Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories edited by Leslie Shepard

It's that time of the year again when I looooove to read spooky stories.  Even though most of these stories will be posted after Halloween, I read them during the month of October.  Anyway, I think cold wintry months are the perfect time to read scary stories. 

The Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories does not have a large selection but they were well chosen.  These stories are mostly of the traditional: vampires symbolize evil that attempts to seduce humans to damnation.  Each story is developed along the lines of a predator, the vampire, stalking their prey in order to maintain their own earthly existence while dooming others to the same fate.

The vampire myth provokes a lot of questions.  In the Bible Satan is described as a "raging lion seeking whom he may devour." (1 Peter 5:8)  His own eternal destruction is pending and he rages against it by attempting to turn as many people away from God before that time comes.  The epitome of railing against hopelessness and striving to destroy.

The legends of vampirism, however they originated, came to become metaphors of this spiritual battle.  That's one of the reasons why I enjoy them.  The other is because a well written spooky story is just plain exciting.

Authors include Sheridan Le Fanu.  His Carmella is here.  Carmella is probably one of the best written vampire stories ever.  It is not long but very creepy.  It is told in first person narration by a young, lonely girl who develops a friendship with another girl.  Le Fanu uses the writing strategy called first person narrator, audience omniscience.  This is where the narrator is unreliable but the reader can see what's going on.  You want to dive in the book and save the person from what you can see is about to destroy them.  

This is true for the narrator in Carmella.  She informs the reader of facts that allow them to form conclusions even though she seems unable to form those same conclusions.  I don't want to give the story away.  Just know it is a tale of high suspense.

Good Lady Ducayne is different from the others because it takes place in the 19th century in New England.  Mary Elizabeth Braddon writes using colloquial dialect, giving the story an "Americana" feel. It's hard to believe it is a vampire story.  In fact the word "vampire" is never used.  A woman, Lady Ducayne, lives in a house alone, does absolutely nothing for herself, yet manages to get men to marry her and women of the village to do all her cooking and cleaning.  Every last person who helps her gets sick and dies.  It takes way too many incidents of this type to happen before finally no one in the village will help her. 

Other stories are F. Marion Crawford's For the Blood is the Life.  It takes place in Italy and involves a poor gypsy girl who is murdered but comes back as a vampire.  She waits for a young man who passes by on a certain road each day.  He has just lost all his money and friends and must now work hard all day and return to his lonely house each night.  The young man knows this woman is evil but the temptation is too strong.  I think in this case the temptation is that he has been utterly rejected by everyone else and a person will accept evil love if wholesome love is not available.

A couple of the stories are very Victorian, in that they are more melodramatic than scary, but E.F. Benson's The Room in the Tower is one of my favorites.  The first person narrator, a man, has a recurring dream throughout his life that finally comes to terrifying fruition.

The only one I didn't really care for was Guy de Maupassant's story, The Horla.  The Horla was more in line with the science fiction approach to the supernatural.  Which is to say, they write stories explaining how what we take to be supernatural has a natural explanation: like, say, aliens.  (That was sarcasm, by the way.) The Horla is a superpowerful being that is higher up on the food chain than humans.  Therefore it is not immoral for them to prey on us.  Well, according to Maupassant.  If one believes humans are made in the image of God and therefore precious to him, it's called murder.

The final story is a narration about a supposedly authenticated vampire occurrence.  This I found not too interesting either.  While I enjoy the metaphor of good vs evil, I'm not going to lose sleep over the possibility that vampires exist.  

This is the first of several "spooky" books I am going to review.  I hope I entice you to read some of them.


Brian Joseph said...

Great commentary Sharon.

I also love such stories and I like to look for metaphor and meaning behind them too.

I am also not so worried that real Vampires might be menacing us :)

Sharon Wilfong said...

Sorry I haven't replied sooner Brian. I must be asleep at the wheel with my blog here. I agree with you. Although I'm reading a fascination book about the history of Witchcraft right now. What's fascinating is not that people can evoke supernatural powers but there was a time when not only did people believe in witches but there were people who believed they were witches.