Blood Suckin’

THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE VAMPIRE by Anthony Masters. Published by Rupert Hart Davis, £2.95

Count Dracula and vampirism seem to be attracting more attention these days. The continued success of Hammer’s Dracula series of films, starring the ‘Prince of Darkness’ Christopher Lee, still fill cinemas which are usually only half full is proof of this. The Count Yorga vampire films have also attracted a considerable following amongst the general public.

So it was inevitable that some new books would appear on the subject before very long to cater for this renewed interest in vampires, both legendary and ‘real’. Two have been published in the last month, the first is The Natural History of the Vampire. The other is The Dracula Myth by Gabriel Ronay (W. H. Allen, £2.75), which I shall review in GN12.

Anthony Master’s Natural History etc. is invaluable to those fascinated and intrigued by the blood-sucking myths and legends. Vampirism has been with us from earliest history and apparently few countries have escaped from having dread superstitions and evil deeds concerning those condemned to be known as vampires.

Masters explains why, in his opinion, this type of ‘undead’ tormentor is so deeply rooted in the dark unconscious corners of our minds. Also he comprehensively describes their activities around the world and the legends that accompany them. Included too are details of what Masters calls ‘real’ vampires. These include the infamous Gilles de Rais, the French mass murderer who was executed for killing hundreds of young boys and girls. The emphasis was on boys, for in the words of the author, ‘Gilles was a rampant homosexual’. The children after being kidnapped were not only sexually abused and tortured, but were used for orgies involving massive blood-letting.

Another ‘real’ vampire was Fritz Haarman, who was executed in Germany in 1923 for the murder of twenty-seven young boys between 12 and 18. Haarman was nicknamed the Hanover Vampire and was doubtless responsible for many other killings, for six hundred people disappeared in Hanover during his reign of bloody terror. Of these many were boys between 14 and 18, and a good proportion of these have been attributed to Haarman and his accomplice Hans Grans. Haarmann was a homosexual and after picking up his intended victim, he would take him back to his cook-shop. He killed these unfortunate boys by fatally biting them on the neck. The horror of his deeds were magnified when it was alleged that the flesh of his victims not eaten by himself, was served up for consumption at his cook-shop.

The book is full of amazing facts and information about these blood demons, and it ends with accounts of the most recent outbreaks of vampirism. Apart from historical accounts there are also chapters on the vampire in literature and the cinema. No area of the vampire phenomenon has been missed and the amount of research undertaken must have been considerable. Masters is also not without a sense of humour and irony, a perfect example being the title of the book. The Epilogue at the end reveals some of the author’s personal thoughts on the vampire.

In conclusion, a well documented book, unveiling a serious study of one of man’s oldest superstitions. I expect the sale of garlic flowers, wooden stakes, crucifixes and holy water to increase considerably if this book is bought by many people, especially if it is read in the dead of night.

Wildelife

THE UNRECORDED LIFE OF OSCAR WILDE by Rupert Croft-Cooke. Published by W.H. Allen. £3.50.

Of the many books written about Wilde, I find Rupert Croft-Cooke’s biography The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde, the most revealing.

The descriptions of Wilde the man have often been confusing and the conflicting accounts of his infamous activities, usually from doubtful sources, have made the truth a difficult thing to find. Croft-Cooke discounts many of the numerous myths that have surrounded Wilde. As a result this book is a truthful, unsensationalised biography and with the details of what brought out the worst of hypocritical Victorian society, it all combines into an enlightening piece of writing.

I disagree with Croft-Cooke’s analysis of Wilde’s plays and other works. To me they are some of the most rewarding, humourous English literature and theatre written. Although the author does not deny Wilde’s obvious talent, he somewhat underrates it. But what is so enjoyable about this book is the honest, comprehensive study of this famous figure, without all the frills and the unsubstantiated stories.

Wilde was a fool, a vain one at that, when he brought Queensbury to the courts for libel, but the course fate took, apart from ruining him, was to show the world a disgusting example of ignorant, inhuman laws and the fickleness and shallowness of people thought to be friends. As a homosexual, Wilde was really no more outrageous than many other gays who lived in that same period. It certainly would not be difficult to find people today who enjoy and seek the same type of sexual fulfilment that he did, and in the same quantity.

The saying ‘you can do what you like as long as you don’t get (publicly) found out’, was as true then as it is today.

Wilde’s story is well known to most people, so there is no need for me to reprint it here. What I can do is praise Croft-Cooke’s book as an important contribution to the wealth of literature already available on him. I know that a number of Wilde-ologists will disagree with my opinions, but I argue that I would rather know about Oscar Wilde than about a mythical, scandalous hero.

Goblins & Faeries

THE EROTIC WORLD OF FAERY by Maureen Duffy. Published by Hodder and Stoughton, £3.50

The title is possibly misleading, the book is not a collection of erotic faery stories, but a serious study of the development of the faery/folk mythology. More deeply it examines how each successive stage of folk culture was influenced and often brought into being by the various societies that have existed in Britain for the past 1,500 years.

The book begins with the contrast between the great cauldron of myths and religions which spread from country to country in pre-Christian times and the intolerance of other religions and suppression of folk culture by the ever powerful Christian Church.

From the new and frowned upon folk mythology which came out of this supression, Miss Duffy takes us on an interesting century-by-century trip through faeryland. She discusses very lucidly Shakespeare’s plays. King Arthur, the Renaissance, English painting, the Gothic creepy stories, bringing us right up to Arthur C Clarke, James Blish and modern sci-fi fantasy.

Although the author at the beginning apologises for the book being “necessarily superficial” I did not find it so, and the range of legends, plays, paintings and poems it examines is considerable. One of my favourite poems as a schoolboy was Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” but now its real sexual content has been brought to my attention I shan’t ever be able to read it in the same light again.

To sum it up this is a very well researched, constructed and thoroughly enjoyable book.

One To Forget

SHADOW GAME by Laurence Eben. Michael Joseph, £2.50

After many months at last a new homosexual book. I paid without thinking and on Sunday curled up with my new book. But what a disappointment. I found the style of writing very hard to read, the characters hardly emerging from the background to become alive. Instead of associating yourself with the hero, you found you couldn’t really have cared less.

The only difference about this book is the new problem of racial barriers imposed by the South African Government. But even this part of the book is vague and you cannot really hate the police. It must be very difficult to write a good homosexual love story now. There will never be another to match “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin.

So it is with regret that I say “Shadow Game” will not become a classic of homophilic love, but another forgotten ‘queer’ book amongst many hundreds which sprang up and died similar deaths.

Clapcrap

VENEREAL DISEASES by R.S. Norton
Pelican paperback, 35p.

This was described recently in the Evening Standard as a new book. Well it’s not. The book was written ten years ago and reflects the moral attitudes of the medical profession at that time, although trying to hide them in long clinical terminology.

Degrading references, as usual, that V.D. can even be transmitted from man to man and the queer assumption that passive homosexuals, who play the role of the woman in a homosexual partnership, sometimes get rectal infections. Some of the more obvious moral attitudes can be seen clearly as with the warning to parents that the home is the location for sex, with 50 per cent of boys and 43 per cent of girls, and that hazarding the potential good name and happiness of their offspring by giving too much liberty, too early, has no place in their ideas of an adequate upbringing.

As a history book it is interesting – to find out that the first recorded reference to the clap was in 1378 and the pox in 1530; slaves with VD from Africa mixing with the home grown variety from southern America; to find that St Denis is the patron saint of syphillitics, and details about the introduction of blood test diagnoses in 1906, and the use of penicillin from 1943.

The addition of more recent statistics to an old book does not add to its relevance today, and it must be viewed in this light.

The most recent reference is 1970 and does not include any information about the more resistant strains, or their cure, which have made their insidious way from South East Asia. As a history book, OK, but I think a new one would have been more worthwhile than trying to revamp existing material. For now VD is the world’s second most common disease next to measles.

The Last Whole Earth Catalog

These two illustrations come from The Last Whole Earth Catalog, recently published in this country by Penguin at £1.75. Apart from weighing 2lbs 11oz, this book is an amazing, illustrated scrapbook of tools and accessories needed for survival on the planet Earth. Scanning through the 450 pages of this mammoth catalogue will keep the purchaser interested and amused for many days and evenings.

Fireside Fantasy

ELRIC OF MELNIBONE by Michael Moorcock
Published by Hutchinson £2.00

Although Elric of Melnibone has only recently been published, those familiar with Michael Moorcock’s Elric cycle will be pleased to know that this is the first of that series. But even if you have not read any of the previous works, it will not stop your enjoyment of this highly recommendable fantasy story.

Melnibone is a mythical island city whose inhabitants have ruled the world for ten thousand years, but for the last five hundred of their history they have only ruled themselves. During this last period, the Young Kingdoms have emerged from the darkness of dictatorial rule and as a result the whole world is moving into a new era, leaving behind the traditions and ancient rituals that have survived for so long.

Elric is the 428th Emperor to sit upon the dragon throne. The tale is about how this red-eyed albino prince battles against fearful sorceries and treacheries to keep his throne. It is also concerned with Elric coming to terms with his worthy ideals, that seemingly have no place in the destiny of his ruling the crumbling, fabulously rich island city.

The heroic, noble deeds that eventually overcome the powers of evil and darkness and the usurpers who convert the Dragon Isle, is not enough for one to dismiss the sadness and tragedy of a world that is changing and will never see again the glories of the past. Elric’s dilemma is that he realised that change must come and the future holds no place for Melnibone and its ways.

It would be wrong of me to compare this book to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but the level to which the sympathetic reader can find himself involved in the story, creates strong similarities, between the two.

For those with an adventurous imagination, this is an ideal tale for reading in a comfortable armchair on a cold winters evening, in front of a blazing, friendly fire.