In his short foreword to Vintage’s massive, new, decidedly unshort The Vampire Archives, Neil Gaiman dryly observes, “And then, one day, they were everywhere. You couldn’t move for vampires. There were paranormal vampire romances and junior paranormal vampire romances . . . Everywhere vampires, stripped down like a simple metaphor for genitalia-free relationships.” We know that vampires are ubiquitous in the late oughties, whether its the turgid teen abstinence vampire theatrics of Twilight, HBO’s addictive interpretation of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series, True Blood, the CW’s latest attempt to cash in, The Vampire Diaries or last year’s fantastic film Let The Right One In. Gamian’s theory for the thriving popularity of vampires (he agrees with Stephen King by-way-of Erica Jong that “Vampires . . . were the ultimate zipless fuck”) is as good as any, we suppose, but The Vampire Archives editor Otto Penzler is a bit more historical in his introduction to the volume, pointing beyond the traditionally-accepted notion that Stoker’s Dracula is the first vampire story. Penzler brings up Lilith, the children of Hecate, Lamia, the Chinese monster Kian-si, brain-suckers of American Indian lore, the Scottish Glaistag, and the Brazilian jararaca–just to name a few. He also briefly discusses the lurid histories of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who believed the blood of virgins would sustain her life, die-hard mad prophet Rasputin, and Vlad the Impaler, the historical basis of Count Dracula. Penzler’s eclectic overture here tellingly highlights the diversity of the 85-plus tales collected in the book.
There are “Pre-Dracula” stories here, like Edgar Allan Poe’s gloomy “Ligeia” and M.E. Braddon’s “Good Lady Ducayne,” as well as classic standards like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest” and Jan Neruda’s “The Vampire.” Heavy-hitters like D.H. Lawrence and Guy de Maupassant are represented along with the pop fictions of Stephen King and Clive Barker. Especially welcome are Harlan Ellison’s insightful piece “Lonely Women Are the Vessels of Time” and Richard Matheson’s taut tale “Drink My Red Blood.” Writers often identified readily with genres other than horror, like Ray Bradbury, Tanith Lee, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also appear, along with a couple of Romantic poems by Goethe, Byron, and John Keats (while the inclusion of “La Belle Dame sans Merci” is great, it’s weird that The Vampire Archives doesn’t have just a little more room for Keats’s excellent “Lamia.” They could’ve also included Coleridge’s “Christabel,” but hey, we can hardly dispute their claim that the book is “The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published”). Anne Rice pops up, naturally, with “The Master of Rampling Gate,” which wasn’t too emo for our icy blood. We also enjoyed H.P. Lovecraft’s creepy and sinuous story “The Hound.” Grave-robbers, weird amulets, ghoulish killers–great stuff.
If you can’t find enough to feed your need for vampire tales in The Vampire Archives, they’ve been kind enough to include what has to be, at 120 pages, one of the most extensive vampire bibliographies ever–although they note that their list does not include “comics, games, movies, plays, television, or radio programs.” While not every story here is gold, more than most of The Vampire Archives is great gothic fun, whether you dig pulp fiction or psychological realism in your horror. If you’re ready to take the next step past Twilight–you’re not a poseur, are you?–The Vampire Archives is an apt starting place.