Monday, November 29, 2010

Eli and Education– What the Vampire Icon for the 21st Century Teaches its Reader

Online Artifact Assignment

For this assignment, it seemed the aspect of experimentation in choosing a subject was celebrated. Going under this credo, I have selected an interview with the author as my online artifact, posing the question of what the author is trying to persuade their audience of and finding that by analyzing the main characters. Understandably, little time will be given to analyzing the visual rhetoric of the website.

“Nothing engages us as much as children,” John Ajvide Lindqvist (Meredith)
He walked along the forest path looking for Jonny Forsberg… The earth shall drink his blood,” Oskar in Let The Right One In. (Lindqvist).

When looking at the link provided, one will find they are at the website Constructing Horror.  The site serves as resource for “horror storytelling”, however, they also mention that they are “brought to you” by a Swedish film company called Golem. The layout of the site is quite simple, allowing the viewer to focus on the content provided. Sidebars are stretched long apart the page, perhaps not accounting for screen resolution. The interview is accompanied with images on the right side of the main page which show a photo of the author, an ambiguous child’s toy, some wild life scenery and then promotional links (authors book first) followed by site links. The person being interviewed is the author of the vampire novel Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist.
            The interview style itself is focused mainly off the topic of the release of the Swedish film of the same name of his quite popular and acclaimed novel  Let The Right One In, of which he is also an accredited for screenplay adaptation. John Ajvide Lindqvist answers a series of questions regarding his creative process by referencing his own thoughts and inspirations. Included with this are other films and novels. The theme of the interview is true to the title: On Horror and Children. These themes in the interview relate to explaining what children’s role is in the horror genre, which helps in understanding in what role the author uses children.
            Lindqvist offers very interesting insight towards why he has used children as a major tool for telling his vampiric tale through a general question:

C.H.: Why Do children appear so frequently in Horror Fiction?
JAL: ”I believe that there is an number of reasons, where the simplest is really that if you want to scare, if you want it to be creepy, then it is very important that the reader or your audience can identify with the person who is to be scared.” (Meredith)

“Children are something that we want to take care of and protect, and they are not supposed to be put through anything nasty. But when they are, it becomes so much more unpleasant. After all, there are still some sorts of Taboo’s in the horror world.” (Meredith)

            Another line that helps explain the author’s viewpoint is in regards to the idea of a ‘child’s reality’:
“When you are a child, things and events are what you decide that they are. You decide that this certain object is the most precious ever; you decide that that corner of the garden is the most creepy and so on. As an adult you don’t think like that anymore, which gives credibility to depicting a Childs point of view, hence making it a believable reality.” (Meredith)

Eli, a permanently young vampire, fills this role of child horror quite perfectly. The construct of Eli is that of permanent childhood. However, her (or his) fate is tied to Hakan, who prepares the killings for her. Hakan lives in an adult reality: his world is not the same as Eli’s or Hakans. Since Eli is mentally trapped at 12, she unable to have the intelligence to properly map out how to feed on her own in the modern world. Indeed, all attempts she makes up at feeding by herself end up horribly. She needs Hakan, who actually brings the fear of an adult reality to Eli through protecting her. In this way, Hakan represents that all adult protection comes with a price. This is especially seen later in the novel when Hakan attempts to rape Eli when he becomes an almost feral vampire (who he is normally permitted only to sleep with or lightly touch).
Since we know Hakan is a pedophile, one capable of masturbating in public places to little boys undressing, we can take that Hakan embodies a fearful element. While Eli is a monster, since she is mentally still a child, she still needs a maternal/servant figure. That maternal character is also a monster, however, a monster in an adult reality. Hakan does not seek just to survive, as Oskar and Eli do in a child’s reality. He seeks to exploit, specifically Eli.  
            Oskar, Eli’s eventual friend, is the other personification of a child reality. He has a relationship primarily with other children: his relationship with the bullies embodies the child’s tradition fear, the fear of physical harm. Oskar copes with this in a strange manner: there is a scene in the book where he actually embodies the persona of “The Murderer” and imagines a murderous rampage in quite detail. This whole scene is told from a POV that makes the reader believe it is happening, until the narrator reveals the shredded bark next to a tree Oskar was attacking while imagining his victim.
            Eli’s origins are also quite brutal. She is described as being over 200 years old, having been violently abused and molested. Her genitals are destroyed, leaving Eli, born a boy, in a eunuch state.  This state is also ironic, as Eli is in a way pure. Since she has no genitals, she is not a sexual being. This fits with Oskar; he is neither sexual. And although Oskar wrestles with Eli’s lack of care over killing so easily for the sake of necessity to start, he goes along with it through the end, helping her in the finale.
When Lindqvist states that “children are something we strive to protect” he is giving a large insight into the sort of education he is hoping his vampire will give to his reader. Since Oskar needs someone to protect him, Eli gladly fulfills this role, as she will offer it without seeking to take advantage. The two children, one in a temporal childhood reality, the other permanent, get what they need from each other. In a sense, they are both ‘feeding’ off each other.
            The character of Eli is an educational one, much like how Bram Stoker used Dracula as an educational tool.  In Dracula, Stoke paints a scary immigrant who brings with him frightful ideas for the Victorian society. This, as seen with every vampire, includes hyper sexuality. All of these elements also play toward what makes vampires so important: vampires are a timeless tool that can be used to describe a foreign element in a common place. As once quoted by Nina Auerbach, each age “gets the vampire it deserves” (TYREE 31-37).  Let the Right One In’s Eli is our generation’s vampire, and Lindqvist ends up seeming quite the romantic. His beliefs in the sacredness of children, that they should be protected, allow him to craft a story about a beast that should not exist. Yet the reader cannot help emphasizing with Eli needing companionship.
The novel offers many narration changes and insight to the cultural shifts in the world around Eli. At one point, any men said to resemble the beast that Hakan has become are met with sneers and question themselves in the mirror. The author is hoping that the reader will also know how important it is to protect the reality childhood and not give into the adult reality (every adult in the novel is mostly unlikable and the bullies are near adulthood). The question with Eli, in her childhood reality forever, remains; what would happen, if she and Oskar did end up together, when Oskar became an adult, in his own reality? Would he end up as strange and villainous as the pedophile Hakan? Or would the newspaper clipping child, focused on murder headlines, bring that reality with him, using the education of Eli to construct a better world? Lindqvist and his interview help teach that through the icon of Eli and fantasy of vampires one can find qualities of universal importance. Even more important is that these traits of comradely, caring and acceptance are seen in characters that hold the physiology of a monster, such as Eli, and emotional disturbance, such as Oskar. This allows a wide range of readership to feel a sense that they to kind find salvation, even in a horrible thing. Understanding all this, one can see that Let the Right One In is not just a tale about pedophiles and vampires, it’s also about teaching people to be giving and the dire consequences that come out of ignoring the child’s reality. This is very telling through the question posed over halfway through the interview:

C.H.: Children as protagonist or antagonist, which do you find most exciting to work with?
JAL: I tend to combine both those things, that the child is the protagonist, the one we are following, the one that drives the tale forward, and at the same time being the one that you have to watch out for. (Meredith)

            Indeed, at the end of the novel, both Oskar and Eli are children to watch out for.

Works Cited

Lindqvist, John. Let the Right One In. Bloomsbury, UK: Quercus Publishing , 2009. Print.

TYREE, J. M. "Warm-Blooded: True Blood and Let the Right One In." Film Quarterly. 63.2 (2009): 31-37. Print.

Meredith, Jason. "ON CHILDREN AND HORROR: Interview With John Ajvide Lindqvist." Constructing Horror. Golem Films, 2010. Web. 29 Nov 2010. <>.

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