Monday, December 31, 2007

VAMPIRE SLAYERS edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

This is a review I wrote in 2005—it was published in the Fall 2005 issue of the small press magazine Night to Dawn. The review feels more like a college essay than most of the reviews here at Gravetapping, but I still think about several of the stories contained in Vampire Slayers and absolutely agree with my analysis. It feels good to agree with myself.

Enjoy, and have a great new year. I’ll be posting some new stuff soon—maybe even a photograph or two of our Death Valley trip.

In this eclectic anthology of vampire stories it is the hunter, the human vampire-killer, who is highlighted and developed. The vampire is a lesser entity. They have no value, except as a scourge against humanity. The vampires prey upon not just the blood of humanity, but humanity itself. They must be destroyed, beheaded, burned, or staked, to save mankind. The stories cover a broad span of vampire literature from the early writings of the legendary Hugh B. Cave and his excellent story “Stragella” published in 1932, to a more modern take on the vampire story as gory sex-fest that only the late-Richard Laymon could write in his story “Special.”

The style of each story is unique. They seemingly represent the evolution of the vampire hunter tale from its earliest modern inceptions to the contemporary. The arc of substance that these tales feature is fascinating—the characters of the early tales are caught in a nightmare of events that are beyond their control, and very often belief, while the modern tales tend toward the vampire slayer as a merciless professional who not only believes what is happening, but thrives on it.

The stories that represent early vampire literature, “Revelations in Black” by Carl Jacobi, “Nellie Foster” by August Derleth, “Stragella” by Hugh B. Cave, and “The Last Grave of Lill Warren” by Manly Wade Wellman, have the feel of the classic tale Dracula by Bram Stoker. They evoke the feelings and the mythology of the great novel with one major difference: They are written in third person. There are no letter or diary entries to remove the reader from the action as in Dracula. The story unfolds before the reader in real-time. It is told with a suspense that cannot be obtained from the older “letter” style novels, yet they have much in common with their predecessor Dracula.

The stories move forward into a middle ground between old and new with “Duty” by Ed Gorman and “Midnight Mass” by F. Paul Wilson. They both contain the classic mythology, but are written with a stronger sense of unease and corruption than the earlier tales. They also lack the easy simplicity of good versus evil. Gorman uses a spectacular sparse noir style that emphasizes the humanity of the slayer, the angst that is felt as friends and neighbors clamor for his services. His protagonist takes the emotional burdens of the death he causes, the guilt of murder from each slaying as though the vampires are not animals, but living, breathing humans.

“In a while it began to rain. He was still thinking of the little Dodds girl, of her innocent eyes there at the very last.”

With passages like this, Mr. Gorman seeks, and finds more than just the generic vampire slayer story. He creates an image that is more than mere horror, but is also very much relevant to the human experience. A story that makes the reader ponder death, and more importantly life.

The final group of stories is fashioned in the most modern sense of the slayer. They have much in common with the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They have hard-nosed slayers who look at the world of vampires as nothing more than something to be killed. They are professionals who enjoy the act of slaying. These stories are best represented by the detective story “God-less Men” by James Kisner and the vampire as vampire-slayer story “This Town Ain’t Big Enough” by Tanya Huff. These are edgey stories that have the vibrancy of modern noise and craze. The heroes and heroines push through the streets with the tough, and at times, pious sense that they are absolutely right and will survive, and with their survival humanity will also be saved from the an unbelievable onslaught of the undead.

Vampire Slayers is a welcome addition to vampire literature. It gives the reader a brief primer of the vampire slayer story in the Twentieth Century. The stories are related only by their theme: The Slayer versus the Vampire. The storylines and styles are vastly different, but each, in its own right, works and adds to the growing canon of vampire literature.

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