Just Finished Reading: Slayers and their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead by Bruce A McClelland
With my known interest in (most) things vampiric I could hardly resist such a book. Adapted from his PhD thesis – and how cool is that – this is a very readable account of the origins of the vampire myth and, more importantly, the changing role of the vampire slayer. Originating in the Austro-Hungarian Empire – particularly Serbia – the vampire myth appeared to be the product of the clash of Christian and pagan beliefs possibly dating as far back as the 6th century only taking on a more recognisably modern form from the 11th Century onwards. Yet it was only with the much later 19th century cultural cross-over into Western literature, exemplified by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, that we get both the slayer and the vampire in a form we are all familiar with. This is, however, very different from its Slavic origins to the point of being almost unrecognisable. Vampires, McClelland contends, were specific examples of scapegoats within a particular community who could be used as a means to explain mysterious incidents and whose ‘killing’ could be used as a way of cleansing a village of supernatural fear. Our modern, western vampire is an outgrowth of those beliefs distorted by our own cultural heritage. Likewise the slayer, originally an outcast, and often a half-vampire themselves, has been transformed by Stoker and more recently in TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, into almost super-hero status.
I certainly know more of the origins of the vampire myth than ever before. I can also see where people like Stoker and Joss Wheddon must have picked up some of their ideas from. It is interesting to see how cultural ideas such as these develop and transform over time and across cultural boundaries. In a culture becoming increasingly obsessed with youth and the promise of immortality it is unsurprising that vampires have become so iconic, even revered. This book puts both the vampires themselves, as well as those dedicated to their destruction, into both historical and cultural perspective. I shall certainly be picking up on much more of the symbolism the next time I watch a vampire movie or an episode of Buffy. This is definitely a work for anyone with more than a passing interest in vampire lore. Recommended.