Realm of the Vampirologists

While writing my latest “Upcoming Books” instalment (Hogg 2013), I went Googling for the full title of a book I mentioned in the post—Daniel J. Wood’s Realm of the Vampire: History and the Undead—and stumbled across an interview he’d conducted for FATE Magazine titled “The Making of a Vampirologist.”

Wood has written two vampire articles for the magazine: “Vampires and Disease: The Bloodsucking Corpse of English Tradition” (2007) and “The White Death of New England” (2008).

But back to the interview. When asked to summarise his book, Wood said:

I don’t know about a summary, but I tried to place the vampire experience within a context—ethnic, social, and political. To the best of my knowledge, this has not been done before. Once placed back within their context many episodes of vampirism make much more sense; in fact, solutions to former problems appear obvious (Motsinger 2013).

ROV-copy-200x300I was chuffed to see it for two reasons. Firstly, few writers identify themselves as vampirologists, even if they’re best-known for vampire studies. Quite refreshing. Second, Daniel’s actually a friend of mine—something I’ve mentioned before (Hogg 2011). I’ll elaborate on that.

We became acquainted through our shared interest in vampires and the supernatural on an MSN Groups forum called “The Cross and the Stake,” a message board run by Sean Manchester. He was “tekton2” and I was “TheInquisitiveOne.” I was banned from “The Cross and the Stake” in 2006 for starting a “rival forum” to discuss the Highgate Vampire case (Hogg 2008).

My MSN Group was called “Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?” It wasn’t meant to be a rival group, but a neutral platform free from the partisanship displayed on Sean Manchester and his rival, David Farrant’s respective forums. My group only attracted about 5 members. Daniel was one of them.

Daniel and I regularly corresponded by e-mail. In 2009, I read through Daniel’s manuscript—then titled “The Realms of the Vampirism”—made corrections and suggested calling it “The Vampire’s Realm” instead. When the book was finally published, he acknowledged my assistance in its preface:

Anthony Hogg has served as a more than adequate sparring partner over the years, and he tapped into hs [sic] profound knowledge of 18th-century sources to make several sagacious bibliographical corrections late in the game (Wood 2011, xvii).

Fortunately, the book turned out to be pretty good. It’s always tricky when friends ask you to review their work—but I can honestly say Daniel’s written an intriguing, insightful study on the subject. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Here’s what Rob Brautigam, WWW.SHROUDEATER.COM‘s webmaster, had to say about it:

To me, it is a rare pleasure to read a book as interesting as this. Frankly, I can’t imagine why the book hasn’t got some reference to Poland in its title. For that is what it’s all about. True, there is a very nice chapter about the New England vampires. But I am delighted to report that the main part of the book is all about various Polish superstitions and – better still – about the Polish belief in vampires. Until now, I have found that practically all of the existing material that has been published about Polish vampirism is either in Polish or in German, which makes it less accessible to a lot of people. Here we do not have that problem. Daniel J. Wood’s book, which is very well written, presents us with a wealth of fascinating information about the Polish Undead. Where possible, all things have been nicely put into the context of Poland’s often tragic and tumultuous history. And there is a lot of relevant material that you won’t find anywhere else. Without a doubt the very best book on the subject of Polish vampires that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. If only we could have books like this about all the European vampire regions… (2012).

He also gave it a 5 star rating. Meanwhile, Martin V. Riccardo, author of Vampires Unearthed: The Complete Multi-Media Vampire and Dracula Bibliography (1983) and Liquid Dreams of Vampires (1996), wrote:

There has been a barrage of nonfiction vampire books in the last few years, but very few have been able to break new ground when it come to unearthing the lore of the undead.  In this regard, I was impressed with the recent book Realm of the Vampire by Daniel J. Wood. While he does rehash some of the standard history, he also provides his own insights on the vampires of Poland. He provides interesting accounts of the zmory or “living vampires,” the upiory or traditional vampires, and a variety of other unearthly creatures native to Poland.  For a taste of some scholarly new blood in the vampire world, this would be the book to chew on (Savage 2011).

High praise, indeed. That said, it hasn’t been without criticism. Here’s what Stu, a Goodreads member, had to say:

This book does have some things going for it. Fate magazine contributor Daniel J. Wood has brought together several tales and observations related to vampire folklore that have not previously figured in that topic’s specialized literature, and his overlay of Polish history over the corpus of traditional vampire thought is thought provoking – and, at times, poetic. Realm of the Vampire is something that specialists who have already read most of the literature on vampire folklore (i.e., the work of Paul Barber, Michael Bell, Jan Perkowski, and other fine scholars) will want to take a look at.

That said, this study is a disappointment overall. The text is disorganized throughout, wandering at times between folk practice, long excerpts from secondary folklore collections (some with questionable translations), and Biblical exegesis. Further, Wood’s perspective is tinged with anti-intellectual nihilism that he passes off as “open-mindedness.” While I certainly have no problem critiquing individual figures of the Enlightenment (many of whom were admittedly polemicist scoundrels in several aspects of their life and work), it is wrong on every conceivable level to dismiss basic rationalism as Wood does in many places here. Wood advises his reader to reserve judgment on the reality of vampires, but makes no argument to bolster this case, save for his presentation of preindustrial vampire legends with the admonition that they cannot all be false (2013).

If Wood’s book features an “anti-intellectual” slant, at least, in a supernaturalist context, it’s certainly offset by his coverage of Poland’s history and its role in the formation of vampire legends—which clearly deserves a lot more credit than it’s been given. In that sense, it’s invaluable.

The book is available on Amazon and its publisher’s website.

References

Brautigam, Rob. 2012. “Books in English.” WWW.SHROUDEATER.COM. Last updated May 2012. Accessed December 14, 2013. http://www.shroudeater.com/bkengels.htm.

Hogg, Anthony. 2008. “Impostor Strikes Again!” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?, September 30, 2008. http://dawwih.blogspot.com.au/2008/09/impostor-strikes-again.html.

———. 2011. “A Brush with FATE.” Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist, August 18, 2011. http://doaav.blogspot.com.au/2011/08/brush-with-fate.html.

———. 2013. “Upcoming Books #2.” The Vampirologist, December 5, 2013. https://thevampirologist.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/upcoming-books-2/.

Motsinger, Matt. 2013. “The Making of a Vampirologist: An Interview with Daniel J. Wood, Author of Realm of the Vampire: History and the Undead.” FATEMAG.COM, June 18. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.fatemag.com/inside-fate/interviews/the-making-of-a-vampirologist/.

Savage, Chad. 2011. “Realm of the Vampire by Daniel J. Wood.” Chicago Vampire, June 22. http://chicagovampire.com/2011/06/realm-of-the-vampire-by-daniel-j-wood/.

Stu. 2013. Review of Realm of the Vampire: History and the Undead, by Daniel J. Wood. Goodreads, July 4. Accessed December 14, 2013. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/655776876.

Wood, Daniel J. 2007. “Vampires and Disease: The Bloodsucking Corpse of English Tradition.” Fate, December, 28–34.

———. 2008. “The White Death of New England.” Fate, January, 27–33.

———. 2011. Realm of the Vampire: History and the Undead. Lakeville, MN: Galde Press.

Image

Motsinger, Matt. 2013. “The Making of a Vampirologist: An Interview with Daniel J. Wood, Author of Realm of the Vampire: History and the Undead.” FATEMAG.COM, June 18. Accessed December 14, 2013. http://www.fatemag.com/inside-fate/interviews/the-making-of-a-vampirologist/.

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