Monday, March 22, 2010

Vampire Taxonomy – review

Author: Meredith Woerner

First published: 2009

Contains Spoilers

The Blurb: Whether you accept it or not, the world is overrun with vampires – behind you in line at the store, ‘living’ in the house next door, walking their undead dogs. Not content to live quietly in the shadows, the appear blatantly in every medium from television and movies to books and comics. With so many species running amok, it’s hard to know whether the next vamp you meet will marry you or have you for dinner. With this guide, however, you can easily identify which type of bloodsucker you’re dealing with and how best to approach (or avoid) it by understanding:

Physical Attributes: Recognize each type of immortal with fang diagrams, dissections of the vampire anatomy, and other helpful classification tools.

Habitat: Does it venture out in the day (and look awfully sparkly when it does) or board up the windows in mysterious manor houses?

Demeanor: Is it a brooding loner waging a never-ending struggle against the temptation of human blood, or a carefree creature with a biting wit who views the world as its own personal blood buffet?

Weaknesses: Crosses, sunlight, cutting off heads – what will do the job?

Cultural Assimilation: Prime yourself with the appropriate response to any situation you may find yourself in with someone ‘long in the tooth.’

Read this book and when the vampires some calling, be prepared with either your heart on your sleeve or a stake in your hand.

The review: Vampire Taxonomy is listed by its publisher as humour/reference and it is, in essence, a quick look at the ever changing lore and trends within the vampire genre – written from the point of view that vampires are real and then finding identifiers within pop culture to illuminate the phenomena.

It is also published, clearly, hot on the heels of the current vampire popularity boom with Twilight fans definitely in mind. As such, this sort of book does worry me. No matter how many times Ms Woerner warns the reader that vampires are, at heart, creatures of darkness who only want your life blood, one feels that a) pandering to a delusion of vampiric reality and b) pandering to a fad rather than the genre is a) worrying to dangerous and b) limiting.

However, the book was reviewed over at Night Tinted Glasses and Zahir, who runs said blog, is a person whose thoughts and opinions I greatly respect. He rated the book, thus it went on my Amazon wishlist, became a Christmas present from my wife and has now been read.

As I opened the book I was filled with the same worry that the general concept of it gave me. However, as I read on I found myself enjoying the tome. Written with an easy, friendly style it became clear that Woerner knows her stuff (or at least had researched well enough to make it appear so) and was more than happy to place in references that were off the beaten track, so to speak. I did think, several times, of references I might have added in but the genre is so large that will always be the case.

The book splits the genre into areas, looking at romantic vampires, villainous vampires, tragic vampires etc. and for the most part this works well. Woerner focuses mainly on vampires from film/TV (though literature vampires make an occasional appearance). Anyone new to the genre will be subtly introduced to a whole raft of new experiences via the book, should they care to follow it up. The book even has a limited index – something lacking in some more scholarly tomes.

The humour is gentle, with a conspiratorial tone that allows you to be in on the joke, as it were, a device that works well. The actual content is lightweight, whilst varied, and is more a starting point for further watching/research. Again, for the newcomer to the genre, this is bob on. For the more longstanding genre fan, the tone makes the book eminently readable.

It seems almost churlish to point out one entry as a negative but it was just in the language used. “In fact, ‘Carmilla’, published in 1872 was around before Dracula ever hit his popular stride.” This makes it sound as though Dracula was already published – clearly it hadn’t even been written or even conceived in 1872 – a small point but it made me sit up and pay attention for the wrong reasons. Also, this illustrates the limitations in the index. Whilst it is great that it has one, when I tried to find the quote above I discovered that Carmilla (the novel) has no entry, indeed the only index entry for Carmilla is for the character in Lesbian Vampire Killers. Likewise Dracula as a novel or character is not listed to the page the entry is on – I found the entry by looking up Sheridan le Fanu.

So, limitations aside, this is a well written book. Not the greatest reference work ever but it is eminently readable and will draw new genre fans to more obscure areas of the genre – in my opinion succeeding in its primary function. 7 out of 10 for the target audience, drop it a point if you are already well versed in the genre.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

For those wondering why it took me so long to read this book - this actual review was written on the 12th January - it has just taken me unto now to get around to publishing it!

Zahir Blue said...

Thankee for the kind words!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

No problem, given they're also true words :)

MadeInScotland said...


wondered if you'd stumbled upon this...

the Gorbals vampire...


Taliesin_ttlg said...

I hadn't, many thanks for that - I will keep an i-player eye out.

Anthony Hogg said...

This is slightly (heh) off topic, but if you haven't read it yet, I'm gonna recommend you a book that's right up your alley.

Tim Kane's The Changing Vampire of Film and Television: A Critical Study of the Growth of a Genre (2006).

Oh, and now I see where that Gorbals Vampire link came from! Been doin' a bit of googling, and there's a bunch of interesting sites referencing that iron-toothed beast!

A very interesting case, indeed!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

it is actually (the Tim Kane book) on my wishlist and, I suspect, I picked up on it from your blog (though my memory is endlessly rusty ;) ).

As I have a... ahem... bigger birthday coming up I expect that a few bits of my wishlist might be coming my way from family members. :)

Anthony Hogg said...

Hahahaha! Good luck, mate! :P