Vampires – From Dracula to Twilight: The Complete Guide to Vampire Mythology by Charlotte Montague
Published by Little Brown/ Sphere, March 2010
Review by Mark Yon
The – dare I say it – resurrection of vampires at the moment as a genre so popular that even non-genre readers notice, is one of the phenomena of recent times. Though not an original idea by any means, this coffee-table book attempts to show the much older origins of the legend and bring readers up to date with the genre.
The structure of the book is pretty straightforward, beginning with the background history of the legend and bringing it up to the present. The book is divided into five chapters, with subsections. Chapter One deals with the vampire myth and how the original idea has been recorded in history. Chapter Two shows how the legend has evolved from peasant to nobleman, looking at elements as diverse as vampire babies and vampire immortality. Chapter Three looks at variants of the vampire myth, from female (succubae) and lesbian vampires to the chupacabra and the psychology and anthropology of vampires. Chapter Four looks at historical examples of people connected to the vampire legend, from Vlad the Impaler and Elizabeth Bathory (‘Countess Dracula’) and Fritz Haarmann. The final chapter looks at vampires through literature, pop and film, from Varney the Vampire to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, True Blood and, of course, Stephenie Mayer. Twilight has a whole subsection of its own, which tells the reader something perhaps of the book’s target audience.
Though this is not an academic book, nor the ‘complete’ guide it claims to be, it is a good summary of key elements of the vampire legend. The earlier sections emphasising the historical past of the legend are perhaps the most informative. Written by an author with an MA degree in History and an interest in the history of mythical creatures, it is clear to see that her interests have influenced the content of the book.
Some of the other sections are more debatable in their inclusion, such as the biographical leitmotifs of key (and not so key!) players in the vampire legend. Whilst I can accept details on Vlad the Impaler, and Elizabeth Bathory as useful in that they examine the real people against the myths, some of the other more recent vampire imitators are less essential. In fact, some of the details there are distinctly unpleasant and graphic and definitely not for minors.
So, who would find this book useful? With the inclusion of some recent films and books, the guide may be useful for those having read Twilight or seen a vampire movie and want to know more. It’s not exhaustive, though there’s a pleasing breadth, and the illustrations are a little basic, with the pattern being mainly one single picture of film actors/actresses, woodcuts and old photos on a double page spread. But it’s quite a nice overview and might at least make readers new to the idea realise that there’s more to vampires than just Christopher Lee and Edward Cullen.
Mark Yon, January 2010.