Before They Sparkled
Written: May 21, 2012 (Updated May 28, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:A wide variety of stories, some quite creative. Introductory paragraphs short
Cons:As always in a collection, some stories better than others, no mention of Barnabas Collins
The Bottom Line: A fine collection of vampire short stories from the early 19th to the late 20th century by some great authors.
The late Alan Ryan was the author of four novels plus he edited anthologies and collections such as this one, The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories, which contains 32 short stories from the 19th and 20th centuries in chronological order of their publication. Some of these are familiar, some of these obscure. While most vampires suck blood, there are also snow vampires, vampires who suck the soul, vampires who drain the life force out of their loved ones and those who read strangers’ thoughts and gobble them. There are vampires encountered on other planets and a story told from the vampire’s point of a view.
A general introduction opens the volume then each short story is given a few paragraphs of introduction, mostly as a means of introducing the author. At the end of the book are a list of vampire novels and a list of vampire movies.
Most people know the story of how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein came to be written: during lousy weather while they were vacation on Lake Geneva, Shelley; her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley; George Gordon, Lord Byron; and John Polidori were to each write a ghost story. Mary Shelley’s became Frankenstein. Byron wrote a fragment, included as the first entry in this volume. Percy Shelley and Polidori both abandoned their ideas, but Polidori later wrote what Ryan calls “the first vampire tale of any substance in the English language.” The real life story between Byron and Polidori is a bit more complicated.
Especially for the earlier writings, the goal in including them seems to be to document the changing vampire myth as much as to entertain. The first hundred years are full of dark and stormy nights, fainting maidens, blood-stained nightgowns, menacing strangers, and graveyards, but there are also surprises such as the overt lesbianism in the 1872 “Carmilla” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (the word itself is never used). The excerpt of “Varney the Vampire, or, the Feast of Blood” by James Malcolm Rymer is an example of the “penny dreadfuls” and quite popular in its day, serialized in a whopping 109 weekly installments and reprinted in 1853. The title is an indication of writing replete with purple passages, IMHO, but many of its themes carry over to the classic vampire stories and movies.
There are also several stories that originally appeared in Weird Tales. These include “School for the Unspeakable” by Manly Wade Wellman published in 1937 about a boy going away to school, getting off the train and taking the wrong ride. (Pssst---I understand Weird Tales still exists, but is a pale shade of its former glory).
“The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” by Fritz Leiber has film noir-ish air and is about a photographer with an untouchable model whom everybody wants. There is a cute satire in “The Werewolf and the Vampire” by R. Chetwynd-Hayes. Other writers include Bram Stoker, August Derleth, Richard Matheson (not “I am Legend”), Charles Beaumont, Robert Bloch, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Alan Ryan, Ramsey Campbell, Steven Rasnic Tem and Tanith Lee.
Most of the stories are short enough to be read easily at one sitting, though the later ones get longer. Not every story is a gem, obviously. There are more than 600 pages of text so you’ll have—I’ll avoid the obvious metaphor and just say that the book will afford you many hours of reading pleasure. My personal favorites include “The Mysterious Stranger” by an anonymous writer from 1860 (as gothic as it is) for its creepiness, “The Drifting Snow” by August Derleth also because of its creepiness and Tanith Lee’s “Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur de Feu.”
I read this not long after it first came out, about 20 years ago, and it’s survived the many purges for library donation since then. Rereading it now for this review, I can understand why. This is a lot of fun. I realize vampires are not everyone’s cup of tea--and they’ve gotten so chic lately--but I found myself enjoying this as much as I did when I first read it, though I'm saddened to note that many of the authors have passed away between my first and second readings of the book.
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