced to the show by his stepdaughter Christiana Jackson, 20, a Temple University student, after it came out on DVD last summer.
Jackson's ex-boyfriend told her about the show, and since her family didn't subscribe to HBO, she fed her addiction through Netflix.
After seeing the first "Twilight" film, Jackson read all of the books - and so did her 66-year-old grandmother, who sent her a text message last year as soon as she caught wind of the "Twilight" phenomena.
"She texted me, 'I can text. OMG! Have you read Twilight?!' " Jackson said.
"It just blew my mind because she was texting and knew about those books and wanted to talk to me about it."
Even though current-day vampire fiction's popularity seems astounding, Nina Auerbach, an English professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said this trend is hardly new.
"I think vampires come and go . . . they change according to what we command of them," said Auerbach, who wrote a book on vampire narratives in 1997 called "Our Vampires, Ourselves."
"They have to take time to change. It's never the same vampire from decade to decade."
Although vampire folklore spans across time and culture - the Oxford English Dictionary says the word "vampire" wasn't coined until 1734 - the creature of the night became a horror favorite after Bram Stoker's 1897 novel "Dracula."
From that point on, vampires became a pop culture icon.
But something happened to the undead in 1980.
"Beginning in the 1980s, they [vampires] get very enfeebled and integrated into boring human life," Auerbach said. "They lose their powers . . . they're vulnerable."
Auerbach attributes this to President Ronald Reagan. His authoritative presidency and the neo-conservativism that came with it coincided with the trend of the vampires in books such as Anne Rice's "The Vampire Chronicles," to become more sympathetic.
By the time Auerbach wrote her book, she thought the vampire narratives were coming to a brief halt.
"When I wrote my book, I foolishly said the vampire myth was waning and that it was going to hibernate for a while," Auerbach said. "That was obviously wrong."
Joss Whedon's 1997 hit television series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" became a cult classic, focusing on a young female vampire hunter. The title character's love interest, a vampire named Angel (played by Philly's own David Boreanaz) got his own TV series in 1999, and continued the trend of vampires as misunderstood, tortured heroes.
The trend grew with Meyer's books and movies and even in the more sexually graphic and violent "True Blood."
And while the reinvention has kept the narrative fresh, the question remains: Why do we love vampires so much?
Cronin, author of "The Passage," said vampires serve as a reminder of our own mortality.
"The vampire stories blow out one really fundamental question that all of us have throughout our lives - but most poignantly in a couple of different moments in our lives - which is the question of death," Cronin said. "Knowing that your life is finite, is that really the source of the richness and color of being human? In other words, if you were to lose your mortality . . . would your humanity be lost?"
"The answer to that is yes," he added. "That's what the vampire story goes back and says again and again and again."
Cronin believes readers gravitate toward vampire fiction because it reminds them that being mortal is the best deal. Even though he doesn't want to be cast as "America's psychologist," Cronin said books like the "Twilight" series reach the young adult audience for similar reasons.
"When you start making the transition, essentially, between childhood and adulthood, you lose this kind of illusion of your own immortality," he added. "Every kid I know thinks they're going to live forever. And all of the sudden, you're 16 and you get all of these privileges - like a car, a summer job, a boyfriend or a girlfriend - but at the same time, with it comes heavy responsibilities.
"When girls, for example, by the hundreds of millions, read the 'Twilight' books, in part they are exploring that question: How do I become an adult?"
Vampire fiction allows for the exploration of the question. And, said Penn professor Auerbach, it allows for transformation.
"Louis [from Rice's 'Interview with the Vampire'] develops vampire sight and every blade of grass is shimmering with meaning," Auerbach said. "It's immortality and seductiveness.