Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Vampire: A Casebook – review

Editor: Alan Dundes

First Published:1998

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Finally, the truth about vampires.

Vampires are the most fearsome and fascinating of all creatures of folklore. For the first time, detailed accounts of the vampire and how its tradition developed in different cultures are gathered in one volume by eminent folklorist Alan Dundes. Eleven leading scholars from the fields of Slavic studies, history, anthropology, and psychiatry unearth the true nature of the vampire from its birth in graveyard lore to the modern-day psychiatric patient with a penchant for drinking blood.

The Vampire; a Casebook takes this legend out of the realm of literature and film and back to its dark beginnings in folk traditions. The essays examine the history of the word “vampire”; Romanian vampires; Greek vampires; Serbian vampires; the physical attributes of vampires; the killing of vampires; and the possible psychoanalytic underpinnings of vampires. Much more than simply a scary creature of the human imagination, the vampire continues to haunt the lives of all those who encounter it—in reality or in fiction.

The review: It is good, from time to time, to move away from the media vampire and look at the folkloric original creature. Very different from the glamorised media vampire, the folklore nevertheless underpins the media and is interesting in its own account.

The Vampire: a Casebook is, like any such edited volume, a mixed bag, some essays striking a chord and others not so. Whilst I realise that the collection has some age it is worth mentioning that a couple of the essays remark upon Dracula, in passing at least, and suggest that Stoker “patterned Count Dracula after an actual fifteenth-century Romanian prince, known variously as Voivode Dracula and Vlad Ţepeş.” This is not true, of course, Stoker borrowed a name and a footnote, and there is no evidence that he did any more than that - despite wishful thinking in certain quarters.

Highlight essay, for me, concerned Greek Vampires and was contributed by Juliette duBoulay, and mention should also be given to the Paul Barber essay – whilst containing nothing additional to his seminal Vampires, Burial and Death it is always a joy to read his work. I felt that Philip D. Jaffé and Frank DiCataldo missed a trick in their discussion on Clinical Vampirism by concentrating on fairly modern cases and not at least referencing the work of Richard von Krafft-Ebing in the 19th century.

I was not convinced by Dundes argument, using Freudian psychoanalysis, that the root of the word vampire was the Greek Pī, “to drink”, but I enjoyed the journey to that suggestion. All in all a good, if eclectic, scholarly look at the folklore vampire (veering off into clinical vampirism). 7 out of 10.

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