Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories edited by Alan Ryan

As I said in the previous post, even though these book reviews are being published in November, these are the stories I read throughout the month of October.  Autumn is the perfect season for scary stories, although I suppose the dark wintry days and nights in January would also suffice.

The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories is another anthology of stories dating from 1816 (The Fragment of a Novel by Lord Byron) to 1984 (Bite Me Not by Tanith Lee).  If one starts reading at the beginning and works his way to the end, he can see a transformation of the idea of Vampirism and the stories change accordingly.

Lord Byron wrote his fragment as a part of the contest that also included Mary Shelly's Frankenstein.  Whether Byron's story would have ultimately beat Shelly's will never be known because he quickly lost interest in writing it and took off for Europe with his companion, John Polidori.  This friendship deteriorated as well and Polideri and Byron parted ways on such acrimonious terms that Polideri wrote a Vampire story to its completion and to anyone who has read it, it's obvious who the Vampire is.  Hint:  Mysterious aristocrat appears at all the wealthy parties, seduces woman, and destroys their lives.  Not because he's a playboy, but because he's a Vampire(!) and sucks their blood for a living.

This collection also includes Good Lady Ducayne, Carmella, For the Blood is the Life as well as M.R. James An Episode of Cathedral History.  All of which deservedly have their place in the Hall of Greatest Vampire Stories Ever Told and been reviewed in my previous post.  That is the difficulty with anthologies.  One tends to come across the same tight circle of stories by the same authors.

 M.R. James' in 1919.  After that there is a jump of some years to 1931 and the stories develop into Science Fiction.  No longer is the Vampire simply evil.  He now is a predator, perhaps from another planet or a spiritual predator.  This last type is in perfect keeping with the older ones that were allegories of good vs. evil or the Christian being attacked by Satan.

The best example of the latter is The Mindworm (1950) by C. M. Kornbluth.  His vampire feeds off people's thoughts but is waylaid by a surprisingly old fashioned method. An example of the former would be Shambleau.  It takes place on another planet where a spaceman Spiff type character meets a strange woman creature who turns out to have her roots in the legend of Medusa.

I must confess the last few stories didn't interest me at all.  They were written after 1950 and have a definite modernist viewpoint.  By that I mean that the vampire is no longer a bad person.  Oh, he or she still preys on people, sucks their blood and all that but now it is an expression of their love. Or simply their nature and since right and wrong doesn't exist anymore, who are we to judge? The straw characters who are set up to judge in these stories are very stupid, narrow minded people indeed.  At least that's how they're made to look in these stories.

  I think one of the best stories is Carl Jacobi's Revelations in Black.  A man finds an old book in a bookstore, brings it back to his apartment to read it but finds that by reading it, he has unbound the "people" that were imprisoned by it.  I like the gradual revelations the story produces and the imagery it provides.  The man's escape is very narrow and exciting for the reader.

The editor provides a brief biography of each author and other works they wrote.  As a result I've enlarged my library-especially my Kindle- with more collections by these same writers.  The good news is because of the age of these writers most of their works are in public domain.


  1. Great commentary Sharon.

    I find it really interesting how the nature of these stories evolved over time.

    I also tend not to like stories with straw characters that are really caricature of a viewpoint.

    1. Brian: It is interesting how stories can reflect not only the author's worldview but reveals even the editor's in which stories he or she chooses to include in an anthology. Have a great day!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.