Sunday, August 16, 2015

Vampire Evolution: From Myth to Modern Day – review

Authors: E R “Corvis Nocturnum” Vernor and L E Carruba

First Published: 2015

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Vampires are beings of myth: folkloric creatures who live off the blood of the living and have been recorded in nearly every culture around the world since the beginning of man. This work traces the evolution of the vampire, from its roots in ancient mythology to obscure folk tales and legends, leading up to when these foul beings transformed into the suave Byronic heroes that continue to influence the world’s view of the vampire today. It also examines key individuals in history involved in reshaping our concept of the creature. Popular culture is explored, along with the development of the vampire into the protagonist in plays and poems and novels. Sixty-one frightening images bring the topic right to your front door. Will you invite the visitor in?

The review: Save me from ill-researched reference books.

When this arrived (and it was sent as a review copy) I was taken by the embossed hardback cover with the red bat but as I opened it I inwardly groaned. The fancy font suggested it may be content light and the book was packed with pretty pictures (which, in fairness, are very pretty).

However I noticed a bibliography, though no index, and a reference to Anthony Hogg, which perked me up as it boded well for good research. Sadly the referencing left much to be desired (there are at least three improperly referenced bits from Anthony but only one bibliography entry) and the content proved to be one which had me shouting at the book. This took three forms – bad research/supposition, bad writing and errors. I will cover some of my (least) favourites.

Discussing Thomas Aquinas and his belief that the Devil could cause metamorphosis of men to animal the authors suggest “This might be the origin of Bram Stoker’s Dracula becoming a wolfish creature and mention in future stories of vampires shifting into bats and mist.” Now re-read the sentence, this suggests that Dracula (in Stoker’s original) didn’t turn into a bat or mist, and that lore came in later stories, but it was part of Stoker’s lore. On the next page there is a supposition that nightmares symptomatic of the Black Death inspired Dracula communicating to Renfield telepathically – which is really plucking connections out of thin air.

Mention is made of Ludovico Fatinelli – of his “Treatise on Vampires” and suggesting the gentleman was burned at the stake… Except the gentleman did not exist and the treatise is a hoax volume.

Vampire poems are mentioned such as Christabel by Coleridge, and Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci and Lamia. True, later authors have tied Lamia and vampires together, and many claim that Christabel was an influence on Le Fanu’s Carmilla, however none of the three poems are vampire poems (and Lamia is not a poem about Lilith either, as the authors further suggest).

One of the authors (I assume Vernor) tells us the Michelle Belanger told him a lot about Byron but the quote (I assume of her) was a mismatch of half-truths, bad research and myth and stated, “he identified as a vampire”. Not one single scholarly tome I have read on Byron suggests this; indeed Byron stated, whilst repudiating authorship of Polidori’s story, “I have, besides, a personal dislike to ‘Vampires’ and the little acquaintance I have with them would by no means induce me to divulge their secrets” (The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 125 1819 p633). The authors suggest Byron’s fragment (which we know Polidori expanded upon) was published before Polidori’s story – it was published after to prove Byron wasn’t the author of Polidori’s work and contains no vampire aspect. Its only real impact on the genre was the fact that Polidori used it as a base for his work.

Whilst talking of Planche’s The Vampire, or Bride of the Isles (1820), the author says that “Not since Varney did a vampire so clearly introduce the dualism of intellectual man and mindless, killing predator…” except of course that it predated Varney by twenty five years!

On Dracula it is suggested that the “phantom-like ship, Demeter was based off a real story of a boat by the same name” – except that the real shipwrecked vessel was called the Dmitry and the crew landed safely. The authors revive the suggestion that Van Helsing was based on Robert Roosevelt (except the author states Theodore Roosevelt) and Dracula was based on Walt Whitman (taking on “his attributes” even though we know the character’s appearance came from the Baring-Gould description of a werewolf) and the book was some sort of psychodrama of homophobia due to Stoker’s syphilis – despite the fact that the belief he had died of this comes from as late as 1975 and Daniel Farson (his grand-nephew) and has no corroborating evidence. In other words there is little evidence to support the suppositions. Vernor quotes himself as saying “Washington Irving—the very same man Stoker had in mind to play the character Dracula on stage”, err that would be Sir Henry Irving. The normal inflated conflation with Vlad Tepes occurs and later, discussing other books, the authors suggest that Dracula needs his “native earth” though this is from the movies and the book had different lore, being “in soil barren of holy memories it cannot rest”.

Whilst talking about books, the authors cover Anne Rice and quote Louis’ opening narrative… except (as well as not being referenced) it isn’t from the book but from the film – which itself is covered in the next chapter – hence why it talks of the death of his wife, which as an event replaced the death of his brother from the book.

When it comes to films apparently Lugosi “starred in Dracula sequels” – actually he only played Dracula one other time. In the Munsters Marilyn is called a “fairly normal teenage daughter” – she was the niece. Apparently in Black Sunday Asa uses “the Elizabeth Bathory method of attaining youth and beauty through virgin blood.” Well there isn’t a bath of blood in sight and she is revived by the blood of an older (and presumably non-virginal) male doctor and actually acts as an energy vampire when attacking her doppleganger.

Calling Dracula (1992)the first faithful cinematic retelling of the source material” is a push, to say the least, and suggesting it introduced “other elements hinted at, but not fully explained in the novel, like the growing relationship between Count Dracula and Mina Harker” is nigh on fraudulent as that relationship was not hinted at! Blade (as in the Marvel character) is described as African-American, in the original comics he is British. Also, it might have just been really badly written but “trying to find the next True Blood, television networks adapted other vampire book series to television, like author Tanya Huff’s Blood series became the show Blood Ties (2007)”. Now, given the authors correctly date True Blood to 2008 earlier in the paragraph one has to either worry at the clunky writing or the time machine involved.

Adding in a section about Self-Identified Vampires I suppose was inevitable, though it is so thin as to not over-egg the pudding, but not necessarily welcome in a reference work on vampires in folklore and media.

So, there we have it. I have barely touched on the issues I had with it. The volume does look very pretty though. 2.5 out of 10 for the pretty pictures.

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