Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Vamp or Not? Vampire Horror!

"Vampire Horror!" is a professionally read audio book containing four stories. Two are classics of the vampire genre. Polidori's The Vampyre: a Tale being the first English language vampire prose, excellently read by Bill Wallis, and F. Marion Crawford's For the Blood is the Life is a sublime little tale read by John Teffler and a story that may well form the basis of an ‘Interesting Short’ article in the future.

The other two stories are by M R James and their part in the vampire genre is debatable, hence this ‘Vamp or Not?’

At the beginning of Wailing Well narrator Anthony Head informs us that this has vampiric overtones (as does, he alleges, the other M R James story in the set). "Wailing Well" has a welcome humour around it, within the style and content of the short as it follows, in the main, the misadventures of Stanley Judkins, an Etonian and Scout – though a poor student and worse scout.

On the Scouts' Midsummer holidays Stanley and his friends look out to Wailing Well, a feature that is ringed red on their map as out of bounds. A local Shepherd tells them the legend of the three women and a man who met their ends in that area but Stanley doesn’t believe him and resolves to go to the well.

When his scout masters go to his rescue figures are seen and one is described as “something in ragged black — with whitish patches breaking out of it: the head, perched on a long thin neck, half hidden by a shapeless sort of blackened sun-bonnet.” Later we hear that the “rim of a broken black hat fell off the creature's head and showed a white skull with stains that might be wisps of hair.”

So evidently these are skeletal creatures. As for Stanley, the scout master Mr Hope-Jones finds him: “Over his shoulder hung the corpse of Stanley Judkins. He had cut it from the branch to which he found it hanging, waving to and fro. There was not a drop of blood in the body.”

The exsanguination certainly suggests vampirism but we do not actually know what they do with the blood. At the end of the tale we hear that the figures lurking around the well now have a boy amongst their number – suggesting that Stanley becomes one of the creatures. Mr Hope-Jones fails to destroy the trees growing around the well, evidently stopped by a supernatural force. Are they vampires, deep down I suspect not but they certainly have some potential that could be exploited by a filmmaker adapting the story. You can read Wailing Well here.

The other story this article needs to explore is the Cornelius Garrett read, An Episode of Cathedral History and again there is little vampiric in the story of an altar-tomb found in a cathedral during a restoration, in which something exists. The something seems to be able to leave the altar-tomb at night, through a crack.

What resides in it? When they go to investigate the narrator’s father sees “A thing like a man, all over hair, and two great eyes to it”. It seems to visit people in their sleep spreading disease (possibly consumption?) and nightmares. At the end, James describes a cross affixed to the sealed tomb engraved with the phrase "Ibi cubavit lamia", which is from the Vulgate edition of the Bible, Isaiah xxxiv verse 14. A quick online research reveals that Rosemary Pardoe suggests that it translates as "there shall be the lair of the night monster". Pardoe connects the night monster to a witch or vampire and the lamia is often associated with the vampire genre.

To me there would seem to be a connection with the traditional, rather than the fictional, vampire within the tale, though that might not seem explicit on a casual listen/read. You can read An Episode of Cathedral History here.

I should say, however, that the two James stories are well read and immensely fun, just not explicitly vampire stories (though the second seems more vampiric than the first) and this may lead to some disappointment given the title of the set. Indeed there are other vampire stories that might have been used, I’d have loved to have heard an audio of the Tomb of Sarah for instance. Nevertheless it is a good audio set.

The set was first reviewed for the Amazon Vine programme and the review was expanded for this ‘Vamp or Not?’

No comments: