Monday 18 August 2008

Perhaps a little too High?

I recently mentioned Peter Haining's Dracula Centenary Book as a disappointment, and I suppose I was disappointed because I have enjoyed many of Haining's anthologies, including e.g. his Dracula Scrapbook, but this one really has the feel of an attempt at an early cash in on the centenary of Stoker's Dracula. Well, as I usually say, this blog definitely isn't about Dracula, but many books about Dracula contain chapters on vampires and magia posthuma, and vice versa, so that's why I mention this particular book.

Old friends will perhaps recall that I wrote about it in an article published in a little magazine back in the Eighties, and here I will more or less reiterate that comment :-) That's because the book contains a so-called Checklist of Vampirism, which is a chronological list of vampire cases, and accompanying this text you will find two of the entries in the checklist.

At first glance, here's a case from Hungary anno 1690, and another one from Moravia in 1731. But to those familiar with the famous Medvedja vampire case of 1731-2, it should be quite obvious that both instances of vampirism are actually based on that case which occurred in Serbia - not in Moravia, and not in Hungary! Furthermore, the 'Arnold Paul' mentioned was not a 'High Duke of Medreiga'. 'Medreiga' is simply another way of writing Medvedja, as is 'Mettwett', and there probably never was any 'High Duke' of that village, but Paul (or perhaps rather Pavle) was a hajduk, certainly a title of less rank and nobility!

Haining lists a number of, ahem, highly reliable sources like Basil Copper, Anthony Masters, Montague Summers, and Dudley Wright, but I'm not quite sure how he transformed a hajduk into a High Duke, and Serbia into Moravia, but obviously that's what can happen when you try to establish that 1987, not 1997, was the 'Dracula centenary'!

Click on the illustrations to better read the text from Haining's book.


Anthony Hogg said...

Peter Haining (1940-2007) was a great anthologist, but as an author of non-fiction stuff - like book you mention - quite unreliable.

As an example, I'll cite a snippet of his "Revenant" (pp. 217-218) entry from his bibliography-free A Dictionary of Vampires (London: Robert Hale, 2000):

"Sometimes confused by writers as being a vampire, the Revenant is actually the victim of one of the undead. It is someone who has died from loss of blood or else the shock of a vampire's attack which causes it to return as a wandering soul." (p. 217)

With "facts" like this, it's almost like he made it up as he went along!

Though, speaking of Dracula, his collaboration with Peter Tremayne (Peter Berresford Ellis) - The Un-Dead: The Legend of Bram Stoker and Dracula (London: Constable, 1997) - is not without interest.

Niels K. Petersen said...

I wasn't aware that Haining passed away last year. That's sad news, as he has compiled some fine anthologies that made me more or less a 'fan' of his work in my youth. I think of anthologies like The Midnight People, Weird Tales, and More Weird Tales, but the fine Terror! A History of Horror Illustrations from the Pulp Magazines is certainly a joy. Someone should update that wikipedia entry with more titles from Haining's enormous output.

As for The Un-Dead, this is actually one of the few books I have written a review of on Amazon:

Reading Stoker's Dracula as a teenager in the Seventies meant that knowledge about the author and his sources for the novel came mostly from the two biographies by Harry Ludlam and Daniel Farson as well as from Florescu and McNally's seminal In Search of Dracula. Since then, however, much new material has been published on the subject, proving that a number of standard theories based on e.g. the above mentioned works are incorrect or only part of the story behind the genesis of Stoker's famous novel.

Haining and Tremayne's The Un-Dead is one of the books that attempts to correct and demystify the standard mythology of what inspired Stoker. One of the authors' main theories is that Dracula was in fact much more inspired by Irish mythology, folklore, and knowledge concerning Eastern Europe coming from Stoker's family and friends, than by Stoker's reading about Transylvania and Vlad Tepes Dracula.

Haining and Tremayne gather a vast amount of - mostly circumstantial - evidence to prove their points, and convincing or not - though mainly convincing - it makes for very entertaining and enlightening reading. The book gives many insights into the life and personality of Bram Stoker, as well of a vast number of the people he knew or was related to, and as such is an important companion to other books on Stoker and the sources of his novel. The Un-Dead is well worth reading for anyone interested in the genesis of Dracula.

I'm not sure if I will be quite as positive these days, but that's what I thought about the book back in 2005.

Anthony Hogg said...

I'm with you there.

These days, I'm much more in favour of Elizabeth Miller's work. Admittedly, hers concentrates on debunking a lot of the myths and speculation that have built up over the years - but she does a fine job!

If you haven't read it, I'd recommend picking up Dracula: Sense & Nonsense (2000, 2006), for instance.

Niels K. Petersen said...

Yes, I have that one, and have mentioned it myself at least once. A delightful read :-)

Niels K. Petersen said...

Incidentally, Elizabeth Miller mentions a new documentary on Dracula - The Vampire and The Voivode that looks pretty good.

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