Review by Joey Madia
Legends of vampires have become so much a part of the fabric of who we are as human beings that we often give little thought to their origins, although those origins and how they manifest in popular culture are rather complex. There are true revenants—the stinking, almost mindless undead rising from the earth and their graves each night to satiate their bloodlust. There are the tuxedo’d, hypersexualized vampires that began with Bela Lugosi and culminated with Frank Langella on stage and screen in 1979. There are the teen and 20-something vampires best represented in Lost Boys and Twilight (the latter ushering in an age where the “monster” is analog for the human outsider and their bonding is their mutual salvation). Last, we must include the vampire/zombie hybrids that have derived from Matheson’s I Am Legend. In the age of COVID-19, we cannot overlook the virus as monster-maker, with too many films, TV series, and comic books produced in the past few decades to name.
A.P. Sylvia has written an indispensable guide for folklorists, horror writers, and vampire enthusiasts. He was initially driven to explore the roots of vampire lore after a visit to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! in Times Square, where he saw a purported vampire-hunting kit from the nineteenth century (having seen this display, it reminds me of the kit used in the Fright Night films). Researching the provenance of the kit, Sylvia found more questions than answers.
Sylvia has organized Vampires of Lore: Traits and Modern Misconceptions for easy use by the three groups mentioned above. Starting with the general—What Is a Vampire?—this handbook covers all of the subjects you would expect to find in a work about the origins of vampires: blood drinking, ways to kill a vampire, fangs (one of the least logical to me of all the vampiric traits), how one becomes a vampire, mirrors, use of religious objects, coffins and graves, transforming into beasts of land and air, the Invitation in, superhuman abilities, aristocratic vampires, and the overlaps with witches and werewolves.
Having an extensive collection of classic books on vampires that I use for personal interest and my novels, I’m impressed by the resources Sylvia has uncovered. All of the standards are included in the Endnotes (presented at the end of each chapter) and there is an extensive bibliography. Montague Summers, perhaps the preeminent vampire researcher, is there, along with authors from antiquity, such as Philostratus, Ovid, and Pliny. There are works by Augustine Calumet, Helena Blavatsky, James Frazer, and Sabine Baring-Gould, none of whom wrote exclusively about vampires.
In terms of fiction, Sylvia includes all of the major foundational works: Stoker’s Dracula, Rymer’s Varney the Vampire, Burton’s Vikram and the Vampire, Polidori’s The Vampyre, and Le Fanu’s Carmilla. There is also discussion of some of the seminal films, such as Nosferatu. Sylvia’s tracking of how the folklore has been coopted by writers and filmmakers and how their works then fed back into the folklore is one of the highlights of the book.
If you are specifically interested in the rich lore of the Scottish Highlands, I discovered a gem in Sylvia’s bibliography by John Gregorson Campbell that I am currently reading called Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Written in 1901, it is a collection of oral histories with commentary by the author.
Books like Campbell’s (and Sylvia’s) are indispensable resources when looking for parallels and patterns between supernatural/paranormal occurrences and folklore. There are compelling connections I have found in my own research that Sylvia’s book helped to substantiate further. One instance is the efficacy of crowing roosters for stopping vampires, a remedy I have also found in my study of faeries. Roosters also figure in to Satanic rituals. There is definitely something going on with these proud dawn-bringers. Some believe that you can thwart both vampires and faeries by making them count something… rice, poppy or mustard seeds, and so on. The more quality researchers we have doing this detective work, the more parallels, patterns, and ultimately answers we will find.
Another overlap between vampires and another area of the supernatural/paranormal is in the requirement for an invitation for a vampire to enter a home—a curious caveat shared with the frightening entities known as black-eyed children.
Schiffer Publishing has produced a beautiful hardcover handbook, complete with Gothic typography, ample illustrations of all things vampiric, and an eye-catching and appropriately spooky graphic design that support the text in making this a welcome addition to the library of vampire enthusiasts, horror writers, and folklorists.
TITLE: Vampires of Lore: Traits and Modern Misconceptions
AUTHOR: A.P. Sylvia
PUBLISHER: Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2019