22 Victorian Vampire stories – “Dracula’s Guest” edited by Michael Sims
Bram Stoker may have been the one to make vampires a hot commodity in the entertainment world, but “Dracula’s Guest” shows many pieces (from before and after Stoker’s publication) that help enhance what we “know” about vampires.
From the earliest mentions of vampires, related in Hungarian folklore, to the turn of the 20th century, there have always been vampire stories.
People love a good villain, and what’s better than a blood-sucker, right?
Michael Sims, who edited the collection, is clearly a horror fan. His introduction is charming and relates his teenage obsession with all things goth. He’s hands-down the perfect dude to have assembled a compilation like this one.
The 22 pieces in the collection cover a lot of ground.
Some literary big-shots appear. Tolstoy contributes a surprisingly enthralling piece. I say “surprisingly” because I’m admittedly not a fan of his work thus far. However, the story he contributes is creepy and keeps the action moving.
A piece by Lord Byron appears, as does a famous piece by Byron’s personal physician, Dr. John Polidori. (To those not in love with vampires, Polidori wrote a short story – “The Vampyre” – that is said to have been inspired by Byron, and also to have inspired Bram Stoker when it came time to write “Dracula.”)
There are also lots of names here that likely won’t ring a bell at all. M.R. James, Anne Crawford, Augustus Hare, and many others turn in exciting pieces, and their names were unfamiliar to me prior to this collection.
(Interesting note: If the name James Malcolm Rymer doesn’t sound familiar, maybe his most famous creation will – Sweeney Todd. The writer of many pulp novels, he’s been nearly forgotten now, except for the demon barber he once wrote the original story about.)
The two stories I enjoyed the most, in fact, were written by authors I’ve never heard of.
The first, which is “attributed to Johann Ludwig Tieck,” is called “Wake not the Dead.” It’s the story of a man who is married to a fine woman, but falls for another woman. When the second woman dies, he makes a bargain with an old man to have her brought back to life, and she promptly wrecks him and everything in his life. Truly terrifying at moments, it reminded me a lot of an Edgar Allen Poe story.
The second is an odd piece called “Good Lady Ducayne.” In the story, a poor young girl agrees to become a companion to a wealthy older lady. She’s whisked away to the beautiful countryside, paid well, and has very little work to do. However, soon her failing health leaves those around her wondering what’s happening to her – as well as why the last two companion girls died. Though it’s more of a mystery than a horror tile, it’s engrossing and features a lead character you truly care about.
There are plenty of awesome moments within this book. For example, Emily Gerard’s “Death and Burial – Vampires and Were-Wolves” is a dazzling collection of Romanian funeral traditions, all of which I’m sure are now completely out of date. Still, it’s interesting to consider how exhausting having someone die must have been back in the day.
For example, a funeral feast (called a pomeana) is held after the ceremony…“All the favorite dishes of the dead man are served at this banquet, and each guest receives a cake, a jug of wine, and a wax candle in his memory. Similar pomeanas are repeated after a fortnight, six weeks, and on each anniversary of the death for the next seven years.”
(Can you imagine? I can’t even remember to send birthday cards half the time – to the living.)
The grand finale of the collection is the title piece, written by Mr. Stoker himself. Though it bears similarities to “Dracula,” it stands alone as an exciting story of a man being pursued through the woods by something unknown.
A few of the pieces are a little dry and overwrought (hello, Victorian Literature), however the majority are worth your time. Especially if you’re a horror fan. If you’re a vampire person, I think it’s a must-read.
(Though the collection is beautiful, I’m sure many of the pieces could be found on Project Gutenberg, FYI.)