Friday, February 15, 2013

Carpe Jugulum

British fantasy author Terry Pratchett will need no introduction for many readers, but those who aren’t avid followers of his work may not know his Discworld series includes a vampire novel, CARPE JUGULUM (1998). The motto of Pratchett’s vampires, "Carpe Jugulum," loosely translates as, "Go for the throat." A family of vampire nobility leaves their homeland of Uberwald (the Discworld analogue of Transylvania) to make a place for themselves in the outside world. The head of the clan, Count de Magpyr, has taught them to tolerate garlic, sunlight, religious symbols, and other vampire allergens. They drink wine and no longer obsess over lost socks or feel compelled to count seeds scattered on the ground. (Yes, the two latter compulsions do come from actual vampire folklore!) To the great disgust of their traditionally-minded servant, Igor, they have become modern, almost human. Their professed desire to win the acceptance of their human neighbors, however, conceals a dark plot to take over King Verence's realm. The King, having invited the vampires to his baby daughter's christening, has no inkling of their true motive. They prove to be more difficult guests than the most capricious of fairy godmothers. The witch Granny Weatherwax (familiar to fans of the series) returns from her self-imposed exile just in time to save the day, with the help of a goodhearted but confused itinerant preacher named Mightily Oats.

Pratchett's hilarious satire on the conventions of vampire folklore and fiction, complete with capes for male vampires and diaphanous, low-cut gowns for the females, will delight any devoted vampire fan. Along the way, he also exercises his parodic talents on fairy tales, political correctness, and religious fundamentalism. Yet Granny Weatherwax's crisis of confidence adds a note of seriousness that lends solidity to the satirical plot.

Vampires appear in cameo roles throughout the Discworld series, as far back as WITCHES ABROAD, wherein Nanny Ogg’s cat eats a vampire in bat form. THE FIFTH ELEPHANT, a novel subsequent to CARPE JUGULUM, takes place in Uberwald itself, inhabited by vampires, werewolves, and the obligatory hunchbacked servants, all of whom are named Igor. Vampires appear as secondary characters in several of the other Discworld novels, most of them being members of the Uberwald League of Temperance, the bloodsucking equivalent of AA (membership symbolized by the wearing of a black ribbon). They tend to substitute other addictions for the blood-craving. One such reformed vampire in MONSTROUS REGIMENT relies on coffee to such an extent that interruption of the vampire’s caffeine supply makes the safety of human companions problematic. One recurring character, Otto Chriek, a newspaper photographer, has developed a workaround for the occupational hazard of getting reduced to a pile of dust whenever the camera flash goes off—a device that automatically dispenses just enough blood to reconstitute him.

A handsome hardcover novelty book, the DISCWORLD REFORMED VAMPYRE’S DIARY 2003, has an entertaining introduction telling everything you need to know about Discworld vampires, especially those who belong to the League of Temperance. Each week takes up two facing pages in the calendar, and every odd-numbered page includes a paragraph offering an inspirational thought or a tribute to a famous or notorious vampire. (Alas, used copies of this delightful work start at $28.00 on Amazon.)

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


Michele Hauf said...

Absolutely loved this story, and the entire Discworld series!

Anna (Bite Club) said...

I'm still trying to make time for this series! I've read a couple, which were great, but I need to start back at the beginning. Soon.