Sunday, August 31, 2014

Realm of the Vampire: History and the Undead – review

Author: Daniel J Wood

First published: 2009

The Blurb: Do vampires exist? Our ancestors certainly believed they did.

We are forced to rely on ancient records and eyewitness testimony, and absolute proof remains in the shadows, just out of reach.

Vampire research has fallen into a pattern of debunking, with academic writers chasing after trendy theories to explain away the vampire.

The review: I came across this book through Anthony Hogg and purchased it via kindle as this seems to be the only way to get the book currently.

After a foreword by David A Sattman, which seems to garble the Arnold Paole story, we move onto Wood’s work. He briefly introduces English Tradition and then the New England vampire scares before going into the work proper. This concentrates primarily on Polish vampirism.

There is debate as to whether the restless dead of the English tradition, revenants, can rightly be called vampires. Wood answers that by laying down the concept that whilst, “More and more modern authors, frustrated by this linguistic looseness, have attempted to restrict the use of the term ‘vampire’ by imposing an artificial dichotomy between the vampire-as-living-corpses and other unquiet dead. The folkloric sources of many nations, many realms of the undead, do not support this dichotomy, which itself is based upon a unique set of eighteenth-century cases.” Pretty much espousing, therefore, the Montague Summers broad view of the folklore.

Wood seems to almost take the view point of accepting the existence of vampires as reported. To me, accepting the theories of (say) Barber does not lessen the power of the original belief and thus I can, at least, accept a (mistaken) genuine belief by those who laid down the stories and unearthed the corpses, and the impact this had culturally, psychologically and politically thereafter.

Wood is right in his assertion that less is known of the Polish traditions, compared to those of the more Southern Slavs, and draws a fairly vivid picture of a Poland at the height of its power. He introduces us to concepts such as the zmory, living vampires that fulfilled a night hag role but tended to be shown as young and beautiful (interestingly the zmory only appear in Bane's Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology, under zmora, as an alternative for incubus and do not have their own section). He also contemplates whether the occult activities in Poland (and Czech) led to the large numbers of restless dead reported through the post-Renaissance period – a position that seems sustainable only if one agrees that the outbreaks were real.

One thing not mentioned, but that did strike me whilst reading the book, was around the thought that victims of vampiric attack often speak of strangulation and not blood drinking, the blood drinking apparently assumed because of the state of the corpse when exhumed. However, if the vampire strangled a victim and then drank the blood post mortem, then surviving victims would only have reported strangulation.

One frustrating part of the book was that whilst it has a large sources section, there was a tendency to not cite within text and one feels that a scholarly work should do so. There is no index, though this might have just been missed from the kindle version as redundant (kindle's having a search capacity). Beyond this it was an enjoyable read and, whilst I disagree with some of Wood's assertions, an interesting tome. 7 out of 10.

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