Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The Book: Alan Ryan, ed. THE PENGUIN BOOK OF VAMPIRE STORIES. Penguin Books trade paperback, 1988, third printing. Book is in very good condition, with some age-related browning to pages. Owner's signature ("Ellen Lamb") on front flyleaf.
First read: 1989
Owned since: 1989

I know this book was a gift from my then-boss; I think it was for Christmas, but it might have been for my birthday. I was 24, and liked vampire stories. It's something I've mostly outgrown, which might have some deep and complicated and horrifying psychological reasons, but is probably mostly because I read a ridiculous amount of vampire literature in my mid-20s, and now everything seems like a bad imitation (except for Charlie Huston's vampire books, which I started reading last year. Those are cool).

What fascinates people about vampire stories? It's sex, of course, but I'd argue that it's also intimacy. What does Dracula say to Mina Harker? "Blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh ..." You can't get much closer to someone than sharing a bloodstream.

Anyway, if you're currently obsessed with the Anne Rice or Laurell K. Hamilton vampire novels, you need to go back and see where it all began. The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories starts with a fragment written by George Gordon, Lord Byron, in 1816, after the same conversation that led to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; their friend Dr. Polidori's "The Vampyre" is here, too.

The collection goes on through such classic stories as LeFanu's "Carmilla" (a direct ancestor of Peter Straub's Ghost Story) and M.R. James's "An Episode of Cathedral History" (a heavy influence on a book I'll discuss later in the week), up to the more modern vampire writers: Richard Matheson, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tanith Lee. Fritz Leiber's "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" is a brilliant conflation of vampirism and celebrity, and I'd be surprised if Anne Rice didn't read that story before imagining The Vampire Lestat.

The danger of this blog is that it has me picking up books I haven't pulled off my shelf in years. I need to reread that Leiber story. Dammit, I'm on deadline...

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