Thursday, March 12, 2015

Open graves, open minds – review

Edited by: Sam George and Bill Hughes

First Published: 2013

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Open graves, open minds relates the Undead in literature and other media to questions concerning genre, technology, consumption and social change. It features original research by leading scholars (Dr Sam George is a frequent commentator on the contemporary vampire; Dr Catherine Spooner, a pioneer of the study of Contemporary Gothic; and Dr Stacey Abbott is the author of the seminal work on the vampire in film and TV). The essays cover texts both familiar and unexpected, bringing debates around fictional vampires into the twenty-first century where they are currently enjoying a vogue.

This wide-ranging collection forms a coherent narrative which follows Enlightenment studies of the vampire's origins in folklore and folk panics, tracing sources of vampire fiction, through Romantic incarnations in Byron and Polidori to Le Fanu's Carmilla. Further essays discuss the undead in the context of Dracula, fin-de-siècle decadence and Nazi Germany together with early cinematic treatments. The rise of the sympathetic vampire is charted from Coppola's Dracula, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight. More recent manifestations in novels, TV, Goth subculture, young adult fiction and cinema are dealt with in discussions of True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and much more.

The book is essential reading for those who wish to explore open graves with an open mind: scholars of literature and film, enthusiasts of all things vampiric and writers of Undead fiction. The Transylvanian notebooks of the award-winning novelist Marcus Sedgwick conclude the study, shedding light on recent trends in young adult fiction. Sedgwick lays bare the writing process for budding novelists and creative writers in the genre.

The review: Despite the high price tag that can be attached to reference works (and this volume is rather pricey) a well-researched, well planned volume can be a most fulfilling read.

Sub-headed “Representations of vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the present day”, Open graves, open minds is firmly about the media vampire and the contributions ran the gamut from the Vampyre through to some of the newest TV series. I didn’t necessarily agree with all I read but the chapters all made me think and that makes such a thing worthwhile. I also love it when a book switches me on to something new (to me). Juliann Ulin’s contribution, Sheridan le Fanu’s vampires and Ireland’s invited invasion, looked at some of the subtext about the British occupancy of Ireland and the Great Famine within La Fanu’s work. Of course we all know Carmilla but I had never seen his story The Mysterious Lodger connected with vampirism before – you can look forward to a ‘Vamp or Not?’ article about that in the future.

One aspect that I perhaps think needs a broader view was the idea of the “defanged vampire”. Aiming at Twilight but also taking in True Blood (specifically around Bill) and also the Vampire Diaries. The vampire genre is so large that this is unwarrantedly selective and for every Cullen we can counter with a vampire from 30 Days of Night (for example). However the vampires in True Blood may be playing nice but are not domesticated by a long shot and the Vampire Diary vampires are often homicidal (I know of comments about Damon being hard to take as a character because all the other characters seem to have forgotten that he is essentially a serial killer who has killed many of their loved ones).The interesting aspect of the "good" vampire is in how the characters more often than not fall from grace and that warrants investigation also.

Of course the sparkling example (pun intended) is Edward from Twilight but – even if we leave some of the subtexts alone and ignore the fact that he is a very creepy stalker – we need to recognise that even in Meyer’s universe, where we do not get the same fall from grace as other franchises, the Cullens are an aberration and the majority of vampires are ruthless killers.

Be that as it may, even the contributions based around Twilight were worthwhile reads and I make that point as it is too easy to dismiss things once that brand is mentioned. The book veers into zombie territory for one chapter but for the main looked directly at our toothsome friends and the book is highly recommended as a primary reference work on the media vampire. 9 out of 10.

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