Friday, January 15, 2016

The Vampire Encyclopedia

If you're looking for a wide-ranging, informal yet informative guide to vampires both folkloric and fictional, pick up Matthew Bunson's THE VAMPIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA (1993). (Many bargain-priced used copies of this trade paperback are available.)

Entries include authors, books and short story titles, historical figures, countries and cultures, many varieties of vampires, items harmful or lethal to the undead, animals associated with vampires, and a sprinkling of miscellaneous terms such as "Art," "Plague," "Red Hair," "Satan," etc. A reader can dip into this compendium on any page and be sure to find an entertaining bit of lore.

The lists scattered throughout the volume constitute my favorite feature: Methods of detecting vampires, protecting against them, destroying them, and preventing vampirism in the first place; how someone becomes a vampire; historical "vampire" serial killers; vampire-related plays, poetry, films, and prose literature. There's no table of contents, though, so the reader has to stumble on these resources by leafing through the book.

Bunson made some puzzling choices. For instance, there's no apparent pattern in how he decided which fictional works get separate entries from their authors' names and which don't. For instance, THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY, by Suzy McKee Charnas, rates entries for not only author and title but the protagonist, Dr. Weyland, as well. As much as I love Charnas's modern classic, it's strange to see it treated this way when several more high-profile books aren't. Many different countries and ethnic groups are referenced, but some with essays several paragraphs long and others merely with cross-references to related terms. And at some points Bunson's alphabetizing is downright bizarre. "La Llorona" appears under "La," yet the novel LA BAS is listed as "Bas, La," as if he mistook the adverb for an article. Still, these quirks don't significantly interfere with the enjoyment and utility of the book.

THE VAMPIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA includes an eleven-page bibliography divided into short stories, novels, and nonfiction references. The list of vampire organizations at the end, of course, has mainly historical appeal, although the venerable "Vampires Are Us" (aka the Count Dracula Fan Club) still operates at the same address.

In contrast, J. Gordon Melton's THE VAMPIRE BOOK: THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE UNDEAD, now in its third edition, is a weightier tome with longer, more detailed, updated entries and a more extensive bibliography. Both of these guidebooks are useful and entertaining, and since their subject matter doesn't completely overlap, they would complement each other as additions to a vampire enthusiast's library.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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