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ROMANCING THE VAMPIRE--FROM PAST TO PRESENT
By DAVID J. SKAL (Whitman Publishing; 2009)

Nonfiction books about vampires are myriad, and quite of a few of them were penned by the knowledgeable and erudite David J. Skal (HOLLYWOOD GOTHIC, THE MONSTER SHOW, VAMPIRES: ENCOUNTERS WITH THE UNDEAD, V IS FOR VAMPIRE, etc). This large format hardcover is Skal’s latest vampire tome, and doesn’t contain much info that his other books on the subject didn’t already cover. What ROMANCING THE VAMPIRE does have in its favor are several nifty postcards, fold-out posters and other ephemera contained within its pages.

     This book is very much in the mold of those interactive publications popularized in the nineties by Chronicle Books, with pouches and envelopes containing all sorts of removable goodies. The bad news, of course, is that you can’t open the book without things falling out!

     As he did in his previous books, Skal smoothly and surely takes us through vampire lore from its earliest incarnations--as the lamia, or blood-drinking female demons, of ancient Greece--to DRACULA and its innumerable offspring. Also explored are the various pop culture permutations of the vampire (the iconic DARK SHADOWS soap opera, Count Chockula cereal, SESAME STREET’S “Count” and so forth) and the vomitous TWILIGHT saga, which is unfortunately where this book concludes. As the title makes clear, it’s TWILIGHT’S teenybopper fan base that ROMANCING THE VAMPIRE is targeting, with its emphasis on illustrations and absence of foul language (about DRACULA director Tod Browning’s venomous reaction to the Spanish version of that film, Skal concedes Browning’s exact wording is “unprintable here”).

     Again, it’s the many extras that make this book special. Among the goodies are postcard reproductions of several famous works of art, including Henri Fuseli’s “The Nightmare,” Rembrandt’s “Abraham en Isaac” and Peter Breughel’s “Triumph of Death.” There’s also a fold-out map of Transylvania, a poster of the original NOSFERATU, a reproduction of Bram Stoker’s scribbled notes for DRACULA, vintage playbills for the jazz age DRACULA stage production and a handwritten letter sent to DARK SHADOWS fans by that program’s lead actor Jonathan Frid. Another plus: the book is currently making the rounds of the remainder circuit, meaning mint copies can be had for a fraction of the $49.95(!) cover price.

     

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