The Best Books About Vampire Myths And Their Cultural Fascination

The Books I Picked & Why

The Vampire: A New History

By Nick Groom

The Vampire: A New History

Why this book?

Nick is a professor of English at the University of Exeter in the UK – but he is better known as the “Prof. of Goth”, being interested in all things Gothic. He is an example of the generation of humanities scholars who have broken down traditional boundaries between “high” and “low” culture, having written on topics ranging from Shakespeare to J. R. R. Tolkien and Nick Cave. Nick’s book on vampires is a comprehensive history that traces the evolution of these creatures from feral beasts of folklore to the aristocratic Dracula and his screen portrayals from Bela Lugosi to Christopher Lee. His book leaves no doubt that, whatever else vampires might be, they are an important cultural phenomenon.


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Vampyres: Genesis and Resurrection: From Count Dracula to Vampirella

By Christopher Frayling

Vampyres: Genesis and Resurrection: From Count Dracula to Vampirella

Why this book?

Frayling’s book is very much a forerunner of Groom’s, being one of the first serious (but also immensely readable) studies of the vampire in culture. This one keeps its sights trained more on the nineteenth-century vampire. It begins with The Vampyre, the story written by John Polidori at the Villa Diodati at the same infamous gathering that spawned Marty Shelley’s Frankenstein. Polidori was Lord Byron’s physician, but the two men fell out badly, and Polidori’s aristocratic bloodsucker Lord Ruthven is widely regarded as modeled on Byron. Although now little remembered, The Vampyre began the Victorian craze for vampires that culminated in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Frayling is the perfect guide, being not only a cultural historian of wide learning but also a splendid communicator.


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Our Vampires, Ourselves

By Nina Auerbach

Our Vampires, Ourselves

Why this book?

Auerbach’s book takes the vampire story into more contemporary territory and, some might say, into more treacherous waters. Although beginning again with Polidori, she follows the evolution of the vampire tale through to Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, and Tony Scott’s 1983 film The Hunger (starring an elegantly wasted David Bowie). She shows how homoeroticism has been a part of the vampire narrative since its nineteenth-century inception, notably with Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla, and how readily the narrative lent itself as an allegory of the 1980s AIDS epidemic. I don’t agree with all of Auerbach’s interpretations, but she has some zinging one-liners.


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The Cambridge Companion to 'Dracula'

By Roger Luckhurst

The Cambridge Companion to 'Dracula'

Why this book?

Although this book focuses on just the most famous vampire narrative of all, you don’t need to look far into Dracula to find universal vampire themes: sexuality, paranoia, misogyny, xenophobia, psychoanalysis, and the sacred power of blood. This collection of essays also sets Stoker’s tale within the wider context of the Victorian vampire boom, and looks at what became of his tale on stage and screen. It shows how Stoker was tapping into richer, deeper seams than even he realised, making Dracula “one of the most obsessional texts of all time, a black hole of the imagination”, in horror expert David Skal’s words. “The most frightening thing about Dracula’, says Skal, “is the strong probability that it meant far less to Bram Stoker than it has come to mean for us.”


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The Living and the Undead: Slaying Vampires, Exterminating Zombies

By Gregory A. Waller

The Living and the Undead: Slaying Vampires, Exterminating Zombies

Why this book?

Where does our fascination with “the undead” (Bram Stoker’s original title for Dracula) come from? Waller’s book delves into the dark thoughts and fantasies that propel our violent obsession with these “creatures of the night”, looking in particular at the themes that have evolved in vampire narratives in horror films and literature during the twentieth century – starting with the classic of German expressionism, F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. He shows how the vampire story merged with and spawned the myth of the zombie in the second half of the century, particularly in Richard Matheson’s1954 crossover novel I Am Legend – itself the progenitor of the “zombie apocalypse” stories that crystallized in the subversive movies of George Romero. You come away from this book with a sobering sense of the darkness that lies in our deep psyche – but also of what cathartic purpose it might serve. 


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