Saturday, August 21, 2010

Vampires: from Dracula to Twilight – the Complete Guide to Vampire Mythology – review

Author: Charlotte Montague

First published: 2010

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: There’s something about vampires In all their deadly, blood-sucking incarnations, they fascinate us. From Count Dracula to Edward Cullen, for centuries we have been enthralled by the mysterious legends that surround these dangerous creatures, and vampires have rarely been more popular than they are today. Pale-skinned, dark-cloaked, garlic-hating… the folklore is crawling with memorable myths. But how much do we really know about the history of vampire folklore? And is there any truth in it?

Vlad the Impaler, the fifteenth-century warrior-prince renowned for his cruelty, is widely believed to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but the roots of vampire mythology date back many centuries more, and fanged creatures of all shapes and sizes feature in cultures throughout the world. The Chupacabra – a strange beast said to stalk the countryside of Latin America – may appear to have little in common with the suave, sinister noblemen of Gothic literature, or the tortured teen vampires of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, but they all share one common obsession. A lust for blood.

Vampires explores these diverse myths and legends, their impact upon popular culture and the reason why we can’t get enough of their blood-sucking ways. If you long to know about your favourite vampire – whether it’s Edward Cullen, Angel or the master himself, Count Dracula – then get your teeth into this…

The review: Okay the blurb was enough to make me bristle and the fact that this brand new book was at a bargain price in a publisher’s clearing house was not a good sign. However, give all things a fair go…

The book befuddled me to a degree. Pop-culture lite in many respects it quoted no sources and this was annoying to begin with and the index is… shall we say short. The moniker “From Dracula to Twilight” is a misnomer as it does explore (though explore is perhaps a generous term) things that came before Dracula. When it comes to sources I would have loved to have seen one for the assertion that (having first neglected to mention Nosferatu when exploring the sunlight myth) in “later stories, vampires might collapse or explode when hit by sunlight, the ‘scientific’ explanation for this being that their neural pathways would fire randomly in their brains, causing them to experience extreme epileptic reactions, blinding them, and possibly setting them on fire”! I have seen many an explanation as to why sunlight might affect a vampire, and countless more films and books when it isn’t even explained but simply taken as read. I do not recall a theorem such as that… pray tell me your source… the book remains silent.

Montague also did things right, at least partially. She mentions Porphyria, which was annoying to see, but then did go as far as to say that it was an unlikely source for the vampire legend. However she then goes on to mention David Dolphin’s crackpot theories and argues there was no basis for his theorems (true) but maintains that there was an age old connection made between vampirism and Porphyria that he seized upon (as far as I know, untrue – it was Dolphin who made the connection first of all). EDIT: Later evidence shows that Dolphin may have picked up the theory from an earlier one but it was still twentieith Century in origin.

Annoyingly, whilst pointing out that Vlad Tepes was unlikely anything more than a name-donor for Dracula, the book paints quite a bleak picture of the historical man without explaining alternate theorems or pointing out that cruelty was the norm in the fifteenth century and that Tepes was not the only one impaling enemies (nor could he physically have had as many impaled as is often suggested). The same went for Báthory; Montague at least explains in respect of her that the killing and torture of peasants was actually not deemed a crime for the nobility of the time but then focuses on the sensationalist and tabloid level description of her life – no real alternate theorems regarding the woman. Now, don’t get me wrong, if someone is writing a book arguing that the worst excesses are true – that is one thing. However this is a book that postulates little in the way of theorem and purports to be a complete guide – if so, be complete.

That aside this was tabloid lite vampirism and was okay for what it was… until we got to other books film, TV and music…

The fact that this glossed over the massive range of books, films and TV series was strange given that the title of the book purposefully focuses on the media vampire. However, we can blame the publishers for that. What really annoyed me was reading, say, about True Blood and wondering whether the author had actually ever watched the show. It was almost as though a summary of it had been read and re-written, in doing so the draft in this seemed just a little off – for example Sookie, due to her involvement with Bill, discovering that vampires could live off the synthetic Tru Blood when, in the actual storyline, the only reason vampires had come out of the coffin pre-show – as Sookie well knew – was because of Tru Blood.

Vampires in pop seemed a pointless section given that the fact Montague concentrates on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osborne (none of whom being known for an overtly vampiric element to their stage shows/music) and their worst excesses was again tabloid at heart.

So, not the most auspicious book. For someone with no knowledge of the genre there are worse books but there are also much better books. It is far from a complete guide but does have occasionally interesting moments. It fails when it stretches beyond folklore, the obvious early literature and serial killers. 3.5 out of 10.


Christine said...

Handsome cover, though! Well, I agree that Tepes was probably no more than name-moniker to Dracula - I´m happy there´s no wince-inducing "Vampire legends come from Vlad" stuff - and I´m happy that she does not take Dolphin´s rubbish theories too seriously. Still, I probably don´t buy this.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

it is indeed a handsome cover Christine

Anthony Hogg said...

G'day Andrew,

Good news! I've discovered the source of Montague's "scientific" explanation for the effect of sunlight on vampires!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Anthony, many thanks for that. I have left a comment over yonder at your page as, whilst we now have a source, it seems things are worse rather than better.