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Shawn MacDougall says that many of today's popular beliefs about vampires (their habits, strengths, and weaknesses) derive from films and modern novels, and bear only tenuous relation to ancient vampire myths and folklore. For instance, he says that the Chinese Chiang-Shih is that rare vampire affected by garlic, mirrors, running water, and shapeshifting; most vampires aren't. Furthermore, vampire folklore varies widely throughout the world, at least if one defines "vampire" broadly, which MacDougall does. Psychic vampires qualify.
Much of the book is arranged by nations, making it easy to look up each country's vampire folklore. Not every nation on Earth, but it's an extensive and diverse listing, with entries from six continents (Antarctic appears to be Earth's only vampire-free continent!). Thankfully, this means the often overlooked Africa and South America are included.
Yet while this book is a useful reference tool, it can't seem to decide whether it wants to be a reference tool or pop entertainment. Amid obscure and scholarly data are padding and fluff and at 686 pages, this book doesn't need it. Some entries are scant; a page or two - and that includes illustrations (19 artists are credited). But while some illustrations are helpful or compelling, others are silly and irrelevant (such as photographs of campy women wearing fangs or carrying stakes).
The sequence of chapters also seems calculated for a breezy read. The nationality chapters are interspersed between more general chapters. "A World of Vampire A-F" (Albania to France) is followed by "Becoming Undead," then "A World of Vampires G-L," then "Fighting the Undead," etc. Sometimes irrelevant sidebars pepper the chapters. A sidebar on "Sirens" appears with the "Vampires of France" (why not with the "Vampires of Greece"?). The "Vampires of Byelorus" has sidebars on "Telepathy" and "Werewolves In Movies". Even if Byelorusian mjertovjecs are shapeshifters, what have they to do with "I Was A Teenage Werewolf"? Nothing wrong with irrelevant sidebars in a book intended to be read sequentially, but less appropriate for a reference tool.
Yet despite the fluff and casual arrangement, The Vampire Slayers' Guide is a useful reference tool. The meat is scholarly and impressive, although as with any such extensive work, one can always nitpick. In "Vampires of Transylvania," MacDougall writes: "During the time of Vlad Tepes, Romania's ruling class was composed of Romanian Szekelys and Hungarian Magyars."
Elsewhere, MacDougall writes: "Tangled in the complex rural histories of Romania and other Slavic countries are a number of references to different types of Strigoi." However, Romanians have long insisted that they are not Slavic, but a Latin people, descended from Roman colonists (hence, ROMANian). No small point. Ethnic issues in Eastern Europe remain contentious and politically pregnant. The late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, in seeking Western aid, would stress that Romania is "a Latin island in a Slavic sea." It's also why some of Romania's adversaries prefer the older spelling of Rumania; because it irks Romanians to have their claim of Roman heritage denied.
I know less about the other nationalities in the book, and thus can't comment on it. I can comment on MacDougall's use of "revenant," which he defines as: "A corpse that has been reanimated and has risen as a vampire, ghost, zombie, or angel. For the purposes of this book, Revenant will be used as a term to describe those vampires that are human corpses that have returned from the dead. These vampires are often pale and shambling, their bodies showing signs of decay."
An oddity: The book prominently announces that Shawn MacDougall is the pen name of Jonathan Maberry. Likewise, the book's promotional material. Sort of defeats the whole point of having a pen name, no?
Oddities aside, MacDougall does a fine job gathering vampire folklore from around the world, compiling their names and characteristics, along with tales and legends for many of them. The illustrations are attractive, if not always pertinent. All black & white, aside from a 14-page "Color Gallery." 540 pages of main text, plus 132 pages of appendixes covering vampire websites, unset groups, bibliographies, filmographies, glossary, etc.
4 Book Wyrms
This review copyright 2003 E.C.McMullen Jr.