Thursday, March 14, 2013

My Friend the Vampire

MY FRIEND THE VAMPIRE (1982), by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, first appeared in German under the title DER KLEINE VAMPIR (“The Little Vampire”). Tony, the protagonist, loves horror movies and books about monsters. Nevertheless, he’s terrified when a vampire apparently his own age (really very old, but as the monster explains, “I was just a kid when I died”) bursts in through his bedroom window. Rudolph Sackville-Bagg comes across as scary and slightly revolting, not a bit alluring. A moldy, musty, slightly charred smell hovers around him. At Tony’s first glimpse of the “Thing” that invades his room, this is what he sees: “Two small, bloodshot eyes gleamed at him from a deathly pale face framed by tangled hair, which straggled down to a grubby black cape. The figure opened and closed its gaping mouth, grinding its teeth in a totally frightening way.” Fortunately, although at first Rudolph delights in scaring Tony, he soon succumbs to curiosity about human life, and they begin to form a friendship. Rudolph tries jelly beans and instantly discovers the truth of his mother’s warning against eating normal food. Candy is like poison to vampires. He borrows a copy of DRACULA from Tony and flies into the night.

Later Rudolph lends Tony a spare cape, whose magic enables the human boy to fly. Tony meets Rudolph’s family, all vampires and most of them much scarier and more bloodthirsty than Rudolph, especially his older brother, Gregory (stuck for eternity on the cusp of puberty), and their fearsome Aunt Dorothy. His little sister, Anna, however, who lives on milk because she’s too young to drink blood, quickly develops a crush on Tony. As in some other novels about children who get acquainted with vampires, Tony realizes Rudolph and Anna make better friends than the human bully who harasses him. Sommer-Bodenburg’s details about the vampire lifestyle are inventive and entertaining. When Tony’s parents become suspicious about these new friends they have never met, he finally has to invite Rudolph and Anna to dinner, a suspenseful and funny scene.

This novel is the first in a long series, several books of which have been published in English. One outstanding feature of these stories is that, even though written for elementary school children, they have a certain edge to them. Despite the humor, the adult vampires in the Sackville-Baggs clan seem genuinely threatening. And the author never lets us forget for long that Rudolph, although he’s Tony’s friend, is still dangerous. By the way, THE LITTLE VAMPIRE (2000), the movie based on MY FRIEND THE VAMPIRE, deviates from the book in many ways. For instance, the novel doesn’t include any flying cows.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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