Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Vampire Encyclopedia - review

Author: Mathew Bunson

First Published: 1993

This should be a simple review. This encyclopaedia contains “over 2000 entries on the myth, legend, and lore” of the vampire and therefore all is good. Things are never that easy however.

The book was published in 1993, mine is the edition released in 2000, and yet there do not seem to have been any updates of the entries. Given the high number of vampire books and films released since 1993, I would have hoped that the publishers would have asked Bunson to produce an updated edition. Even if brand new entries had not been added, it is clear that entries such as the one on Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles could have been updated to include later books rather than stalling at “The Tale of the Body Thief”. As such the book is caught in time.

Which brings me to gripe number two; I disagree with some of the entries. I shall use the entry referring to Lilith as an example. Bunson writes:

“The Queen of the Night, portrayed in Hebrew legend as the first woman, created to be the wife of Adam, but with such an evil spirit that she departed Adam’s side to dwell with the forces of darkness.”

This is far from my understanding of the legend. The way I understand it, Lilith refused to be dominated by Adam and insisted that, when coupling, she was on top. When her wishes were refused she became (self) exiled and then a woman scorned. Lilith essentially is the first feminist and the myth underlines the misogynous view that stated that women must be always under men (literally and metaphorically). This is not mentioned at all.

To be fair, I do not find such fault with most of the entries but, those that I did, stood out glaringly to me. Another example concerned the book Dracula:

“Ranked as the greatest work of the genre (fans of Interview with a Vampire or ‘Salem’s Lot would disagree)”

This is presumptive. I am a fan of Interview and ‘Salem’s Lot, but I still rank Bram Stoker’s Dracula as the greatest work of the genre, others would not. To me an encyclopaedia should burnish you with fact and whilst, given the style of the book, opinion was not going to be avoided, that opinion should not presume the opinions of others.

The final gripe I had with the book was not the fault of the author at all but, given the huge amount of material that surrounds the genre I simply felt that over 2000 entries was simply not enough. I really wanted the book to go on and on, but such a work would be one that would consume a lifetime and, given the fact that the genre continues to grow exponentially, one that would never be complete.

All that said, the book is a good reference material for the student of the genre and is written in a friendly, chatty manner that aids consumption of the facts. Containing details of literature, myth, legend and film it is certainly, with the caveats I have listed, a book I would recommend, though it desperately needs an update.

All in all 8 out of 10.


zombiepunk said...

a work that sounds interesting, and is one that i will definitely look out for. the one down side is, as you mention, that it really could do with being updated. but nevertheless i shall try and find a copy to add to my bookshelf. many thanks for bringing this to my attention

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Not a problem. The book is currently on Amazon, in hardback, for a reasonable price.

CrabStiX said...

Perhaps someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things vampiric should write a... Doh!

Mark said...

I have a similar book, called The Vampire Book, with a subtitle that reads: "The Encyclopedia of the Undead." It was written by Dr. J. Gordon Melton, and I believe it was first published in 1994. Are you familiar with this?

It's been a long time since I've looked through it, but I remember thinking it seemed incomplete. I'm curious as to how the books compare. I have a feeling The Vampire Encyclopedia is the superior copy.

Taliesin_ttlg said...


I think I've heard of the book but not actually read a copy so I couldn't say which was superior.

One of the problems with any of these is that they are all, to one degree or another, incomplete... either because of when they were written or because of space.

I'll keep an eye out for Melton's book, however.

Anthony Hogg said...

Hi Taliesin,

Two notes on your entry.

The book you reviewed isn't actually a second edition, but merely a reprint. The original was published by Crown Publishers, New York, in 1993.

Hence, no updates.

The English edition was published as Vampire: The Encyclopædia (London: Thames & Hudson, 1993) and a German edition called Das Buch der Vampire was published by Heyne in 2001.

As to the entry on Lilith, while I'll admit the book has flaws, this isn't quite one of them.

There are multiple variants of the Lilith myth, of which, Bunson recounts but one version. For more on this topic, read here.

To mark,

You are referring to J. Gordon Melton's book, The Vampire Book: Encyclopedia of the Undead, which was published in 1994.

A second edition was published in 1998, which was heavily - though perhaps superfluously - updated.

Bunson is actually cited as a source for the above work. However, Melton's work features entries far more in-depth than Bunson's. It almost stands as a work of one-upmanship.

Nonetheless, it is far more comprehensive and a much more handier tool for vampire scholars.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Anthony, I'm afraid you mis-understood my comment re the edition. I realised it was a reprint, I just lamented the lack of a second edition, given the oportunity.

I agree there are various versions of the Lilith myth, but I felt one of the more important wasn't mentioned - but point taken.

As for Melton's the Vampire Book, I really found it very flawed. It does have a lot of enteries but, more often than not, I find that I have to double-check the entry with other sources as I don't trust it unfortunately.

S.Roit said...

I have the updated Melton book of 1999. You can recognize it easily from the picture of Keifer Sutherland from Lost Boys on the cover.

I didn't realize there was a different encyclopedia, the one you review here. If they ever update it, perhaps I'll check it out.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi. I certainly recommend this one, though it is light on entries. The Melton book I have found too many inacuracies - plus an over reliance on Buffy and Vampire the Masquerade to the detriment of other entries. I still use the Melton book (I have the lost boy cover also) but with caution.