Sunday, 23 November 2008

From Demons to Dracula

One of the problems with a lot of literature on vampires is the frequently diffuse definitions of a vampire. In From Demons to Dracula, Matthew Beresford uses the term in various ways, and says at the end of his book:

‘There is no typical vampire. Perhaps a ‘true’ vampire would be an amalgamation of all the forms we have seen worldwide as well as reflecting attributes of all the historical examples. In essence, the vampire reflects an ever-changing being that bears relevance to the culture it exits in. The modern vampire is a being born of demons, burned as a heretic and reviled as a fiend; the Devil’s own creation. What the future may hold for him is uncertain, yet it is undeniable that the image immortalized by Dracula, encapsulating over six thousand years of history, can never be undone.’ (p. 200-1)

So without really defining a vampire, Beresford traces various concepts and beliefs that have at some time (i.e. more or less within the last 300 years, because very few knew the East European vampire before that time) been linked with vampires - from burial sites in prehistory to the Goth scene of the 21st century. He doesn’t attempt to provide an all encompassing history of vampires, but looks at a number of cases to describe and analyze ‘the creation of the modern vampire myth’ to quote the book’s subtitle.


Unfortunately, he often relies on some less than reliable sources: Dudley Wright, Montague Summers, and - believe it or not - even Sean Manchester, and frequently he just refers to them without any critical discussion. This also goes for the porphyria theory, notions on ‘psychic vampirism’ based on LaVey’s Satanic Bible, and various other speculations that, ahem, seem less than convincing.

This becomes a particular problem when he describes the Medvedja vampire case and mixes the fictional version with the original documents, although he seems to have had Hamberger’s collection of source texts at hand. Furthermore, his description of the 17th-18th century vampire cases and debate is very short, whereas he spends a lot of space on speculations on e.g. Judas Escariot in a discussion of the Church’s role in connection with revenant belief that seems ahistorical.

So from the point of view of someone who is interested in putting the vampire cases, the magia posthuma and revenant beliefs and customs into a historical context, From Demons to Dracula is quite problematic. On the other hand, read as an introductory analysis of the modern concept of ‘vampire’, the book does present some interesting thoughts and ideas, and it is easily read. I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter on the so-called ‘Historical Dracula’, because it digs deeper than the usual rehash of Florescu and McNally.

It’s just a shame that he didn’t do more of the same with regards to the early modern vampire cases. Also, I had hoped that as an archaeologist he might have considered some of the skeletons found in e.g. the Czech republic that may have been treated in ways to prevent the dead from returning.

The appendix contains excerpts from William of Newburgh's Historia Rerum Anglicarum.

8 comments:

Matthew Beresford said...

I welcome your views on my book which i feel, on the whole, are quite positive. My aim was to provide, as you picked up on, an introductory text that attempted to trace how our modern idea of the vampire was created. I am planning a second book that looks at certain aspects in more depth, and some of the issues you have raised will therefore me addressed in it. Notably, the archaeological remains of Czech Rep. and wider Europe, particularly from the Palaeolithic period when humans appeared to have 'invented' death and burial.I hope you found the book useful on the whole. Again, thanks for the comments, Matthew Beresford

The Overseer said...

"... he often relies on some less than reliable sources: Dudley Wright, Montague Summers, and - believe it or not - even Sean Manchester, and frequently he just refers to them without any critical discussion. ..." (Niels K Petersen)

Why should we accept your word at face value that Dudley Wright, Montague Summers and Seán Manchester are "less than reliable sources"?

Where is your "critical discussion" for presuming them to be unreliable?

Could it be that the only "reliable sources" you would be willing to accept are such as those who dismiss the existence of vampires out of hand and are disinclined to believe in the supernatural generally?

Niels K. Petersen said...

If you, "The Overseer", wish to involve yourself in a serious discussion on the reliability of authors like those mentioned, I think that you should

a) Use your real name in stead of hiding behind a pseudonym.

b) Refrain from plagiarizing and stealing from other people's texts like you do on your blog, Diary of a Vampirologist.

I kindly ask you to immediately remove all portions of texts that you have taken verbatim from my blog without referring to me as the author and source!

The Overseer said...

My employment of a user-name instead of seeking personal publicity is in common with most internet bloggers. Indeed, it is advised by all providers of blogs, forums and boards.

"Plagiarizing" sources when discussing centuries-old cases is something you, Niels, could equally be accused of doing. You will find that I have identified all sources and that you are not anywhere among them.

Why would a researching vampirologist want to plagiarize someone whose interest concentrates on attempting to explain away the supernatural by any means necessary?

The Overseer said...

"If you, 'The Overseer', wish to involve yourself in a serious discussion on the reliability of authors like those mentioned, I think that you should use your real name in stead of hiding behind a pseudonym." (Niels K Petersen)

Does this not smack of hypocrisy given that the same request was not made of "Amateur Vampirologist" (who always posts using a nom de plume) without any criticism for doing so?

I have already dealt with your plagiarization allegation in a previous (not yet allowed) response.

Niels K. Petersen said...

Frankly, I have neither the time nor the inclination to discuss at length with people who behave like the so-called 'Overseer' does. He or she - let's just say: he

* does not engage himself in a discussion in a polite manner,

* does not contribute somehing new or useful,

* does not give credit where credit is due.

In stead he hides behind a pseudonym and tries to initiate a discussion in an unpolite and aggressive way. At the same time he takes a substantial amount of text from my blog and from Wikipedia without mentioning the sources or without asking permission to do so.

Furthermore, he has obviously not taken the time to read and try to understand what I have written on my blog. If he had done so, he would know more on my approach to the question of the 'reality' of the historical vampire cases, and he would have read the critical comments on Montague Summers that I and others have published here.

Unfortunately, 'The Overseer' appears to be one of those persons whose aim is to promote their own agenda by all means available. The attitude of 'The Amateur Vampirologist', that he mentions, on the other hand appears to be quite the opposite, and you never know, maybe I know the identity of that 'vampirologist' :-)

In any case, as I said: I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage myself in a discussion under these circumstances.

The Overseer said...

"... he takes a substantial amount of text from my blog ..." (Niels K Petersen)

These wild accusations are tiresome and juvenile.

Kindly provide some evidence, Niels, of anything I have "taken" from your blog.

There isn't a single word used from your text in my "Diary of a Vampirologist" - save, of course, where we might have both quoted from an identical historical source which would not require either of us to crib from the other's blog; something I have certainly not done.

You really should refrain from these insults.

Niels K. Petersen said...

I am pleased to see that you have - once again - changed your text, so that it does now, as far I can see, no longer contain text verbatim from my blog.

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