Sunday, February 15, 2009

Vampires and Vampirism – review

Author: Dudley Wright

First Published: 1914

Whilst this was first published in 1914, the edition I read was the facsimile of the 1924 Second Edition. It was one of those fortuitous ‘market finds’ and I was most taken by the cover by Ma Lai Fatt.

The book itself is, as the title suggests, a look at vampires and vampirism from around the world and Wright’s book is not necessarily known as one of the most factually accurate pieces in the world, often containing a heady mix of fact, fiction, lore and supposition. However, it is a fascinating glimpse into perceptions from the turn of the twentieth century.

More than this, whilst it might be of moderate use to the scholar of the folklore vampire, to those of us fascinated by the vampire in its fictional guise the book contains lore insights and, for the aspiring authors, a certain degree of unusual tales from which more modern tales could spring forth.

I was interested to note, for example, a Russian tale in which it is reported “The vampire would have clasped the peasant in his arms, but luckily for him the cock began to crow, and the corpse disappeared.” What struck me with this was that the corpse is not reported as returning to the grave but as disappearing, much like Orlock in the finale of Nosferatu. Nosferatu is taken as the source of the vampire undergoing dissolution in the sun. Whilst it is undoubtedly the general source of this lore for the celluloid vampire, perhaps we have here an earlier example – certainly Wright’s version of the tale ends here.

Another fascinating tale, lore wise, was one I have heard before of a ghoul like woman, who married a young man in Baghdad. When he first comes across her he is drawn by the sound of a voice singing verses from the Koran. Wright himself says this is only a fiction but gives an insight into ‘the beliefs of the Arabs’. The woman seems somewhat a cross between ghoul and vampire (though Wright claims them to be much the same thing) but it is interesting that she is able to sing holy verses.

As I say, fascinating, though the language might be off-putting to the modern reader and serious scholars will find the use limited. 5 out of 10.

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