Thursday, September 18, 2014

Written in Blood: A Cultural History of the British Vampire – review

Author: Paul Adams

First Published: 2014

The blurb: The British Isles has a remarkable association with vampires – chilling supernatural creatures of the night. From the nineteenth-century writings of John Polidori, James Rymer, Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker, to the modern literary horrors of Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley and Kim Newman, the vampire casts a strange and compelling shadow that spreads from the realms of fantasy into the world of the living. Here you will find vampire murderers and vampire hunters together with the real-life mysteries of Croglin Grange, Alnwick Castle, the Vampire of the Villas, the Yorkshire Vampire and the enduring phenomenon of London’s famous Highgate Vampire.

In this thought-provoking book, illustrated with never before seen photographs and drawing on extensive original research, writer and paranormal historian Paul Adams explores the fascinating history of British vampirism in both fact and fiction. With extensive chapters on the post-war revival of Gothic cinema horror and the influence of cult studio Hammer Films on the vampire in British television and music, here is a modern guide where every page is truly written in blood…

The review: Paul Adams takes us on a whistle-stop tour of vampirism as it ties in to British culture, running the gamut from 1816 to 2013 and looking at everything from Penny Dreadfuls through to Hammer films and beyond. He looks at legends (such as Croglin Grange) and some of the earlier appearances of the restless dead (as recorded by William of Newburgh and Walter Map). He touches on continental Europe, of course, and delves into vampire murderers – which does see him veering off the Isles as well as into general occult orientated killings, I think as a need to pad out what would have been a thin chapter had he remained in Britain.

Mostly I found his writing balanced, the discussion of the Highgate Vampire steered a fair line between the two primary personalities involved in the case without fawning over either. The book is quite tabloid in its brevity, in places, but Adams chose to write an overview – each chapter may have generated a reference book of its own. The writing style is chatty and engaging but the book does have a bibliography and indexing, allowing further reading into the subjects.

Given the general balance shown, I found it (possibly unfairly) unfortunate that he had not unearthed the potential controversy surrounding the authenticity of the Penny Dreadful story, The Skeleton Count, or, the Vampire Mistress. But, then again, my own reference bookdid not pick up on this when written. More unfortunate was the continued association between Count Dracula and Prince Vlad III. Adams’ suggests that Stoker “immersed himself in the history of the Wallachian warrior knights Vlad Dracul (d 1447) and his son…” but there is absolutely no evidence of this. For more on this please see my article. That aside the balance in the book – when looking at competing theories, was well maintained.

All in all, a fine primer on a plethora of vampire related topics. 7.5 out of 10.

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