Non-Fiction Book Review


Book of the Vampire

(2008) Nigel Suckling, FF&F, 14.99, hrdbk, 224pp, ISBN 978-1-904-33082-4

 

I get asked some weird questions sometimes: "Do you know a good book on werewolves?" was one of the most recent (Answer: Yes, I do, The Beast Within (1992) by Adam Douglas). Had the question been about vampires, I would have answered, The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (1928) by Montague Summers, or The Vampire in Legend, Fact and Art (1973) by Basil Copper, or if the request was specifically about Dracula then In Search of Dracula (1973) by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu (I could go on, but you get the picture). To these last I would now add Suckling's Book of the Vampire, a handsome volume from Facts, Figures and Fun, an imprint of AAPPL Artists' and Photographers' Press Limited, a beautifully produced (and reasonably priced) hardback. There are many original illustrations throughout, by fan favourite fantasy artist Bruce Pennington, in addition to others culled from many sources. Nigel Suckling I had only previously been aware of through his book on unicorns, not a subject close to my heart, but which proved at least that he was not a man to be daunted by doing a bit of research. The problem, depending on what's already on your bookshelves, is whether or not you really think you (or the world) need yet another book on vampires... As intimated above, there's not exactly a shortage of books about vampires but, by the same token, maybe that just proves (as if further proof were needed) that vampirism is an enduring subject of fascination.

Be all that as it may, this is certainly a thorough and entertaining addition to the subject. Though Dracula is the focal point of this volume (hardly surprising), Suckling considers many stories and myths from many cultures, times and places. There are only five chapters, the first of which looks in detail at Bram Stoker's creation and its various incarnations in print, on stage and on screen. The second looks at the background material that Stoker would have had access to (some of which we know for sure he used, other parts we are less certain about). The third chapter looks at bloodlust in general, concentrating particularly on ancient myths, and drawing some (tenuous) connections between them. The fourth is about Vlad Tepes, Elisabeth Bathory and Gilles de Rais specifically, before the fifth goes on to look at more modern murderers (e.g. Fritz Haarmann, the 'Vampire of Hanover', amongst others) and modern myths (not least among them that of 'el Chupacabras', the goat-blood-sucking alien vampire kangaroo!). However, while they are mentioned in passing, the book does not bother to treat vampire films in any depth (a wise move as there are so many), nor does it look in detail at medical conditions such as porphyria or haemophilia (the 'medical' aspects of vampirism are often overlooked or ignored by authors), and nor does it make much of blood-drinking as a sexual practise (more prevalent than you might think). But, then, to include absolutely everything about vampirism as a subject would probably result in a tome that was encyclopaedic in length, so Suckling can be forgiven for sticking to his 'core' fascinations. Notwithstanding these omissions, this is still a lovely book and I am happy to recommend it.

Tony Chester


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