Monday, January 28, 2013

Troublesome Corpses: Vampires & Revenants from Antiquity to the Present – review

Author: David Keyworth

First Published: 2007

The Blurb: Since earliest times man has feared troublesome corpses – the bodies of the dead which do not lie still and decompose, but rise again to revisit the living. European folklore is particularly rich in tales of vampires and reanimated cadavers. The Undead take many forms, as do precautions to avert an attack and methods of destruction should precautions fail.

What distinguishes vampires from other revenants? What metaphysical agencies empower the Undead and how do theological contortions help explain them? And why did popular belief in the existence of the undead wane during the eighteenth Century? These and other vampiric questions are addressed in David Keyworth’s encyclopaedic survey of troublesome corpses.

The Review: It is difficult to review this book without using words such as seminal, wonderful and necessary: so there you go, I got them out of the way.

Heyworth’s book explores the concept of corpses who just won’t stay still and the main question within the book is, “what is the difference between a vampire and the other types of undead?” This is not an etymological question and the simple answer seems to be blood. The vampire panics of the eighteenth century had revenants that were not only called ‘vampire’ for the first time (in print at least) but drank the blood of victims. Blood did come into earlier folklore but it was not as central as it was in the eighteenth century vampire reports/folklore.

To take us on this journey Keyworth takes us from Antiquity, through Medieval writing all the way to the Eighteenth century and beyond that, touching onto the twenty-first century. However, keep in mind that this is an exploration of the vampire of folklore, media vampires need not apply except in passing. I found the discussions around the revenants of medieval England and the Scandinavian draugrs particularly fascinating.

It has to be said, however, that the book is so much more than the above. It looks deeply into all aspects of the vampire reports and folklore with impressive referencing and useful indexing.This book has been either the source of, or has informed, several threads on the Facebook Vampire Lore and Legend page and is, in itself, invaluable to all students of the vampire. 10 out of 10.


Kyle Van Helsing said...

Now I just want to get it out and read it again!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I would do so Kyle, as you know it is a mine of information :) Cheers for the comment