Saturday, March 01, 2014

Vampire Lore – review

Author: Jan Louis Perkowski

First Published: 2006

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: This omnibus volume collects under a single cover the entire oeuvre of writings by Jan Louis Perkowski on the vampire theme in mythology and folklore, including his three previously monographs (Vampires, Dwarves and Witches Amongst the Ontario Kashubs, 1972; Vampires of the Slavs, 1976; and The Darkling: A Treatise on Slavic Vampirism, 1989), in addition to 18 previously uncollected articles on the subject, one newly written for this volume.

As Bruce McClelland notes in his Preface to the volume, in the folklore of the Slavs, the vampire plays a specific role in a broader system of folk belief. Where in the West, the vampire is utterly monstrous, the symbol of pure evil and darkness that is nevertheless romanticized and eroticized, its moral status is more nuanced and ambiguous in the Slavic conception. Yet the ancient Slavic folklore vampire represents the historical basis of the pop and cultural vampire about which movies, television shows, and video games are still being profitably made.

Some of the materials here are enormously useful because they reveal historical stages in the conception of the vampire that are quite different from what most would know about the vampire who are familiar only with the Western literary tradition. This corrective aspect of Perkowski’s vampires, which exposes a tradition directly linked to the Balkan or at any rate Slavic folklore that follows a path that is quite independent of the 19th-century literary/metaphorical notions of the vampire, has had a difficult time getting traction in popular consciousness in the West, which suggests an entrenchment of Romantic and Gothic traditions, and a concomitant resistance to correction by legitimate ethnographic research.

The review: What can I say about this volume? In a single word – essential.

I already had Perkowski’s volume the Darkling, which is contained in this volume, but this pulled together all three core volumes by Perkowski and 18 further papers. For those that do not know Perkowski, he is probably the foremost expert, in English, regarding Slavic folklore – and for our purposes the vampire. I have seen articles that disagree with some of his conclusions – I’m not sure that I agree with all – but all his writing makes the reader think and introduces concepts not covered in other sources. Painstakingly researched I don’t think you can get a better primer into Slavic vampirism. However it is a scholarly book, do not expect anything less and sometimes the language can be from the stuffy depths of academia.

Further criticisms I could level at the volume are that it is that it is sorely lacking an index and that certain bits of the volume are contained twice within the volume – but that is because Vampire of the Slavs pulled together various writings and thus reproduced part of Vampires, Dwarves and Witches Amongst the Ontario Kashubs and a paper that is placed within the collected papers, thus to make the volume absolutely complete they were included twice. Other than this, any student of the folklore vampire needs this book on their shelves. 9 out of 10.

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