Vampire Eli is Let In The Hearts of Audiences
John Ajvide Lindqvist’s “Let The Right One In” is a story about a bullied twelve-year-old boy who happens to meet a vampire.
The book gets into a lot of heads and offers a lot of different POVs: Tommy’s, Håkan’s, Oskar’s, Jonny Forsberg’s, a squirrel’s. There are even chapters from an omniscient point of view, illustrating things going on in the larger world, like the fear over a Soviet sub that runs aground on the shoreline, and the ongoing reaction to Håkan’s—Eli’s caretaker—murders. Although some segments are written from Eli’s point of view, little is revealed about her. Despite that, Eli is easily humanized in both the book and the movies.
The third time Eli and Oskar meet in the book Eli is hungry, needing blood. Oskar and she are alone in the courtyard playground, and he is easy prey, trusting he’s safe with her. The scene shows that Eli is prepared to kill him however.
His voice was not even a whisper. Only an exhalation. The girl’s face was close. His gaze was drawn to her butter-knife cheek. That was why he didn’t see her eyes change, how they narrowed, took on another expression. He didn’t see how her upper lip drew back and revealed a pair of small, dirty white fangs. He only saw her cheek and while her mouth was nearing his throat he drew up his hand and stroked her face.
The girl froze for a moment, then pulled back. Her eyes resumed their former shape; the city of light was back. (70)
The fact Eli could kill someone she has met, spoken with twice before shows that she doesn’t think like a human. The interactions they had are not enough for her to hesitate, like a human normally would. After all, it’s one thing to kill a complete stranger, another to kill someone you’ve met.
In both movies, Let The Right One In and Let Me In, this doesn’t happen. Eli seems to recognize Oskar as a kindred spirit from the first meeting. She instead bonds with him, gives him advice on how to handle the school bullies Oskar is tormented by. A few pages later, we even see their deepening bond when Oskar and Eli start walking home from a candy store:
They walked back. Before Oscar had even had any himself he held the bag out to Eli. She shook her head.
“Don’t you eat candy?”
“What a drag.”
“Yes, no. I don’t know what it tastes like.”
“You haven’t even tasted it.”
“Then how do you know that…”
“I just know, that’s all.” (123)
Eli doesn’t give into Oskar, because she knows nothing good would come of her eating the candy. However, her interaction with Oskar also manages to humanize her, because most people know what it’s like to want to try something that they can’t have, be deprived of experiences, whether due to a health issue, circumstance or something else. At the same time, viewers know the reason she can’t eat the candy, is because she’s not human.
In both movies however, the scene plays out differently. In Let Me In, Eli, known as Abby, gives into Oskar, known as Owen:
Abby watches as Owen collects his candy, trying to hide his disappointment. She feels bad.
ABBY: Well… maybe I could try just one…!
Owen looks up, suddenly excited. He opens a package, gives her a piece. She puts it in her mouth. He watches for her reaction. She smiles for him, nods. He grins, so pleased — (42)
Both movies show Abby throwing up after she eats the candy. The movies allow readers to see Abby trying to please Owen, which is a very human urge. The effect humanizes Eli to viewers more than the book does, but at the same time, since she can’t digest the candy, reminds viewers she is in not human.
In traditional vampire books and movies, vampires are clean, efficient killers, the ultimate predators. Vampires are written differently in Let The Right One In and the movies. In them, Eli and her adult companion make sloppy and sometimes ineffective attempts at killing people. These slipshod attempts make the attacks seem more realistic, more possible, more frightening, and at the same time, humanizes Eli. We see her not as the efficient killing machine we expect from vampire lore. She doesn’t have the practice of a skilled predator. And the fact audiences know that like an animal, she has to kill to eat, makes her sympathetic to readers, even as she murders someone.
Although the different mediums often use different techniques, both the movies and the books, remind audiences that Elli/Abby is a vampire even as she is efficiently humanized. The result is a well-told story that can easily stand up to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.