Wayne Bartlett and Flavia Idriceanu, Legends of Blood, The Vampire in History and Myth.
Reviewed for Praeger Publishing by Debra J. Glass, MAed, author of Mediumship To Go ([...]) Mediumship To Go - Kit.
Legends In Blood, The Vampire in History and Myth is a clear, well written study, which brings together the myth, legend, history, and literary analysis of the vampire. The authors thoroughly examine the various themes that have perpetuated the fascination with vampire lore, and how it has evolved, from the beginnings of recorded history until present day. As the subtitle suggests, the focus is on why the myth of the vampire has continued to intrigue throughout history. The authors explain the themes crucial to the vampire phenomenon and show the relationship between different areas of the occult which intensify the impact: witchcraft, setting, eroticism, religion, nature, pacts, the Magus, or wise character, etc. Aside from its appeal to those interested in the history of vampire lore, this book has much to offer any reader interested in how the vampire phenomenon has affected the psyche of the masses in religion, daily life, literature, and films.
The authors define vampirism in two ways. One definition includes the two classic elements of the physical appearance of death combined with the ability to return and feast on the blood of the living. The other description is of a person who lives by preying on and exploiting others. They then research, using historical accounts and literature, the phenomenon's origins. The works cited, from Keats to Buffy the Vampire Slayer are interesting and accessible to both specialists and the general reader. The terminology used is fairly universal and easy to read.
The modern mind is still predisposed by magic. Vampire films and books, although now viewed as fiction, remain spellbinding due to the construct of the aspects of life and death, of immortality and eroticism that manage to access our deepest fears. Vampire stories are centered on the power the vampire has over its victims through the link of blood. From ancient myths to the Bible, there is the belief that children will pay for the sins of the parents. This belief is part of the vampire legend as well. Vampire legends often state the un-dead will come to feed, first, upon their kin. The myth is highly linked to ritual. If burial rituals are not properly observed, the newly deceased will come back as an unclean being, a vampire. The authors make use of fascinating folklore tales which describe different ways in which a vampire is created. One is predisposition, in which an evil life is followed by an evil death. Another states the vampire is made by predestination, for example, suicides, a child born out of wedlock, or the seventh child of a family, children born with a caul, or with teeth. Yet another claims the vampire is created as a result of a violent event, nearly always the result of a vampire attack.
As the Age of Reason attempted to squelch all things mystical, the vampire myth swelled in literature and theater due to man's innate need for the supernatural. The main focus of the vampire story, whether it is myth, legend, folklore, novel or film, is caused by one basic human reaction. The vampire accesses many of our major fears: pain, strangers, and death. Vampire lore opens a space where the two worlds of life and death touch. The vampire is poised between the two with access to both, but belonging to neither, exposing those chasms which will continue to enthrall mortals until the end of time. The literary vampire poses questions about life and death, about the weakness of the human mind and body.
Without Christianity, the vampire myth would have died. The very perverted nature of vampirism shuns it as taboo by Christian doctrine. The authors examine how the church used superstition to perpetuate the vampire myth as a form of control. The concept of vampirism is constructed around several contrasting paradigms, particularly of women, held by society over time. What is different is to be feared. But what is different, is also alluring, exotic. The book explains how the vampire myth has adapted with time, from a cemetery haunting revenant, to a Byronic creature of mystery in a cloak.
The modern vampire has transformed the myth even further. In some contemporary works, crucifixes hold no power over the vampire, much as, in life, the church is no longer a dominating force. Even the sexual taboos have changed. In Victorian vampire literature, wanton behavior, such as that of Stoker's Lucy after she was made a vampire, was considered taboo. Anne Rice's vampires deal with homo erotic relationships, as connections between homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic have become prominent.
There are a range of measures in folklore on how to deal with a vampire. The book examines those and their historical significance and origin.
Fear of vampires has not dissipated over the centuries, rather it has adapted to more modern fears. Fear of death is still very real and ageing is still inexorable. Vampire myth exploits these fears, even given the secularization of modern society.
Several features in this extremely well organized study deserve mention. The authors provide and explain quotes from literature any vampire enthusiast will recognize, linking them to modern vampire lore. Several "real" vampires are detailed, including the story of the heinous Elisabeth Bathory who murdered 650 girls and bathed in their blood in hopes of restoring her youth and beauty. The authors include detailed notes and references. Their interest in the subject is apparent in the concise and interesting writing style. Included are comparisons to other supernatural beliefs and how these beliefs tie into and mirror vampire lore. The bibliography shows a clear command of the relevant sources. This book would make a solid addition to anyone interested in vampire lore.
I have long been a fan of vampire literature and films. I was very pleased with this study and, as an enthusiast, would loved to have read more, however, the authors covered their subject matter very thoroughly and to add more would have been superfluous. I am not aware of any other book which handles the vampire myth in a historical, rather than sensational, manner. An Amazon.com search yielded only one book which dealt with modern vampire literature and films in America, and touched upon the history, but was not as in depth as this work. I believe this book would be invaluable to anyone writing vampire literature, from the romance novelist to the screen writer. It also works as a social history of how superstition and the church governed through fear, and shows the importance of ritual in our lives. In all, this was an enjoyable book which I found well researched and well written.