Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality

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Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality [Paperback]

Paul Barber
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 25, 1988
In this engrossing book, Paul Barber surveys centuries of folklore about vampires and offers the first scientific explanation for the origins of the vampire legends. From the tale of a sixteenth-century shoemaker from Breslau whose ghost terrorized everyone in the city, to the testimony of a doctor who presided over the exhumation and dissection of a graveyard full of Serbian vampires, his book is fascinating reading.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Barber has written a stimulating, authoritative discourse on the relationship between the historical concepts of vampires in folklore and fiction across the ages and throughout the world. To explain the underlying myraid interment and mourning practices designed to keep the dead at bay, he postulates a universal fear of the"vampire/revenant." Such fear was most probably based on universal lack of knowledge and control over fatal illness and disease, and misinterpretations of the natural (and varied) physical manifestations of death and decay in the human body. A lengthy bibliography accompanies the text. Best for academics, but for interested general readers too. Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred, N.Y.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; New edition edition (July 25, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300048599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300048599
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #946,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life after death January 12, 2002
Forget everything you ever heard about Count Dracula and Lestat, we are dealing with the real thing here. You won't find any pale and sophisticated lounge lizards in this book, just foul smelling revenants lumbering about in uninhabited forests - and they are much more interesting than the Hollywood vampires we know so well.
This book deals with the origins of the vampire myth and is full of information on the scientific facts and superstitions that lead people to believe that the dead weren't really dead. Paul Barber quotes many contemporary sources and first hand experiences, including a fascinating report from a doctor who supervised the exhumation of about 20 suspected vampires in Serbia. Several scientific aspects of decomposition are described in painstaking detail and the author convincingly explains why peasants, who had no knowledge of forensic medicine, believed that these corpses weren't completely dead - and it makes perfect sense. Small wonder people thought that the dead were no really dead considering the astonishing changes they sometimes go through.
This is a very interesting book, well organised and easy to read, and not as gruesome as it could have been considering the subject matter. If you're interested in knowing how the vampire myth originated this is a great place to start.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I stumbled over this book in our public library. What a find!
Mr. Barber has written what looks on the surface like a doctoral dissertation. The chapters are arranged as though to present and defend a thesis. But the content is so engagingly written (to the point of laugh-out-loud funny), it's difficult to put the book down, even when it exhaustively explains the details of bodily putrefaction. This is a must-have for anyone interested in REAL vampire folklore and superstition roots!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The odd behavior of the dead June 14, 2001
A lot of information in this book I'd heard from different sources over the years, but this one puts it all together. In one short volume, the entire vampire superstition is quickly and succinctly explained away. Evidently, the vampire myth is worldwide because of the way all human bodies behave after death. Simple as that. Details are given on a case-by-case basis as well as a plethora of rather gristly facts on decomposition, the problem of disposing of dead bodies, and the scientific (as well as superstitious) beliefs of cultures through time. There is nothing romanticized here, no black capes, no hypnotism, no pale aristocrats, no immortality. The imagination is nonetheless stimulated. One can only imagine the terror of a pre-scientific community suffering from a plague, digging up grandpa and discovering that he looks a lot more fat and healthy since he died last month. Something is horribly wrong... This is a great book, really well thought out and well presented. But if you're looking for "real" vampires, try the fiction section.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Anyone who has read Nina Auerbach's Our Vampires, Ourselves needs to investigate this marvellous book by Paul Barber, a rare scholarly study that is written with verve, wit, and charm. Barber reminds us that the undead of folklore have precious little in common with Bram Stoker's Dracula or Anne Rice's Lestat -- those are completely modern concoctions. The traditional vampire is, in fact, a corpse. And not a corpse in any too good shape, either! Barber includes more information about the body after death than you could ever have imagined, and yet somehow manages to maintain a jolly tone while he discusses the details of decomposition and other potentially gut-churning subjects. I laughed out loud at lines like these: "However tragic your death may be, it would be far more tragic if you were to take me with you." This is a great book!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bought it by mistake August 29, 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I actually thought I was ordering another book, but I'm quite glad that I got this one! The author is working from the naturalistic, forensic side of vampires and other revenants, something that at best gets only one chapter in other books. He clarifies the common misconceptions about 'vampires', and while using the term for simplicity's sake discusses all the sorts of European walking dead.

The forensic details are quite scientific and factual (read: graphic), and although I have a strong stomach there was one fleeting moment where I went, "yuck". The book is not written to shock, however. The author even occasionally throws in a bit of dry humour, my favorite being his discussion of his dog's "spirit of scientific inquiry" in digging up dead things in the back yard.

I have loaned my copy to a friend who is an amateur criminalist and forensic-freak, and hope that the information in it will help us in our discussions on a certain murder investigation. As it is several years old I would suggest someone who wants cutting-edge this-year forensic science to go elsewhere. But for the vampirologist, anthropologist, or the curious, this is a great read. My friend had better give my copy back!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really interesting tour of corpses July 7, 2007
Warning: gross discussions of corpses, and the handling thereof, ahead.

It's good that Paul Barber can take his vampire studies with a bit of humor; I'd be sad if he had forgotten the comical roots of what became a very serious scholarly study of attitudes toward death. Hence in the middle of a very long and interesting section on what, specifically, happens to bodies after death, we have the footnote on page 163 that begins, "While we are dwelling on the unutterably loathsome . . . " and this one on 176: "I would guess that Giure Grando's cry resulted from the manipulation of the corpse but can really not say much about the matter, since I almost never have occasion to decapitate a corpse with a shovel."

The process of decomposition is endlessly fascinating -- something I realized vaguely, but not really in detail until I read Barber's book. For instance, it hadn't occurred to me that dumping a body in the water -- even with a good bit of weight -- is often not enough to keep it down; bacteria in the intestines produce a great quantity of methane, which often make the body swell to twice or three times its living volume. Hence if you really want to kill someone and dump his body in the water, you should slice open his stomach and intestines before you dump it; the gases will escape before they have time to puff up the body.

Barber's introduction suggests that physiological details such as these -- fun as they are -- weren't part of his original plan. He wanted to track down the roots of beliefs in vampires, which eventually led him to realize that belief in vampires comes from ignorance of disease.
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