Thursday, May 09, 2013

Reading the Vampire – review

Author: Ken Gelder

First published: 1994

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Insatiable bloodlust, dangerous sexualities, the horror of the undead, uncharted Transylvanian wildernesses, and a morbid fascination with the `other': the legend of the vampire continues to haunt popular imagination.

Reading the Vampire examines the vampire in all its various manifestations and cultural meanings. Ken Gelder investigates vampire narratives in literature and in film, from early vampire stories like Sheridan Le Fanu's `lesbian vampire' tale Carmilla and Bram Stoker's Dracula, the most famous vampire narrative of all, to contemporary American vampire blockbusters by Stephen King and others, the vampire chronicles of Anne Rice, `post-Ceausescu' vampire narratives, and films such as FW Murnau's Nosferatu and Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Reading the Vampire embeds vampires in their cultural contexts, showing vampire narratives feeding off the anxieties and fascinations of their times: from the nineteenth century perils of tourism, issues of colonialism and national identity, and obsessions with sex and death, to the `queer' identity of the vampire or current vampiric metaphors for dangerous exchanges of bodily fluids and AIDS.

The Review: I bought Reading the Vampire purely on the basis of having read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Gelder’s New Vampire Cinema. Of course, whilst this is a discussion of vampire literature, it couldn’t help but stray into a discussion about cinema but primarily this is the literary companion of the later cinema book.

As well as looking at Carmilla and Dracula the book explores an ethnocentric look at vampire literature and the influence of Greek lore on Polidori and Byron. It explores the works of Anne Rice, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, Brian Aldiss and S P Somtow. There is a Marxist examination of vampire literature and a look at Carmilla in terms of the uncanny.

This was not as immediately accessible as the later cinema book. This is down to, I believe, a more  academic-centric approach to the work as Gelder looks at vampire literature in terms of literary theory. That is not a criticism but the later book, whilst academically thorough, was more lay-reader friendly and the approach herein might put off the more casual reader, especially if some of the academic research is unfamiliar.

That said, it is an important book for the library of the student of the media vampire. 7.5 out of 10.

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