Ahh, it’s that magical time of year again, the spectral month of October when the world wastes away and horrors stalk the night (hehe); ‘tis the Dragon’s favorite time of year, my Wild Things
The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories, edited by Alan Ryan, is the title that should be in the library of every serious horror/vampire fan, for here shadows pursue and vampires haunt with a rapacity that tears not only the body, but the soul. This comprehensive anthology of vampire tales spans the decades from 1816 through 1984 beginning with the “Fragment of a Novel” written by George Gordon, Lord Byron, which has an interesting story behind the story. Lord Byron often traveled with his close friends, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Mary Shelley. During a spate of bad weather while they vacationed in Italy, they read ghost stories to one another and decided that each would pen a ghostly tale; Lord Byron penned the “Fragment of a Novel,” Percy Shelley lost interest in the project, and Mary Shelley conceived her novel, Frankenstein, which was published two years later.
Thirty-two tales grace this volume with brief introductions of the stories and the authors by Mr. Ryan that are as entertaining to read as the stories themselves. There is even an excerpt from the “penny dreadful,” “Varney the Vampyre, or, the Feast of Blood,” written in 1845 by James Malcolm Rymer and while the writing is overly melodramatic, the vampire is stark and deadly. I could find no fault with any of the tales, some were more memorable than others, beginning with Lord Bryon’s “Fragment.” J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” is here, and it is interesting to note that Bram Stroker admitted the influence of “Carmilla” on his own Dracula tale.
So it is hard for even the Dragon to pick a favorite until I come to the final tale, “Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur De Feu,” by Tanith Lee. A lyrical fantasist whose prose I have long admired, Lee’s vampire story haunts us with her erotic tale of the doomed lovers, the vampire prince, Ferlouce, and the scullery maid, Rohise. Lee weaves her heartbreakingly ethereal tale with fathomless skill exemplifying the love of the damned and the beauty with which such love can flower. A most perfect ending to a perfect vampire anthology, you will put it down only to pick it up and read it again and again.