Thursday, September 15, 2011

Vintage Vampire Stories

VINTAGE VAMPIRE STORIES, an anthology of relatively obscure Victorian and Edwardian tales edited by Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Richard Dalby, comes in the form of an inexpensive trade paperback that would appeal to any hard-core fan who wants to explore the lesser-known byways of the tradition. I had read almost none of the stories before, and even many of their titles were new to me, not yet included in my bibliography. Both editors are distinguished vampire bibliographers, and Dalby is one of the major authorities on nineteenth-century horror fiction, so it’s not surprising that they unearthed so many vintage works unfamiliar to the general reader.

The stories are conveniently presented in chronological order with detailed biographical paragraphs about the authors. Aside from one anomaly, a translation of a seventeenth-century literary rendition of a Chinese legend, their dates range from 1863 to 1909. As a bonus, at the end of the book there’s a short essay by Charles Dickens, Jr., on vampires, werewolves, and ghouls (1871). By the way, don’t expect too much from the Bram Stoker selection, which isn’t a story at all. It’s an excerpt from his working notes for DRACULA, basically a preliminary outline for that novel. Readers who haven’t seen the facsimile edition of those notes, however, may find this glimpse of the original plan for the king of vampires intriguing.

Most of the stories were published pre-DRACULA, and all of them before the Bela Lugosi movie established Count Dracula’s undisputed dominance as the archetypal vampire. Therefore, these tales show lots of interesting variations on the theme, unlike most vampire fiction of the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, which tends to either imitate or self-consciously react against DRACULA. In VINTAGE VAMPIRE STORIES we meet psychic vampires, gruesome undead, and a bloodthirsty disembodied hand as well as the more familiar seductresses and charismatic, predatory males. Even the latter types diverge from the models found in CARMILLA and DRACULA, each in his or her individual way. One warning for meticulous readers, though: While many of the texts are cleanly edited, a few are riddled with typos, possibly as if those stories were added in a rush at the end of the project. Sabine Baring-Gould’s “Margery of Quether,” in particular, reads as if it were retyped from scratch and never proofread. (The errors aren’t the kind that would be produced by scanning.) Too bad, because Margery is one of the more grotesquely unusual monsters in the collection, while remaining clearly an undead bloodsucker.

If you’re a vampire fan with a love for old-fashioned horror in the classic style, you’ll want to own this book.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

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