Saturday, April 03, 2010

Book 55: From Demons to Dracula

From Demons to Dracula: The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth by Mathew Beresford

As part of the first phase of the course I'm in right now, I had to give an information brief on any topic of my choosing, so I decided to do "The Evolution of Monsters in Popular Culture" because I figured that would give a great excuse to talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Zombieland in class, and order books like this.

Beresford gives an overview of the evolution of the vampire myth over time, and how very different it has been over the past two thousands years. While there have always been stories of monsters and the dead rising with names that vaguely resemble vampire or werewolf, the idea that people currently have when they hear the word vampire is very much based on Hollywood. It makes sense - with the creation of film, there was one medium that was visual, and also somewhat permanent - it didn't rely on oral tradition and storytelling to explain the legends, so each viewer would get the same idea. And while many movies and stories have since been released that play around with the ideas and change certain things, Hollywood played an important part in creating a more unified version of the vampire myth. Of course, Hollywood owes much to Bram Stoker's Dracula, and it is his novel that basically began the idea of the modern vampire (there were two other novels that played important roles in the 19th century as well but they aren't nearly as well remembered in the modern day - however, they both could have slightly influenced Stoker and show different ideas that have come up since - one of them first introduces the idea of the tortured and sympathetic vampire, for example).

Beresford also discusses the history of Drakul, and tries to help the historic figure reclaim his actual legacy, which definitely had nothing to do with vampires. Obviously, I enjoyed the cultural and critical analysis of the vampire stories the most since those were also the things I had most familiarity with. He also mentioned his visits to various vampire tourist sites such as Romania and parts of England. The part of the novel I thought was weakest or could have done without was when he discussed more modern, "real" versions of vampires such as people running around on the streets biting people and saying they were vampires. I guess it shows that people are obviously influenced by the mythology but somehow I seriously doubt they are going to change the cultural views of vampires that currently exist.

In his conclusion, Beresford states that the vampire myth has changed much over time and there are many that have very little to no similarities - he believes that the one thing that connects them all is fear. Overall, definitely interesting overview, but I think if I were to read more on this topic, I would definitely want to focus on fictional portrayals from the 20th century onward. Still, it's good to know where it all started.

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