Friday, April 21, 2006

Vampires - encounters with the Undead - review

Edited by David J. Skal

There are many vampire compilation books on the market, walk into a bargain book store and you are bound to find one. Unfortunately, the bargain book end of the market, more often than not contain much the same material and the dedicated fan finds themselves buying such anthologies to pick through for the one thing contained within the volume that they may not already have..

This book, compiled by David J Skal, however, is something special. A weighty 600 page+ hardback tome, it splits its stories into four categories; these being historical, romantic/Victorian, twentieth century and post-modern.

Many of the classics are present and correct, Polidori’s “The Vampyre”, Tolstoy’s “The Family of the Vourdalak”, Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest” to name but a few. The book also contains excerpts from novels, including Matheson’s I am Legend, Stoker’s “Dracula” and Rymer’s “Varney the Vampyre”.

I am not overly sure about the concept of adding extracts from novels. To be honest I would rather read the whole novel, and avoid excerpts religiously. However, that is just a personal preference and many readers like excerpts in order to ascertain whether they will purchase the whole novel.

The joy of this tome, however, is not so much the rich stories that Skal has chosen to go into the volume, nor is it the fact that the volume is illustrated, which is always a nice touch, rather it is the sidebars that run by every story. Each page has a side-column of text. If we look at “Carmilla”, the sidebars contain:

  • a section about “Le Fanu”,
  • an extract from “Femme Fatale: Images of Evil and Fascinating Women” by Patrick Bade
  • an extract from the 1823 English translation of “Wake not the Dead”
  • an article regarding Countess Bathory both historical and regarding film treatments
  • a piece about the film “Vampyr” (1931) – the first film which claimed “Carmilla” as an inspiration
  • a piece about the film “Blood and Roses” (1961)
  • a piece about the film “The Vampire Lovers” (1970)
  • a piece about the film “Lust for a Vampire” (1971)
  • a piece about the film “Twins of Evil” (1971)
  • a piece about the film “The Blood-spattered Bride” (1972)
  • a paragraph regarding the TV adaptation “Carmilla” (1989)
  • & finally a section about “Carmilla” on stage.
When the sidebar looks at a movie, there is, more often than not, a black and white rendering of the movie poster or at least a still.

Of course, the list is just a taste from the sidebar of one story and the wealth of information surrounding and supporting each and every story is simply staggering. It is presented in such a way that the reader can happily choose to pick their way through the bonus material (to use a DVD analogy) or simply concentrate on the actual stories.

In “Vampires – Encounters with the Undead” there are some of the best vampire short stories available, some like the Tolstoy quite difficult to find currently, and a vast wealth of trivia and discourse. Skal himself is a scholar of all things macabre and obviously has a genuine love of the vampire genre.

This anthology could only receive 10 out of 10.


Mateo said...

You need say no more. 600 pages of vampire shorts, with margin comments, illustrated, hardcover? And I found it for only $17 including shipping on Amazon. I couldn't resist, i must own this.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Glad to have put you onto it - let me know what you think when it arrives

mateo said...

Finally got my copy in after forever. The guy accidentally sent to the wrong zip code and got it back. Yet it still took 5 more days on "upgraded" shipping. Needless to say he won't be getting a good rating.

But the book is fantastic. Everything I had hoped for and more. And man is it massive! I don't know if I can even fit it on my bookshelf. But definitely a keeper. I love the way its arranged in a timeline fashion so we can sort of see how vampires have evolved. I've only read the first few stories but can already see there are a lot of legends out there I was not familiar with. Such as death by shooting the casket with a pistol! I also don't get the short Dracula or I Am Legend passages but i haven't gotten there yet so maybe it will make sense with how the book is set up as a timeline. Great rec, this is one i'll definitely spend all summer (or longer) getting through. I think 5 pages might be equivalent of 15 in a normal sized booK!!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Glad you like - it is a goody!

S.Roit said...

You gave it ten stars, so I'll be different and say; Three Thumbs Up!

Yes, excellent book.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I worry as to how you got a third thumb, lol... It is an excellent volume

RoseOfTransylvania said...

Sounds magnifcent! I need this!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Rose, seriously, think every v genre fan needs this volume :)