20.11.10

EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT VAMPIRES

J. Gordon Melton. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Visible Ink Press, 2010. -- Reviewed by John Rimmer.

Gordon Melton is probably best know to Magonia readers as the author of numerous books and papers on religious cults, particularly in the USA, and has written specifically on 'UFO Religions' such as the Raelians. An encyclopedia of vampires may seem a little out of his field, but it is clear from this book that vampire fandom has a great deal in common with the cultic milieu, and a number of mystical and quasi-religious groups have used vampire mythology as part of their rituals, even to the development of cults claiming to represent 'real' vampires.

In his introduction Melton notes the resurgence of interest in vampires and vampirology over the last twenty years, and this is given full coverage in this updated edition of the 1999 original. The genre of vampire fiction, almost dead by the late 1970s and the decline of the Hammer Horror versions of Dracula, was given new blood (pardon me) through the novels of Anne Rice and later the success of TV series such as Buffy the Vampire Killer, as well as being given a boost by the centenary in 1997 of the publication of Bram Stoker' Dracula. From then on vampires never looked back, although maybe their victims should have do so more often!

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the revival of interest in vampires has been its markedly feminine, even feminist, nature - Melton notes the arrival of the lesbian vampire. The attractive, sexy vampire now features in various collections of romantic novels, such as the Nocturn series from the British publishers Mills and Boone, always previously associated with stories involving handsome doctors, exotic sheiks and regular he-man types.

The growth of interest in vampires has taken the subject far from its literary, folkloric and mythological roots, and all the developments are well covered in this encyclopedia. The modern TV and graphic novel incarnations of the vampire feature alongside biographies and bibliographies of contemporary vampire authors, sexuality and the vampire - including 'Bite Me in the Coffin, Not in the Closet' described as a "fan organisation for gay and lesbian people who have an interest in vampires and vampirism", it "did not survive for many years", according to Melton - and a massive amount of information on cinema vampires, actors and screenwriters. Even Duckula gets a mention.

There are a series of entries for vampires legends from various countries, from France to Burma, Japan and even South America. The entry for the United Kingdom deals mostly with this country's vampiric literary heritage, in the absence of any significant British folklore on the topic. I would like to have seen Spring Heel Jack get at least a mention, as he shares many characteristics of the vampire stereotype, but I am glad to see that my near-namesake and homophone (look it up) James Rymer gets his due as the author of probably the most successful vampire story until Bram Stoker came along.

At 909 pages this is a massive reference work, and it is good to see that there is a comprehensive index as well as the individual alphabetical entries - an absolute essential, but one which some encyclopedia compilers do not feel is necessary.

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