The Monster Librarian Presents:
HWA Vampire Novel of the Century
Some information from the HWA:
The Horror Writers Association (HWA), the international association of writers, publishing professionals, and supporters of horror literature, in conjunction with the Bram Stoker Family Estate and the Rosenbach Museum & Library, proudly announce the nominees for the Bram Stoker Vampire Novel of the Century Award™, to be presented at the Bram Stoker Awards Banquet at World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, on March 31, 2012. The Award will mark the centenary of the death in 1912 of Abraham (Bram) Stoker, the author of Dracula.
A jury composed of writers and scholars selected, from a field of more than 35 preliminary nominees, the six vampire novels that they believe have had the greatest impact on the horror genre since publication of Dracula in 1897. Eligible works must have been first published between 1912 and 2011 and published in or translated into English. The winning book will be announced on March 31, 2012. HWA will also celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary on that date.
We at MonsterLibrarian.com are here to help you learn a little about these titles. Below you'll find reviews of each of the nominated books. Some of these are now out of print or difficult to find (The Soft Whisper of the Dead was a limited edition of only 2,800 copies) but if you search your existing collection you may find these books are already on your shelves. Even if they aren't, and you can't snag yourself a copy, this is a great time to showcase your vampire novels and movies. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has just come out with the twenty-fifth book in her Count Saint-Germain series, Commedia della Morte. Nominee Hotel Transylvania is the first book in that series. Richard Matheson's I Am Legend has been made into three movies since it was published in 1954.
Want to find out more about the authors and their works? Click on the name of the author of each nominated book on the list below.
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro write a guest blog post for our Musings of the MonsterLibrarian blog which can be found here.
Check back here later to find a link to an interview with Kim Newman. And now...
The Soft Whisper of the Dead (1983) written by Charles L. Grant.
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Reviewed by Patricia Mathews
Reviewed by Colleen Wanglund
Reviewed by Sheila Shedd
Reviewed by Colleen Wanglund
Reviewed by Lucy M. Lockley
The Soft Whisper of the Dead by Charles Grant
D. Grant Publishing, 1982
Available: New and used
Back in 1980, in the inaugural year of Necon (the Northeastern Writers' Conference for horror writers, held each year in Rhode Island), Charles Grant had a discussion with founder Bob Booth. Grant spoke adamantly about the toothless vampires and other monsters to hit the pages in popular novels (imagine if were alive to see Twilight) and longed for the good old days of Stoker, Hammer films, Lee, and Karloff.
Booth directed him to Donald Grant (no relation) who ran a small press, and the germ of an agitated idea was born. By the time the World Fantasy Convention rolled around that fall, Soft Whisper of the Dead had begun to take shape. Other titles, complete with classic mummy and werewolf stories, would follow.
Charles Grant's Oxrun Station remains one of the seminal fictional towns in horror, along with Stephen King's Derry and others. He chose to turn back the clock to the 19th century in order to amplify the atmosphere.
As a master of "quiet horror," Grant built his tale without gore or gratuitous "extras." The characters are ones we know, even though the names have changed. The vampire, suave but definitely a monster, waltzes into town with a woman in tow. Her purpose is to burrow into the soul of the town, to possibly build a nest for the future, becoming a vampire not just for blood, but for life. The detective and heroine build a classic romance on the edges of the story as bodies start to gather.
Soft Whisper of the Dead is a smaller book, just over novella length. The foggy and viscous atmosphere is crafted in a manner that made him an icon of the 80s and 90s and inspired a new generation of writers.
While Soft Whisper Of The Dead isn't groundbreaking like the other nominations for best vampire novel of the 20th century, it deserves its niche in recalling the golden age of horror, when monsters were monsters and storytelling came without frills (or sparkles). Highly recommended.
Reviewed by: Dave Simms
'Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Anchor Reprint, 2011
First Published in 1975
Using traditional vampire mythology, King tells the story of the downfall of a sleepy Maine town called Jerusalem’s Lot, or ’salem’s Lot, as the natives call it. (I had forgotten that the Lot was named after an errant pig named Jerusalem.) The primary symbol of horror in the story is the Marston House, a decrepit, dismal mansion set on a hill overlooking the town. Decades ago, Hubie Marston murdered his wife and committed suicide there, and the house has been uninhabited ever since, except for the ghosts, that is. In the late summer of 1975, two visitors arrive in the Lot, each of whom has a connection with the Marston House. Ben Mears, a 30-something successful writer who spent four childhood years in the Lot, had a nightmarish experience in the Marston House that still haunts him so much that he has returned to write a book about it. Richard Straker, a mysterious European gentleman, buys the Marston House and opens an antiques store with his always-absent partner, Kurt Barlow.
Life continues to flow as smoothly as it ever does until a fateful night when two young brothers have a bloodcurdling encounter in the nighttime woods. Gradually, people begin acting strangely: roaming at night but staying indoors during the day, covering up to keep out of the sun, and showing aggression towards their friends and neighbors. Slowly we realize that monsters are loose in ’salem’s Lot.
The beginning of the book may remind readers of the way David Lynch began his horror film Blue Velvet a few years later—with a lengthy but misleading image of an idyllic American town. Birds sing, townsfolk go about their mundane business, and life appears to be good. The opening chapters mimic the narration in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, with detailed descriptions of daily life among the people in the Lot. There’s even a character named Grover, just to underline the connection. Soon, though, we begin to see some cracks and imperfections, and we realize that the citizens are more like the flawed folk in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, with their bitter loneliness and feelings of isolation. Gradually, the sins of the residents are revealed—drunkenness, gluttony, uncontrolled rage, dishonesty, mean-spiritedness—everyone seems to be afflicted with terrible weaknesses, some more horrible than others.
Once Ben realizes exactly what is going on in the Lot, he gathers together a team of fellow believers to help him defeat Straker and Barlow: Susan (his girlfriend), Matt (a high school teacher), Jimmy (a doctor), Mark (a young friend of the first two boys to encounter the vampire), and Father Callahan (the local priest). As they research vampire mythology and make their plans, Barstow has plans of his own, and they don’t include getting caught. The final chapters culminate in true horror perfection. As William Butler Yeats says, “…things fall apart…the blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”
Published in 1975, the book now feels like a period piece, with its home delivery milkmen, telephone party lines, references to Ironside and Johnny Carson, pre-EPA town dump burnings, and $3 fill-ups at the gas station; but the story itself still works its dark magic, as evil gradually insinuates itself through a town filled with people who might live in any small town even today. King is masterful in his ability to create a sense of place, both physically and emotionally. He can run a shiver down a reader’s spine with just a handful of well-chosen words. A sunset appears to be “infected, until it glares an angry inflamed orange.” Trees form “gaunt mean shadows that bite the ground like teeth.” An open cellar door’s “tongue of darkness seemed to lick hungrily at the kitchen, waiting for night to come so it could swallow it whole.” And everyone, no matter how good or bad, is eventually robbed of all dignity by the horror that insidiously swallows them up. Highly recommended for older teens and adults.
Contains: mild profanity.
Reviewed by: Patricia Mathews
Other formats:DVD Salem's Lot
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Nelson Doubleday, 1954
Available: hard cover, paperback and ebook editions
“[I am] a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.” That is the final line of the story of Robert Neville, the seemingly sole survivor of a plague that wiped out humanity and turned them into vampires. Neville watched his friends and neighbors succumb to the disease that no one could name or contain. Then he watched as it took his daughter Kathy and his wife Virginia. The rules at the time stated that the bodies of the dead had to be taken away and burned so the dead would not come back.
Neville spends his days fortifying his home, making stakes, and searching for the dead and killing them before they come out at night. Almost every day while the sun is up, Neville goes house to house, building to building, looking for the vampires and staking them. Some are still alive, but are infected. Others are dead, and the disease has brought them back, looking for blood. After a period of depression and alcoholism, Neville collects books and equipment and sets up a makeshift lab in the hopes of finding out what the disease is and how to destroy it. Robert is lonely and alone, but has found a new purpose.
After three years, while out hunting he spots a woman outside in daylight. At first he thinks he is seeing things. The woman moves towards him but when Robert goes to meet her she runs from him. He catches her and brings her back to his house. Her name is Ruth, and she gains a minimum of trust from Robert. He explains his research and what he has found. He opens up to her about his life, and she agrees to let Robert test her blood. The results are not what he had expected and now Ruth has informed him his life is in danger.
Spawning three theatrical films—The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007)- as well as countless made-for-TV and direct to video movies- Richard Matheson’s book is a classic of vampire literature. I want to stress that these monsters are vampires, even though some have portrayed them as zombies. There is even a suggestion that I Am Legend inspired George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Robert Neville is living a nightmare and he is deeply affected by his circumstances. He is wholly sympathetic as a lonely man doing whatever he can to survive. Even when we discover Ruth’s true nature and Neville’s status in this post-apocalyptic world, we can still sympathize with him. His understanding of the situation, as evidenced by the final line of the story only increases our understanding of Neville the man. Whereas his portrayal on screen by Charlton Heston gives us an almost larger-than-life character, Matheson’s Robert Neville was wholly human, warts and all. Matheson gives us a scary and bleak look into this post-apocalyptic world. At first, he gives us hope for salvation, maybe an almost happy ending, but quickly dashes those hopes with a disturbing outcome. I love I Am Legend and believe this is one of those books that we should be giving our teenagers to read as an example of classic literature. My personal copy is from Orb Books (1997), contains ten additional short stories by Richard Matheson, and is still available in its third edition. Highly recommended.
Contains: violence and images of alcohol use
Reviewed by: Colleen Wanglund
Other formats:Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (Graphic Novel)
DVD I Am Legend (Full-Screen Edition) staring Will Smith
DVD The Last Man on Earth staring Vincent Price
DVD The Omega Man staring Charlton Heston
Simon and Schuster, 1992
A remarkably intricate and witty novel, Anno Dracula presents an alternate history of England during the reign of Victoria, in which Count Dracula, (Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes), marries the queen to become the Prince Consort. He brings a legion of his own henchmen, the Carpathian Guard, to enforce a new social order where vampires are slowly rising above “the warm.” Vampirism is all the rage, and one can be ‘turned’ by any street-walking bloodsucker for the price of a two-penny bun. Many of the very best people seek the dark kiss; hundreds of commoners roam the streets selling themselves and their children for a quick sip of blood.
As one might expect, becoming undead is fraught with peril. Immortality is a possibility - but by no means certain. Newborns are extremely sensitive to sunlight, and silver is deadly painful; many just don’t survive the transition. Nor are they by any means all beautiful. Kim Newman writes a cool twist to his monsters, giving many of them beastly attributes. Who one’s dark ancestors are is also a determining factor in appearance and success; some bloodlines are pure, producing a strong progeny. But others, like the Prince Consort’s, are tainted - watered down and disease ridden.
Then there’s the ruthless and meticulous serial killer - tentatively identified as Jack the Ripper. Supporting the original main characters, Charles Beauregard and Genevieve Dieudonné, are dozens of major and minor characters borrowed from history and literature. Works and characters mined range from Dracula to Blacula; from Sherlock Holmes to the Lone Ranger; from Interview With the Vampire to The Invisible Man, and back again. Newman has concocted an elaborate, fragile, yet feasible fantasy populated with familiar heroes, villains, and assorted fringe characters, and somehow made it all fascinating. Characters created by others (such as Sherlock Holmes) appear playing roles true to their original design - a tribute to all and a work of speculation worthy of the reader’s consideration.
The style is hybrid. Essentially a murder-mystery, one page sends the reader giggling at a novel of manners, the next flinching at gripping, visually graphic horror. Particularly brilliant is the excruciating partial transformation of the child Lily. Her bloodline, that of Tepes, would theoretically allow her to morph into a creature - a bat in this case. But poor Lily never quite manages it. The description, over several chapters, of her flesh rotting in mortification as her body haltingly evolves, is riveting and masterful.
Perhaps Newman’s greatest achievement is the extended metaphor for social change during the Victorian era. Lily remained a victim of preindustrial poverty, unable to overcome her disadvantages. But vampirism becomes a leveler in society; any street urchin can share the bloodline of the Queen’s husband, so royalty becomes irrelevant. Hierarchies begin to fade; some of the ruling class tumble while others rise, women assert themselves as contributing members, and in fact, save the day. Being a vampire, in Anno Dracula, it seems, represents the beginnings of democratic life-style choice. Highly recommended for ages 16 and up.
Contains: Vampire violence, graphic street violence, brief sexual encounters.
Reviewed by: Sheila Shedd
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1976 (first edition)
Available hard cover, paperback and ebook editions
Louis, a 200-year-old vampire tells his story to a reporter known only as “the boy”, in a rundown motel room in New Orleans. Louis and his family were indigo plantation owners just south of New Orleans in the late 1700s. Louis’ younger brother was an extremely devout Catholic and seemed to be headed for the priesthood. Louis was told by his brother that he was having visions and to sell all of the family’s possessions and return to France to fight atheists and the Revolution. After an argument, the brother fell from a second floor balcony to his death. Louis moved his mother and sister into the city and left the plantation to be run by the overseer. Rumors swirled that Louis killed his brother and as a result, Louis began drinking heavily. He was visited by Lestat, a vampire, and ultimately became a vampire himself.
Louis and Lestat live out at the plantation, but Louis initially refuses to feed off of humans, surviving instead on the blood of animals. Lestat’s reckless behavior and the superstitions of the slaves lead to a revolt on the plantation. Fleeing back to the city during epidemics of plague and scarlet fever, Louis feeds on a young girl crying over the corpse of her mother. Lestat, having followed Louis, takes the girl home and turns her into a vampire. Louis is horrified but the three live together, playing out the fantasy of being a family. Over the years Claudia grows older mentally but not physically. She manages to get Louis to help her kill Lestat, or so they think. Lestat shows up just as Louis and Claudia are about to leave for Europe to find others like them. They flee, setting fire to the house and Lestat in it.
Louis and Claudia spend years touring Europe, finding that other vampires were no more than mindless corpses. It is while in France that Louis and Claudia are found by Armand and the Theatre des Vampires. This coven of vampires lives in the bowels of an old theater and feed on unsuspecting humans in the guise of a theatrical performance. Ultimately, Louis and Claudia are punished for violating the “rules”. Distraught, Louis spends a few years in Europe with Armand but eventually makes his way back to New Orleans where he lives in the shadows, feeding only when necessary. Unfortunately for the boy, after Louis leaves the motel room, Lestat makes a return appearance. And thus begin The Vampire Chronicles.
My own personal copy of Interview with the Vampire is a 1977 paperback published by Ballantine Books and it is one of my most prized possessions, along with my copies (though not as old) of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Where Bram Stoker established the vampire as a literary icon, Anne Rice added to their mythology and created just as memorable a character in Lestat. Anne Rice romanticized the vampire while reminding us that it is still a monster to be feared. These vampires don’t sparkle and aren’t dirty old men in love with teenage girls (thankfully) and yet Louis still manages to be a sympathetic and likeable character. He never wanted to be a vampire and was for the most part horrified by Lestat’s lack of compassion for the humans he killed. Louis retreats from humanity because he recognizes that he no longer belongs. On the other hand, Lestat craves attention and likes to toy with the humans he kills. Lestat is one of the most recognized and popular horror fiction characters because he acts similar to a spoiled child yet he is very charismatic. He is one of my favorite literary characters. In my humble opinion, Interview with the Vampire is extremely well-written and character development is flawless. The story has a great rhythm and never stumbles over the many details of Louis’ long life. While I wasn’t too happy with the last couple of books in The Vampire Chronicles, the first is still one of the best vampire stories ever written. Highly recommended.
Contains violence, gore, sexual situations and adult language
Reviewed by: Colleen Wanglund
Hotel Transylvania: a Novel of Forbidden Love by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
St. Martin’s Press, 1978
Available: Hardback, Paperback, Kindle ebook
One of the main features of Hotel Transylvania is that Saint-Germain, a vampire, is the good guy, a very moral individual out to protect the innocent from evil individuals. In Yarbro’s story, the vampire is not a bloodthirsty creature of the night; he is actually more human than most of the mortals in the story. At the time of publication, 1978, this was probably the first novel where the vampire is portrayed as a genuine force for good.
Another appealing factor of the story is how the author develops and maintains the historical setting: Paris, France in 1743. At the beginning and end of each section, Yarbro uses excerpts from letters between various individuals to set the stage and to relate events which take place off-stage. These letters are written in a very formal style, reminiscent of the time period, and help to introduce characters, convey the time period, and pull the reader into the story. This correspondence technique is similar in some ways to the writing style employed in Dracula except Bram Stoker utilized not only letters but also diaries, journal entries, and newspaper reports.
The overall writing style is similar to that of a historical romance novel, with its attention to details such as the clothing and social position of the characters, the majority of whom are members of the French aristocracy. Those who like great historical detail in a story should enjoy reading Hotel Transylvania. Readers who are looking for the typical vampire novel, however, will probably be disappointed because although this is a vampire novel, it is ultimately a story about romance; as the subtitle indicates , it is “a novel of forbidden love”.
Hotel Transylvania: a Novel of Forbidden Love is highly recommended, but libraries or readers wishing to acquire a print copy will need to look for used copies from second-hand dealers. Readers should be aware that while Hotel Transylvania is the first published title in the Count Saint-Germain series, it is not the first book, in chronological order, to relate the adventures of the vampire Saint-Germain. And some of the series titles are spin-off novels centering on two of Saint-Germain’s vampire love interests, Madelaine de Montalia (introduced in Hotel Transylvania) and Olivia Atta Clemens (introduced in Blood Games, 1979). The next title in Yarbro’s long-running series, Commedia Della Morte: a Novel of the Count Saint-Germain, will be published in March 2012.
Contains: some brief descriptions of physical torture
Reviewed by: Lucy M. Lockley, the RAT Queen
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