Top critical review
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on February 6, 2012
This book came out in 1987 and contained 32 works by as many writers. It's also been published as Vampires: Two Centuries of Great Vampire Stories.
There were 30 tales and two excerpts from novels. The collection focused on works from the United States -- just over half the selections -- and Great Britain -- most of the rest -- with three from Ireland and Germany. Vampire tales from other parts of the world such as Russia, France and Eastern Europe were excluded.
The works ranged from the 1810s to the 1980s. From the early 1800s there were Lord Byron's "Fragment of a Novel" (written in 1816 but published later), John Polidori's "The Vampyre" (published in 1819, the first vampire tale of any importance in English, very influential), and an excerpt from the first vampire novel in English, James Malcolm Rymer's Varney the Vampyre (1845-47).
From the later 1800s, there was "The Mysterious Stranger," an anonymous tale translated into English in 1860 from the German, one of the few works in the book actually set in Eastern Europe, with a fair amount of background on the creation and behavior of vampires. There were also "Carmilla" (1872), the story by Sheridan Le Fanu, likewise set in the East, containing an unforgettable female of the species; "Good Lady Ducayne" (1896) by then popular Victorian writer Mary Elizabeth Bradden; and "Dracula's Guest" by Bram Stoker, which is believed now to be from an early draft of Dracula that was later published separately by his widow. Bradden's story added a scientific dimension to the tradition, as the victim was drugged with chloroform and the vampire received transfusions.
From first two decades of the 1900s, there were stories by the English writers M. R. James ("An Episode of Cathedral History"), E. F. Benson ("The Room in the Tower") and Algernon Blackwood ("The Transfer") -- all especially strong on atmosphere -- and the American writers Mary Wilkins Freeman and F. Marion Crawford. The tale by Freeman ("Luella Miller"), published in 1903 and set in New England, was the first American tale in the collection. Nothing remotely related by Poe was included ("Berenice," "Ligeia," or "The Fall of the House of Usher"). Nor anything by the other 19th century U.S. masters of the macabre -- Hawthorne and Bierce -- they didn't write in this genre.
From the 1930s, there were pulpish stories by American authors, many of them from Weird Tales magazine (Clark Ashton Smith, Manly Wade Wellman, Carl Jacobi, August Derleth, C. L. Moore). Most of these lacked the rich atmosphere in the best stories of writers like Le Fanu, James and Benson. The story by Moore, "Shambleau" (1933) introduced explicit sexuality and, influenced by SF, an alien vampire on another planet.
From the 1940s came "Over the River" (1941) by Peter Schuyler Miller, which communicated vividly a primitive vampire's rather basic point of view, and an often-reprinted story by Fritz Leiber, "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" (1949). This work reimagined the supernatural, setting it in the present-day city and using a vampire to embody the world of advertising and rampant consumerism.
From the 1950s and 60s, there were tales by Cyril Kornbluth ("The Mindworm") and Robert Bloch, where elements of black humor began to creep in, as well as by Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson. From the 1970s, British authors returned after a half-century of omission, with a rare vampire tale from a modern master of psychological horror, Robert Aickman (not his best), and a comic one by Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes about a werewolf's marriage to a vampire. In the latter story, the times had changed and it was the vampires/werewolf who were most "human" and a man of the cloth who was the villain. (Seventy years before, Stoker's vampire had been a servant of the Devil and a menace to Christian souls.) There was also a story of sexual obsession by American writer Charles L. Grant.
Finally, with the 1980s, the collection tried to show the range of recent writing available: a tale by the editor, Alan Ryan, linking vampirism and Christianity, psychological horror by Ramsey Campbell, and something from the world of fantasy and Gothic romance by Tanith Lee. From the U.S., there were tales set in the present day by Suzy McKee Charnas and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro -- American locales with urbane vampires of European heritage -- and Steve Rasnic Tem -- modern psychological horror. It appeared that these writers were preferred here to the more popular King and Rice.
The work by Charnas was a memorable chapter from her novel The Vampire Tapestry, in which the worlds of a psychologist and a vampire clashed and each was affected. The times had continued to change, now a vampire could undergo analysis, and a number of the tales showed the vampires as opponents of evil or attractive opponents in themselves.
For this reader, the most interesting things in the collection were the very early pieces -- not especially gripping but of historical interest -- the tales strong in atmosphere and psychological horror (Le Fanu, Benson), the imagination and themes of C. L. Moore, the humor of Kornbluth and the work by Charnas. Least interesting were many of the pulpish pieces from the 1930s and later ones relying heavily on fantasy.
With the vampire genre, the more variety the better, and it would've been nice to read a few more early tales from authors elsewhere in Europe (Charles Nodier, Théophile Gautier, Gogol, Alexei Tolstoy). Or a fairy tale by a modern writer like Angela Carter, or modern works by Eastern bloc authors that used vampires as symbols of Communism and capitalism.
Other relevant anthologies include Peter Haining's The Vampire Omnibus (1995), Leonard Woolf's Blood Thirst: 100 Years of Vampire Fiction (1997) and Otto Penzler's 1,056-page The Vampire Archives (2009). Half the stories in Penguin appear in Penzler, but the type in Penguin is much easier to read.
A collection focused only on older stories is Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories (2010).