Marceline, the Untraditional Vampire Queen
Adventure Time is an animated television series that aired on Cartoon Network from 2010 to 2018. Its continuation, Adventure Time: Distant Lands, recently released at the end of last year, with a focus on one of my favorite characters—-Marceline the Vampire Queen. Marceline is simultaneously a traditional but untraditional vampire. …
Adventure Time is an animated television series that aired on Cartoon Network from 2010 to 2018. Its continuation, Adventure Time: Distant Lands, recently released at the end of last year, with a focus on one of my favorite characters—-Marceline the Vampire Queen.
Marceline is simultaneously a traditional but untraditional vampire. She drinks the color red instead of blood; she can transform into a bat or a wolf, but also reptiles and tentacle monsters and other creatures that she studies. Marceline is immortal and unaging, pale-skinned and has dark hair and fangs, but she’s not defined by any of these features. In fact, the thing people remember the most about her is that she’s a musician and plays the bass, that she has meaningful character arcs, and that she’s goth and edgy but has a literal hot pink, bubblegum girlfriend.
Adventure Time does a great job at giving us a huge variety of familiar and brand-new creatures—-we have vampires and demons and liches, but also floating purple clouds and a dog whose body can shape and stretch into literally anything. Even with their more conventional monsters, there’s usually a spin or a creative twist like with Marceline. What this tells us is that none of them are defined or limited to only the expectations we have for the type of creature they are.
The main characters are Finn the human and Jake the dog—-Jake is Finn’s best friend (man’s literal best friend), loves to eat and do other dog things, but he also plays video games and fights bad guys. Another character is Princess Bubblegum who is very feminine but is also an accomplished scientist and isn’t afraid to do her own dirty work. In this instance, it’s less about monster expectations but it still follows the pattern of not limiting characters to their stereotypes. Heck, one of Marceline’s first important character arcs is her overcoming the expectations her demon father has put onto her to be evil and control people, to “give into her nature” and “embrace her destiny.” She’s still a vampire, still technically a demon princess, but she has a heart and her own morals that she wants to follow.
All of the characters in Adventure Time are “monsters” in their own right, or at least to us, the audience. There’s sentient food, talking animals, mythical creatures like unicorns, demons and liches and princesses and wizards. However, in their universe, Finn is the only human being that they know of (for a large part of the story), so he’s the weird “other,” not the monsters.
In the iconic opening theme song, they actually name Finn as “Finn the human” and then “Jake the dog.” This naming convention is actually pretty consistent in the series, like how they call her “Marceline the vampire queen”—-each character has their name and then what they are. I’m making a note of this because Finn’s title of “the human” is put on the same level as “the dog” or “the vampire queen,” that him being human is a unique defining characteristic that differentiates him from the other creatures. He too is a creature—-everyone is an “other” because they’re all so different. This actually poses an existential crisis for Finn as he goes on a search for his “own kind,” eventually leading him to discover his human father, but that’s not until much later on in the story.
In brief, I think it’s okay to find yourself in alignment with some stereotypes placed on you as long as you don’t define yourself or let others define you solely by them. You don’t have to avoid them just for the sake of avoiding them—-Marceline follows a ton of conventional vampire tropes but still is unique and distinctive. She never tries to run away from the vampiric aspects of her identity for the sake of trying to be something else; yes, she’s a vampire, but she’s also a bassist and monster hunter and a princess.
Marceline is a monster, but that doesn’t mean she has to be monstrous.
All Images © Adventure Time, Cartoon Network 2021