Monday, August 15, 2016

The House of Dracula

The late British author R. Chetwynd-Hayes is noted for his fiction about vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures, horror seasoned with dashes of dry humor that lend an ironic distance to the horrific events. Very prolific, he produced dozens of novels and short-story collections. His THE MONSTER CLUB (1975) was made into a movie starring Vincent Price and John Carradine. He takes an eccentric approach to the traditional motifs within his unique mythos. THE HOUSE OF DRACULA (1987) provides a delightfully ghoulish glimpse into his world and helpfully includes a "Draculain Genealogical Table" listing the children of Count Dracula (slain in 1896, as per Stoker's novel) by his three vampire wives and laying out the way inheritance of supernatural traits works in Chetwynd-Hayes's fiction.

His vampires can transform people into vampires (rarely) but appear to comprise a separate species in themselves. They can reproduce with ordinary humans ("Humes"), and each type of crossbreed has a different name, depending on the number of generations distant from the pure-blooded ancestor and the amount of vampire DNA in the mix -- in descending order, Vamlings, Mocks, Shadmocks, Maddies, Shaddies, Mongrels, and the lowest, Madvams ("the pack"), who resemble humanoid dogs. Each hybrid subspecies has its own paranormal power that makes it a terrifying threat to hapless humans who stumble into the preternatural realm.

THE HOUSE OF DRACULA ties into his other fiction but easily stands on its own. The stories contained in this book are framed as a compilation of unearthed documents about some of the descendants of Dracula (a follow-up to the author's 1986 collection, DRACULA'S CHILDREN). The contents: "Caroline": An eight-year-old boy, Simon, child of a merry widow who practically ignores him, meets a "night mummy" who comes from the half-ruined mansion next door and lures him into a nocturnal world where his latent powers unfold. Even before Simon meets the vampire Lady Caroline, he instinctively knows how to kill by "looking dead" at a barking dog. From Lady Caroline he learns his true origin and destiny. The first half of this story is told in the third person from various viewpoints. The second half is narrated in first person by George, the weak, somewhat dimwitted, but loyal suitor of Simon's mother; he comes across as a P. G. Wodehouse character trapped in a Hammer film. "Marikova": The humdrum, self-indulgent life of Derek Wallis, a reclusive, forty-year-old bachelor, is turned upside down when a beautiful woman in distress turns up at his door. He falls in love with Marikova despite her eccentricities. A vampire in flight from witch-hunters centuries in the past, she "time-jumped" and ended up in his neighborhood. When representatives of her father, a powerful vampire lord, come to "rescue" her, they insist Derek must die to prevent his exposing their kind's existence. Marikova persuades them to allow Derek the traditional twenty-four-hour head start before sending the pack to "absorb" him. "Karl": In the form of a tape-recorded diary, this tale narrates wheelchair-bound young woman Veronica's affair with Karl, who promises to make her walk again if she yields herself to him. Driven by hatred of all men (a vengeful reaction to an earlier disastrous relationship), she helps vampire-hunters capture Karl, only to have second thoughts. "Gilbert": William Wildeforce, a retired soldier, finds a comatose teenage boy in a secret room of the cellar below his house. When Wildeforce awakens the boy, Gilbert gives an account of his background and age that sounds like an outrageous lie or a delusion. When the evidence of Gilbert's true nature becomes impossible to deny, Wildeforce struggles with the choice of whether to continue sheltering the "boy" or betray him to a bounty hunter. "Louis": This final piece, in epistolary format as an exchange of letters between Hilda, on holiday at a seaside resort, and Liza, her friend back home, has little or no humor to lighten its quietly horrific events. When Hilda becomes enthralled by Louis, the titular vampire, his power gradually draws her ever further from the mundane world into an alternate realm where no one can reach her.

An omnibus volume called THE VAMPIRE STORIES OF R. CHETWYND-HAYES, published in 1997, is available at a very reasonable price in trade paperback.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


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