I really didn’t know what to expect from this book. Despite my longstanding love of vampires, I’ve read more vampire fiction and folklore than I have any academia on the subject. Having read it now, my ultimate assessment is that if you’re looking for an introduction to the history of vampires as they exist today this is a very good starting place.
“The Rise of the Vampire” is entertainingly written analysis of the rise of the vampire in folklore and fiction and how they have prospered in some areas and not in others, but remain fixed—yet ever evolving—in the cultural conscious. I also enjoyed the frank, though limited, discussion of the anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic and misogynistic tropes that pervade vampire fiction.
If I talked about everything I loved about the book my review would be as long as the book myself, so I’ll keep it to my absolutely favorite things.
1. The origins of the vampire mythos in Eastern Europe as a way for the the native Serbian people of the region to assert some control during a time when their homeland was in the control of others. I found this fascinating, because I’ve only ever read about the origins and history from a perspective of “here are diseases that could have contributed to the vampire mythos.”
2. The utter evisceration of Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight.” I don’t mean Butler was derogatory or dismissive toward the series or tore it apart in a negative way. He treats it as he treats any iteration of vampire fiction, one with good aspects and bad aspects, but he takes it apart incredibly thoroughly and in a way that exposes that darker and much creepier aspects of the books, which I appreciated a whole awful lot. I will say, the one issue I had during his assessment was is use of the term “redskins,” when describing Meyer’s racist depiction of the Quileute Indian Tribe. I understand that he was trying to make the point that Meyer had done a bad job, but using a slur felt unnecessary.
3. Maybe Abraham Van Helsing and Quincy Morris in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” are actually vampires. This blew my mind, particularly with regard to Van Helsing. Butler’s break down of his reasoning is incredible and it makes so much sense. The vampire hunter is a vampire himself. This makes me think, in particular, of dhampir lore, which says that the child of a mortal and a vampire will be a born vampire hunter.
4. Spike my beloved. Butler’s assessment of Spike from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is so good. His analysis of Spike’s song (“Let Me Rest in Peace”) in the episode “Once More With Feeling” had me rolling. The line “The song teeters embarrassingly between sensitivity and machismo,” could honestly just be an assessment of Spike as a whole. There’s a big ass softie beneath that cold seeming exterior, which is exactly why he’s my favorite.
One final quibble I will bring up is that this is a very European and American centric look at vampires. There are plenty of other cultures that have vampiric equivalents, even if “vampire” isn’t the word used for them. If this book can discuss non-vampire characters as vampiric in nature then, why not give a nod to some non-Western vampiric entities, say the obayifo of Ashanti folklore or the Malaysian penanggalan? Of course, there’s only so much room in the book and it already covers quite a large swath of time and location, but I would have appreciated at least some acknowledgment of vampire lore occurring in other cultures.