Sunday, 18 January 2009

Apropos of Summers

Apropos of recent references to Montague Summers, I find that it's quite interesting how different the approaches to his life and works are on the English and the German Wikipedia. The German Wikipedia entry is much more critical than the English one. Neither biography is quite satisfactory in terms of providing the reader with a complete assessment of his work, but then it was pretty prolific. The thing is, as those interested in the subject will know, that it's hard to come by a) reliable information on his life, and b) an analysis of his books from a modern critical point of view. Too much of what has been written is shrouded in a mixture of his own eccentric posing and the admiration he is given by a lot of 'fans' and authors who continue along the lines he set forth - although usually sans the conviction that vampires exist :-)

In any case, whereas the English Wikipedia just mentions the books on vampires and werewolves he wrote, the German Wikipedia provides this excellent description of his approach and legacy in this particular field:

'Besonders bekannt und geschätzt in Okkultistenkreisen wurde Summers wegen seiner beiden Bücher über die Vampire und eines über die Werwölfe. Die drei Bücher stellen zwar eine auch heute noch brauchbare Materialsammlung dar, aber da Summers fest an die Existenz von Blutsaugern und Gestaltwandlern glaubte, klassifizierte er auch andere Horrorgestalten aus dem Volksglauben der unterschiedlichsten Kulturen und Epochen als Vampire, selbst wenn es sich bei ihnen überhaupt nicht Untote handelte, sondern um Lebende (Hexen) oder Dämonen, also Wesen, die niemals Menschen waren und daher keine Vampire werden konnten. Daher sind die langen Listen von angeblichen Vampirwesen, die bei Summers abgeschrieben wurden und durch die einschlägigen Internetseiten geistern, mit großer Vorsicht zu genießen.'

(Which translates something like: Summers became particularly known and treasured in occultist circles because of his two books on vampires and one on werewolves. The tree books even today present a useful collection of material, but as Summers firmly belived in the existence of bloodsuckers and shapeshifters, he also classified other horror figures from the folklore of very different cultures and epochs as vampires, even when they had nothing to do with undead, but were rather living people (witches) or demons, i.e. creatures that had never been human and hence could not have become vampires. For that reason the long lists of alleged vampire creatures that have been copied from Summers and keep returning via internet sites, should be used with great caution).

One does perhaps tend to forget the incredible claims found in his books. Here are but two on witches:

'Although it may not be generally recognized, upon a close investigation it seems plain that the witches were a vast political movement, an organized society which was anti-social and anarchical, a world-wide plot against civilization.' (The 1928 introduction to the translation of the Malleus Maleficarum, Dover edition p. xviii)

'Now and again some gang of devil-worshippers may be - almost by accident - broken up and dispersed, but there are (I fear) few persons who realize how far-spread and how cunningly organized are these Societies of Evil. To the ordinary man Satanism often seems incredible, or at any rate a myth of the remote Dark Ages. He does not realize, and he is happy in his ignorance, the devil's fires that burn just a very little way beneath the thin and crumbled crust of our boasted modern civilization.' (A Popular History of Witchcraft, p. 259-260)

If anyone has the knowledge and the spare time to write a critical review of Summers's books on the English Wikipedia, it would be welcome.

Related post: A Veritable Bombshell.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...