Shan, Darren

Shan, Darren

(pop culture)

Darren Shan is the pen name of Darren O’Shaughnessy as well as the name of the main character in O’Shaughnessy’s “Cirque du Freak” juvenile vampire novels, the first of which jumped to the movie screen in 2009 as The Vampire’s Apprentice.

O’Shaughnessy was born in London on July 2, 1972, and lived there for the first six years of his life, after which his parents moved to Ireland where he grew up and continues to reside. He returned to England to study sociology and English at Roehamption Univerity in London. After a few years working for a cable television company, he became a full-time writer in 1995.

He had started writing as a teenager, and wrote several novels, not published, while in college. His first published book hit the book stores in 1999. Shortly thereafter the first of the “Cirque du Freak” novels, the The Saga of Darren Shan, appeared. It proved successful and was reprinted in the United States under the title Cirque du Freak the following year. O’Shaughnessy discovered that he liked writing for the younger crowd, and a growing body of fans seemed to enjoy probing his world of unique vampires. Beginning with The Vampire’s Assistant, the second book in the series, he averaged three titles a year. The final volume (No. 12) appeared in 2004.

The saga of Darren Shan began when he visits a freak show with his friend Steve. Steve discoved that one of the show’s personnel, a Mr. Crepsley, is in fact a vampire. Meanwhile, Darren steals a spider (because of a longtime fascination with arachnids) and a flute to train and control it. Unfortunately, at one point, Darren loses control of the spider, which fatally bites Steve. Darren appeals to Mr. Crepsley who has the antidote to the spider’s venom that will save Steve. His price is that Darren becomes his assistant. He subsequently helps fake Darren’s death, and after Darren’s funeral and burial, he digs up his future assistant. Darren is now a dhampir-like “half-vampire,” similar to Blade the Vampire Slayer, and ready to live his next years in the world of vampires.

The vampires of “Cirque du Freak” are not the undead. O’Shaughnessy wished to create what to him were more realistic vampires. They are alive and could be killed by various means. They differ from humans in that they age slowly, with lifespans at least ten times that of humans. They are strong and fast. The oldest vampire character in the series, Paris Skyle, is a Dracula-like vampire who is some 800 years old. Vampires fit across the same range of personality as humans and may thus be good, bad or somewhere in between. Vampire possess long sharp fingernails which they use for a variety of feats. Most importantly, the nails assist their feeding. They will cut into a human vein and suck small quantities of blood. The vampire’s saliva has a healing effect and will close the cut made for feeding. The sharp nails replace the need for fangs.

Normally, O’Shaughnessy’s vampires will drink only enough blood to survive for a short time, thus avoiding taking the life of their victims. Vampires are negatively affected by sunlight, but can move about in the day if they stay indoors or in the shade. They may consume garlic, cast a shadow and can be seen in mirrors, but cannot be photographed. They can survive on animal blood, but prefer that of humans. On the other hand, vampire blood is poisonous to humans.

Not being the undead, the vampires in O’Shaughnessy’s books are deterred with neither crucifix nor holy water. They had dropped any religion followed in their prevampire existence, and now relate to a new pantheon of deities. They have a belief in the afterlife, and will be born as wolves in Paradise. They believe the first vampire evolved from wolves. Vampires cannot transform into various animals or mist. On the other hand, they have some telepathic powers that allow them to communicate with other vampires and locate humans by following thought patterns.

As O’Shaughnessy envisions it, there is a vampire society that is ruled hierarchically. The society values tradition, honor, and personal pride. Among their traditions is the avoidance of using weapons that work with projectiles. If they fight, it is up close and personal with weapons such as swords or the traditional Japanese weapon, the shuriken, the small blade familiar from Japanese ninja movies. At one end of the spectrum of vampire society are the evil vampires, distinguished by their pattern of drinking all of their victim’s blood (and in the process taking a part of their victim’s spirit also). These evil vampires, called “vampaneze,” are rogue vampires out to destroy their more benevolent kin. The fight against the vampaneze takes up much of the plot of the last half of the Cirque du Freak novels. O’Shaughnessy’s vampires carry signs of their battles. While their saliva heals, it does not do so miraculously, and scars remain. Many are thus disfigured and not the beautiful creatures that inhabit the vampire world of a Stephanie Meyer or Anne Rice.

As Darren Shan, O’Shaughnessy cemented his place as one of the top writers for young people in the U.K. by following his very successful vampire series with “The Demonata” a series about demons. Meanwhile, his Cirque du Freak was translated into a variety of languages including Japanese and Chinese. His success also allowed him the leisure to write novels for an adult audience, three of which appeared in the wake of his “Demonata” series. O’Shaughnessy resides in rural Ireland. Shanville, O’Shaughnessy’s website, is found at http://www.darrenshan.com/.

Sources:

Rowe, Beverly. “An Interview with Darren Shan.” Posted at http://www.myshelf.com/babetoteen/01/shan.htm. Accessed October 15, 2009.
References in periodicals archive ?
4Q * 4P * JS Shan, Darren. Brothers to the Death: The Saga of Larten Crepsley.
Shan, Darren. Birth of a Killer: The Saga of Larten Crepsley.