Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend by Mark Collins Jenkins
Published: February 2010 by National Geographic
My Rating: The view was nice, but the food was bad (2/5)
I found this exploration into the myths and legends of vampires underwhelming, in a word.
I expected the book to delve into the historical and literary evidence for vampires, and to a certain extent, that is what the author does. However, the exploration jumps around, and at times the author doesn’t explain how one factor/myth/legend/story indicates the existence of, or belief in, vampires.
In the last chapters, the author enumerates (yes, it is essentially a list) of various traditions in distant regions (i.e. not Eurasia, whose legends have the most definitive connection to the modern-day vampire) of the world, even though they are not vampires. It’s as if the author only wants to say that traditions of ghouls, witches, sorcerers, and demons exist all over the world, in many diverse cultures. Their connection to modern-day vampires is never made.
Additionally, the author never draws a firm conclusion. The most compelling evidence provided in this book is that some corpses decompose differently than others – with distinctive characteristics that tend to match the characteristics our Eurasian societies have given to “vampires.”
I did enjoy learning about the history of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and where Stoker got his material, as well as the Hollywood versions and Bela Lugosi’s culture-changing performance. I would have enjoyed a bit more literary forensics, investigating where other foundational authors and film writers/producers/actors found their material for vampires. I also found the connection to the Plague fascinating, and now I want to read more about that world-consuming disease. I also found interesting the exposition of differing burial practices.
At times, I am not sure the author researched as deeply and thoroughly as he could – throughout much of the text, the writing seems to be sensational (in some cases, even crass). Indeed, I think the intended audience for this work is more interested in gory tales than about historical evidence. I wonder, too, why many of the secondary sources used by the author are 19th century historians and others, whose methods of research may not stand up to scholarly scrutiny today. After all that, I sound like a snob – I just may have been looking forward to a more scholarly work, with a focus more on historical details and archaeological evidence.
Ultimately, this book is a gruesome and morbid collection of historical tales and perceptions of the dead, and how humans may have arrived at the conviction that vampires exist. Recommended for fans of National Geographic, vampires, and/or folklore, as well as for those who like a bit of history in their horror. If you’re into that, or you’re looking for something creepy and non-fiction to read during the Halloween season, this book may be for you.
For literature and literature-esque vampire fiction, these three are among my favorites:
If you’re into more of a romantic urban fantasy style of vampire tales (and less scary, more seductive vampires), you should check out these:
Want to be seriously creeped out? Try:
For a seriously funny take on urban fantasy vampires, you must read: