Wednesday, 31 October 2012


A year goes by, another Hallowe'en arrives!  To commemorate the occasion, I thought I'd share a few snippets of vampirey goodness. And lots of links. Oh, so many links.

Firstly, The Highgate Cemetery Vampire Appreciation Society–which I co-admin–has celebrated its first anniversary. We've progressed from a 'den of vipers' with six members to 102 strong. As of this writing. Our success even inspired a clone.

If you're interested in joining, it's free. Well, our 'base' is Facebook, after all. Here's our group and our page. If you're thinking 'Highgate Cemetery Vampire Wha–?', read this article. It deals with one of the most infamous and contested cases in vampire history.

Oh, I also co-admin Vampire lore and legends and Count Dracula. The latter has personal significance. It was born from the ashes of a swiped Facebook group. Unfortunately, its original owner wasn't able to reclaim it, but the group set-up in its stead rapidly gained support and sizable membership. Both groups are great. Join us there, too.

Speaking of memberships, I've just renewed my Transylvanian Society of Dracula membership. Literally. Today. That's not free, unfortunately, but still fairly cheap–an annual fee of $30. Canadian. Here's what membership gets you (courtesy of the society's page):
  • our quarterly newsletter, The Borgo Post
  • a free copy of our annual scholarly publication, the Journal of Dracula Studies
  • access to the Membership Directory
  • occasional in-house publications
  • on request, access to various resource materials held by the TSD office
  • updated information on conferences and Dracula tours, as well as discounts on TSD-sponsored events
If that tickles your fancy, come join us. Last year, I wrote a significant article for The Borgo Post. It was 'the first vampire-related article I've submitted for a print publication. Ever.' You can read it here.

My ghoulish heart was touched by a young girl having the audacity to tell Pippa Middleton that she wasn't interested in princesses, but by certain other creatures of the night...

On 29 October, I received my copy of The undead and theology (Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2012). That was another personal investment. A financial one, this time. I've discussed the development of that book here, here and here.

In order to ensure its publication, a Kickstarter fund was set-up. I'm proud to be one of its sponsors. One of the great hindrances of vampire scholarship–though, admittedly, this book covers other undead, too–is that it's such a niche field of interest, with niches of its own. 

It's a shame its editors, Kim Paffenroth and John W. Morehead, had to resort to donations, but it also means we could be seeing more and more DIY projects emerge. I welcome that. It'll encourage more authors to get their stuff out there, rather than be deterred by rejections from mainstream publishers. Sure, that also means that there'd also be a lot of crappy output to sort through–but that's no different to what we generally deal with now, anyway. 

This particular book doesn't fall into the crappy pile, thankfully. It's a well-produced and researched book. Kudos to Kim, John, its contributors, donors and Wipf and Stock. You can buy the book through its publisher or Amazon.

As mentioned in my previous post, 'my Amazon trawlings have upturned a cache of upcoming books I'm really enthused about.' That post is still on the way, but I'll disclose one of them–as it's no longer 'upcoming', but out. 

Tanya Erzen's Fanpire: the Twilight saga and the women who love it was released on 30 October. The timing couldn't be better, what with the last movie in the series–The twilight saga: breaking dawn – part 2–due for release on 16 November. 

I also suspect it'll represent a turning point in the Twilight craze, especially as a lot of its literary thunder's been stolen by E. L. James' 'Fifty shades trilogy'. A bit of a kick in the guts, as it spun off from Twilight fan-fic. We'll probably see one last heave of vampire books in the wake of the movie's release, before things die down again and the next boom comes along.

That said, I'd be very surprised if we ever see anything as mainstreamly successful as Twilight was. Sure, Stoker's Dracula developed into a myth, an archetype–but that took decades to cultivate. Meanwhile, Meyers' saga scored her millions in a short time frame, even threatening to topple the success of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. It blows my mind. 

Therefore, books like Erzen's will ironically outlast the saga's success and provide a snapshot of 21st century vampire fandom. What exactly was it about these books that made them so successful, especially as we're awash with–probably–thousands of other vampire novels? What's the appeal? Either way, it's on my wish list. You can buy the book from its publisher or Amazon.

Last but not least, I thought I'd share a tune to celebrate the Hallowe'en festivities. It's not vampire-related–yes, much disappointment all round–but it's a good 'un, nonetheless. Presenting, Stephen Lynch's 'Halloween'. 

This particular version features Lynch on Last call with Carson Daly (31 October 2003). It's also available on his 2005 album, The Craig machine.

And on that note, I wish all my readers a safe and Happy Hallowe'en! Enjoy your treats.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Belated anniversary musings

Time flies. I just remembered that my blog's first anniversary has come and gone. You see, I started this blog on 20 September 2011 as an offshoot to my previous effort, Diary of an amateur vampirologist. Amazing. It's been more than a year, already.

You've probably noticed I haven't been updating as much of late. Life's been getting in the way. Also, few things have been inspiring me to write here. I don't see this blog as a 'job', so much as an outlet of expression. I only write about vampy things that interest me—and not much has been piquing my interest in the vampire world, lately. At least, not enough to write about.

For instance, I did wind up watching the Dark shadows remake—on DVD. It was as shite as I expected it to be. House of dark shadows (1970) is far-superior to Burton's airbrushed comedy-horror. See that, instead.

That's not to say I've been totally dormant. I've been active in my role as co-admin of The Highgate Cemetery Vampire Appreciation Society. The group's anniversary's coming up on 27 October. Come join us!

The thing that broke the dryspell was being tipped-off about the 30 October 2012 Jonathan Ferguson lecture. I'm genuinely excited by that. If I was anywhere near Leeds, I'd be there in a heartbeat! If you're able, check it out. 

Dr Leo Ruickbie's witchcraft blog
Ferguson wrote the brilliant 'To kill a vampire' article for Fortean Times, no. 288 (2012). Grab that issue (left) if you can. It features another excellent article, by Leo Ruickbie. Readers may recognise him as the author of A brief guide to the supernatural (2012).

A brief guide serves as a classic example to why you (ok, I) shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I was expecting a threadbare pop-culture treatment, but it's incredibly well-researched. Ruickbie certainly knows his stuff. I bought it along with a stack of other books in my latest 'book spree'. Stay tuned for a write-up on that.

Speaking of things to watch out for, my Amazon trawlings have upturned a cache of upcoming books I'm really enthused about. What did I find? Stay tuned for that, too!

I mentioned that not much had been interesting me in the vampire world of late, but there is something that caught my attention. Andrew M. Boylan recently interviewed Mark Devendorf and Mauricio Chernovetzky—who're responsible for an upcoming adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanu's 'Carmilla', Styria.

There was a particular portion of the interview I found particularly intriguing:
T_ttlg: Your research tied suicide with vampirism… more specifically mass suicides. Could you tell us more about that?

MC: Yes, what Mark and I realized was that Vampirism not only occurred in the past, but it still happening today. Sociologists and psychologists have simply given it a more scientific name: "Suicide Clusters."

MD: These cases all follow a similar pattern: In a small community or town, one person dies or commits suicide. Soon another person, usually a friend or relative is haunted by the dead person until they fall ill or kill themselves. Soon, then the "infection" spreads until dozens are dead. Barring communicable diseases, the only explanation pre-modern villagers had was the supernatural notion they called "Vampirism." 
It sounds like a compelling theory and I'd love to read more on it, but I'd give it credence if suicides were a predominant characteristic of vampire cases. They're not. 

The pattern's similar, mind you—someone in the community or family dies; those visited by their 'ghost' die soon after. Repeat. 

But the victims don't kill themselves. They die soon shortly after visitation in circumstances similar to psychosomatic disorder.

Troll meme generator
Or, in the case of New England 'vampire' attacks, waste away from something 'suspiciously' sharing symptoms with tuberculosis—as tastefully rendered by this meme I just created (above). I hearby dedicate it to Michael E. Bell, author of the brilliant Food for the dead (2001).

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the members of this blog, my readers and casual browsers, alike. You guys make it worthwhile. Cheers!

A stake in vampire killing kits

At the 7:29 mark, we see a bunch of people getting ripped-off during an auction—inadvertently, it would seem, but the auctioneers. It's taken from the season 1, episode 1 edition of Auction kings (26 October 2010).

If you can't be arsed watching the clip, a vampire killing kit winds up being sold to a telephone bidder for US$12,000—far higher than the US$7,500 asking price.

A seller named 'Edwin'—who repeatedly emphasises that he's keen to make a down payment on his house—had presented a supposedly antique vampire killing kit to Paul Brown.

Brown is clearly impressed by the kit, but drafts his father, Bob, in to take another look. Much to my amazement, Bob gives it the seal of approval—but tellingly recounts a story commonly associated with such kits (10:13). Indeed, it's even been established that he's sold 'two or three of these kits' before (2:55). 

He's also familiar with the exorbitant prices they sell for, likely on account of their pseudohistory; namely, that they were manufactured in Europe during the 19th century for use by travellers against the undead. 

Bob does little more than glance it over; a common practice when such kits are 'examined'. The stories seem proof enough, even though no auction house or museum—including Ripley's—has actually verified the associated tales.

Thankfully, not everyone falls for this routine. In the 24 October 2011 episode of Pawn stars, 'Rick or treat', a seller tries to palm one off for US$9,000. Thankfully, Rick Harrison immediately sees through it. 'There's some stuff that doesn't make sense to me . . .' (3:11); the kit utilises vampire lore associated with Stoker's novel, Dracula (1897), for instance, a mirror—that looks remarkably clean for something well-over 100 years old.

Stoker invented the vampires-don't-have-a-reflection-in-mirrors trope, which automatically pushes the kit's date further up the 19th century. Harrison also takes issue with the 'obsolete' gun included in the kit, recognising that it's something that's been retroactively added to the kit. I'm glad that some dealers don't take these things hook, line and sinker.

Unfortunately, 'antique vampire killing kits' are a thriving trade. I call it the Blomberg Effect: what likely started as a few novelty kits manufactured in the 1970s, soon turned into a 'trade' as media coverage revealed the kits selling for ludicrous prices. The rest, onward, are cash-ins—like this US$4,995 example by Tracy L. Conway.

'Antique' vampire killing kits are fake. They're generally cobbled from actual antique components—be it firearms, Bibles or prayer books, or the kit box, itself—and other items which are artificiality aged. They often come associated with a backstory—their main claim to 'authenticity' is that they were manufactured in the 19th century as a traveller's item for journeys in Europe. Occasionally the name 'Ernst Blomberg' or 'Nicolas Pomdeur' will be mentioned.

The weapons and wards in the kits, however, are often post-Stoker allusions to vampire lore. Remember, Stoker's Dracula was fiction, not a chronicle of vampire lore. He was at liberty to make stuff up. Auction houses and museums aren't.

Caveat emptor!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

How to kill a vampire

I was recently contacted by Julia Lumley, Royal Armouries' Communications Officer, who asked me if I'd be 'interested in a talk by Jonathan Ferguson, titled How to Kill a Vampire, where he will be talking about the various means of slaying vampires in both folklore and fiction, including the real story behind the mysterious vampire killing kits.'1

Readers may recall Ferguson from the previous entry—he is the Curator of the Royal Armouries in Leeds. He also wrote a brilliant article for Fortean Times (no. 288, 2012) called, 'To kill a vampire', which concerns itself with the glut of supposedly antique vampire killing kits that've been appearing in museums and auction houses within the last two decades. I think it's fair to say that Ferguson is an expert on the topic.

Lumley's email added, 'There will also be a chance to see the kit up close' and 'Is this something you would be interested in featuring on your blog as a follow up story?' Wouldn't I!

Unfortunately, I can't see the talk or the kit up close—as much as I've love to—because I'm on the other side of the world. 

However, if you're in the UK, near there or even planning a visit, Ferguson will be giving his lecture on 30 October 2012, 6.30pm at the Royal Armouries' Bury Theatre, Leeds. His talk concerns
the various means of slaying vampires in both folklore and fiction, including the real story behind the mysterious vampire killing kits.
How much will the lecture cost? A measly £5. That's it.

The lecture goes for an hour and a half and you get to see one of these fabled kits up close. Cheaper than a movie. 

Lumley's also provided me with a stack of promotional pics to share2—the ones that line this blog entry. I pass them onto you, dear reader.

So, what do you think guys? Are you up for it? If you're able, do it. It's a fantastic opportunity and Ferguson certainly knows his stuff. Don't miss out!

1. J Lumley, email, Friday, 12 October 2012 2:04:25 AM.  

2. ibid.; J Lumley, email, Monday, 15 October 2012 8:03:00 PM.
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