Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology an incredible resource for vampire freaks

For the past week I've been reading Theresa Bane's new Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology, a book so deeply researched and thorough that I've never seen anything quite like it. I've read a fair number of books on vampires and vampire literature; my favorite is J. Gordon Melton's The Vampire Book. That excellent work covers the whole range of vampires with an emphasis on pop culture, so one finds articles on a whole potpourri of vamp material: nearly 1000 pages long, Melton provides articles on Anne Rice, Blade, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Lord Byron, Dark Shadows, even the short-lived Dell Comics superhero Dracula. If it's vampire and it appeared before the latest edition, it's in there.

The Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology book is a different animal, a thorough and seemingly exhaustive recording of every vampire myth Bane could find. This is a book for people who want to absorb the breadth and possibilities of the vampire myth. I can't begin to convey how impressive this is because it clearly required years of painstaking research, capturing myths from Malaysia, Japan, Eastern Europe, pre-Colonial America, the Jewish Apocrypha, wherever there appear to have been people.

Bane tells us that the Indian Brahmaparush is a vampire that detaches its head and flies around as a head, with entrails hanging down, and you can kill it by drying out the hidden skin with salt.  Variations of this myth appear (in other entries) as Malaysian Penangglan, the Thai Phii Krasue, the Indonesian Pontianak, and have flying-head cousins among the Chilean Chonchon (though that one has big wing-ears, and no entrails,) and the Iroquois generically named "Flying Heads." There are way more than this, because flying heads get around.

Disclosure: I was ready for the flying heads because I used them once in a Ronnie Van Helsing story.

Another big deal is cats: the German Dockele appears as a cat, and so do the Greek Draskylo and, among many, many others, the Hungarian Farkaskoldus (this one is the unlucky soul killed by a werewolf: who knew? Also the Farkaskoldus can turn into a goat.) The same themes appear again and again. Live a sinful life, come back as a vampire and haunt your family, so, don't do that. Also men should beware of wanton women, the world over, apparently.

My favorite vampire? Hard to say, because there's so many vampires, densely packed into the seemingly slim 200 pages, but I love the pitiful German Dodelecker, who is so weak that he rises from his grave only with great effort, and then wanders around, unable to attack anyone. Eventually, hungry and unsuccessful, it falls down and dies. I also like the Japanese Kappa, a polite, sumo-wrestling sort of turtle vampire that carries water in an indentation in its head, and if you bow and the turtle bows back, the water spills out, rendering the Kappa unconscious. Aside from attacking people from time to time, the Kappa steals a lot of melons and cucumbers.

Here's a typical (and shorter than most) entry, chosen at random.

Preta (Par- EE- ta)
The preta (“morbid”) is a vampiric spirit from India. It appears as a fresh corpse whose stomach
is bloated and large but its mouth has shriveled up, leaving only a small opening. Walking the
earth lost and hungry for human blood, the Buddhist faith sees the preta’s condition as a fitting
punishment for a person who had too many desires in life.
Source: Crooke, Introduction to the Popular Religion, 153; DaniƩlou, Myths and Gods of India, 27, 213, 301, 311; Turner, Dictionary of Ancient Deities, 184

This is a book that digs into folklore on vampires and delivers a fantastic resource for writers especially, looking for inspiration. For true vampire freaks I can't recommend it enough.

Theresa Bane has a blog herself, so you should check that out as well.

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