Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Rise of the Vampire by Erik Butler

The back cover notes that "whether they’re evil, bloodsucking monsters or sparkling like diamonds in the sunlight, vampires have been capturing our imagination since their modest beginnings in the rustic fantasies of southeastern Europe in the early eighteenth century. Today, they’re everywhere, appearing even in movies in Japan and Korea and in reggae music in Jamaica and South Africa. Why have vampires gone viral in recent years?"

In The Rise of the Vampire, Erik Butler seeks to explain our enduring fascination with these creatures of the night. And it's a wholly enjoyable journey that explores our collective obsession with these bloodsucking undead.

I would argue, however, that vampires have not just "gone viral" in recent years--for their position atop the pantheon of monster popular culture has always been cyclical. Yet I did find much to like inside the pages of The Rise of the Vampire. Butler's often sardonic look at the modern interpretation of my favourite creature of the night is certainly one of the highlights; I especially appreciated his comments regarding the ever-popular sparkling vampire clan--

Twilight enjoys an air of moral respectability on account of the reserve that characters demonstrate in sexual matters. Yet in celebrating the notion that 'true love conquers all', Twilight basically urges readers--young women, primarily--not to give up on manipulative stalkers who threaten them with violence...Twilight is about scaring girls into traditional roles and showing them, through the example of Bella, the joys of masochism.

Book-ended by an introduction and conclusion are five main sections:

  1. Portrait Gallery of the Undead: how classic literature, films, and television shows have visually influenced the vampire's visage.
  2. Generation V: how classic vampirism--which was essentially an impediment to sexual experience--morphed into something much more in the late 1960s.
  3. All-American Vampires (and Zombies): how Western European vampires changed when they reached the shores of the New World.
  4. That Sucking Sound: regarding the vampire's failure to flourish musically.
  5. The Key to Immortality: vampires rarely die for long, because we really won't let them.
Butler's research casts a wide net, covering folklore, literature, film, journalism, political cartoons, music, television, and video games. You'll likely be inspired to track down all the cited examples found in his exhaustive list of references.

This is an excellent study of how the vampire has evolved over the years, and how it has managed to maintain its grip on the human psyche--and will surely be enjoyed by academics and vampire-obsessed fans alike. Highly recommended!

Available from the University of Chicago Press and Reaktion Books.

Erik Butler is also the author of Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film and The Bellum Grammaticale and the Rise of European Literature.


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