The Vampire Tapestry was first published in 1980, at the end of the Carter recession and the cusp of the Reagan era. Americans were bored with vampires. Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1976) and Stephen King's Dracula Americana, Salem's Lot (1975), had both been best-sellers. But Rice wouldn’t publish her second book, The Vampire Lestat, until 1985, and King never wrote another vampire-themed novel. The first two Saint-Germain novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro had been published, but attracted less attention than they deserved. The TV cult sensation, Dark Shadows, and Hammer Films' vampire series had fizzled. Science fiction and fantasy, led by Star Wars and Tolkien, dominated the pop culture zeitgeist.
The great vampire renaissance we’re seeing now began building in the mid-'80s and exploded in the early '90s. Maybe this dry spell is why several books released around 1980 gave the vampire theme unusual and creative twists. Like Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), also published at a low point of vampire popularity, Suzy McKee Charnas’ The Vampire Tapestry startled readers with its revisionist depiction of a blood drinking character. Charnas’ book still has a solid core of fans who state that it’s not only their favorite vampire novel, but the best vampire novel ever written.
Despite this high regard from some very estimable people, I had never read The Vampire Tapestry. I’d only read one of the novella-length chapters, anthologized separately as “Unicorn Tapestry.” I came to the new reissue edition of The Vampire Tapestry (2008: Tom Doherty Associates) with fresh eyes, but a different context than readers had in 1980 when vampire fiction was largely defined by Dracula. Today, fictional alternatives to the “traditional” supernatural vampire are many and varied. Matheson (and the 1945 movie House of Dracula) broke new ground in imagining vampirism as a biological disease rather than a spiritual one. Charnas was among the first writers to present vampires as natural and normal members of another humanoid species. (She was not the very first to use this idea, since it was also the premise of the comic book series Vampirella, but The Vampire Tapestry was the first novel to develop the concept.)
Dr. Edward Weyland is the sole remaining member of his race, as far as he knows. Infinitely old, he periodically enters a state of hibernation, from which he emerges with no memory of his past to create a new identity for himself. He has no conscious knowledge of how he came to exist, exactly what he is, or why there are no others like himself. He is a casual predator of humanity, but he isn’t a random killer. Herein lies his contradiction, because Weyland is by no means a cold-hearted murderer who disdains human beings as mere cattle. Intelligent, sophisticated and civilized, Weyland becomes more involved with the prey who so resemble him than I expected. Anne Rice’s vampires are far more alien, murderous and dangerous, from a human being’s perspective, than Charnas’ anti-hero.