Saturday, December 15, 2012

Shadow of the Vampuss

Although SHADOW OF THE VAMPUSS (2005), by Karen Mahoney and Alex Ukolov, is more recent than most of the “old” books I’ve discussed, I’m spotlighting it this time because many readers might have missed it. The title, of course, echoes SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, the movie about the making of the film NOSFERATU. The book, however, is essentially DRACULA retold with cats as characters. This oversize trade paperback has lavish illustrations of elaborate Gothic backgrounds populated by cats (and other animals in supporting roles) in Victorian dress. The artistry and effort involved in creating the detailed photos must have been incredible. A disclaimer on the copyright page states, “All the images were done using models that were then digitally combined with photographs of cats. No cats were harmed in any way, in fact, no cat was even inconvenienced. Please don’t try dressing any cats.”

Allowing for necessary abridgment and simplification, SHADOW OF THE VAMPUSS follows Stoker’s plot remarkably faithfully except for significant changes in the middle. Young tomcat Jonathan Harker travels to the castle of Count Scratchula in Transylvania. Just before Jonathan’s coach leaves for the Pit Bull Pass, the innkeeper's wife gives him a bag of catnip, which replaces garlic as a vampire repellent in this version of the story. The Count himself turns out to be a hairless breed of cat wearing an outfit reminiscent of Dracula’s first costume in the film BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. After undergoing the expected horrific ordeals, Jonathan escapes from the castle and gets rescued wandering in the mountains, out of his mind. Meanwhile, in Kitby, England, a ship runs aground, and Mina’s friend Lucy begins to fall ill. Just as in the original novel, Lucy continues to waste away while Mina hurries to Budapest to marry Jonathan and bring him home. Lucy’s fiance, Arthur, sends for Dr. Van Helsing of Hamsterdam. Lucy dies and rises again to prowl in St. Whisker's cemetery, preying on helpless kittens. After putting her to rest, Van Helsing, Arthur, and Jonathan track down Count Scratchula while Mina falls under his spell. The heroes pursue the Count back to Transylvania and destroy him, freeing Mina’s soul. This book differs from the original mainly in omitting the entire Renfield plot—no lunatic asylum scenes, no Dr. Seward (although there’s a brief movie-inspired mention of a rat driven mad by what he witnesses on the wrecked ship in Kitby). Instead of Jonathan’s journal revealing the truth to Mina and the rest of the group, Jonathan has a copy of THE BOOK OF NOSFELINU, acquired in Transylvania (a detail borrowed from NOSPERATU). In another film-inspired change, cat-Mina develops a fascinated passion for the vampire, which of course ends as soon as his destruction releases her from his thrall. Jonathan and Mina settle down in domestic bliss to raise kittens. However, the last line of the story offers a cute twist: “Little Carmilla somehow looks strangely unlike her littermates.”

For any DRACULA fan, SHADOW OF THE VAMPUSS would easily be worth its $24-dollar price. Amazon does, however, list some cheaper secondhand copies.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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