Interview with a Vampire Expert Sheds Light on Old Fears
• Malibu's Resident Revenant Authority Discusses the History and Popularity of the Genre
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Malibu resident Leslie Klinger has a treat for horror fans this Halloween. His latest book, "In the Shadow of Dracula," a collection of 22 classic vampire stories from the 19th and early 20th century, was released just in time for the holiday.
Klinger was at the grand opening of Diesel Bookstore at the Malibu County Mart this weekend to talk about the vampire genre.
An attorney by profession, Klinger has a passion for the popular literature of the gaslight era. He is considered to be one of the foremost authorities on Dracula, and is the editor and annotator of the formidable "New Annotated Dracula," published by W.W. Norton. Klinger has written numerous articles and essays on the subject, and even teaches a UCLA Extension course on "Dracula and His World."
Unlike earlier researchers, he has had the opportunity to examine "Dracula" author Bram Stoker's original drafts and notes, using a computer to analyze differences in the author's drafts.
While Stoker's 1897 novel created what has been viewed for decades as the definitive vampire, the Irish novelist did not invent the genre.
"In the Shadow of Dracula" includes what Klinger said is generally considered the first true vampire story, "The Vampyre," published in 1819. John Polidori began the story during a cold and wet summer holiday in 1916 at a villa in Switzerland that he shared with poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley and Shelley's lover and future wife Mary Wollstonecraft. Byron is said to have suggested a contest to see who could write the most terrifying story to pass the time. Wollstonecraft won, with the creation of "Frankenstein."
Byron encouraged Polidori to complete "the Vampyre" the following year. Klinger includes an atmospheric but incomplete vampire story fragment written by Byron for the writing contest.
The book also features an excerpt from "Varney the Vampire, or the Feast of Blood," an authentic "penny dreadful," serial that was published from 1845-47 in a series of cheap penny pamphlets. Klinger described the spectacularly lurid prose as "deliciously dreadful," and adds that many "traditional" vampire characteristics were popularized with Varney, including sharp fangs, hypnotic power and superhuman strength.
Irish novelist Sheridan Le Fanu's compelling novella "Carmilla," also included in the collection, features a vampire who sleeps in a coffin, is crafty, intelligent and can change shape. Le Fanu's story is also "heavily charged with sexual elements." Klinger said Le Fanu was a major influence on "Dracula," and has inspired numerous 20th century imitations.
"There were dozens of stories to chose from," Klinger told The Malibu Surfside News.
He opted to provide a wide range of stories that encompass everything from the demonic coffin-dwelling, blood-sucking revenant to pathetic specimens who inspire pity rather than terror. There's even a psychic vampire, who feeds on its victims life force, rather than on their blood.
"[The publisher] wanted to have a book that appealed to younger people, who are new to Victorian literature," Klinger said. "These are vampires that don't sparkle."
Klinger added that he hopes that the collection will fire the imagination of "Twilight" fans and encourage them to explore the rich and diverse antecedents of the current vampire vogue.
"If this reaches a new audience, then I am thrilled," he said.
IDW, the publishing company, focuses primarily on the comic book market. This is their first foray into literature. Editor Jeff Conner told The News that they attempted to "polish off some of the rust," but left the stories unabridged.
Changes include the addition of paragraph breaks and modernized punctuation and some word changes. Klinger has included footnotes to define terms that some 21st century readers may not have encountered and has written introductory notes on the authors.
Asked why vampires continue to fascinate, Klinger replied that it depends on the reader.
"Fascination with death, certainly. Blood is a mystical, magical substance. We can't live without it," he said. "Writers in the 19th century discovered a genre that has literary merit. It provides a trope that explores the human condition. Vampires stand metaphorically as outsiders. It's a tangible representation of deep-seated fears."
Klinger suggested that "Horror is a way for people to exercise their muscles."
"Why do we have nightmares? Because we are training ourselves to deal with the things that scare us. We want to be scared in a safe way, to experiment, to get our fears out and look at them."
Klinger said that while the erotic element is an obvious theme, the vampire can also be viewed as a political metaphor—the diseased and dissolute aristocrat sucking the blood out of the people. "It's a flexible trope," he said.
In addition to being an authority on Dracula, Klinger is also a leading Sherlock Holmes scholar, and the editor and annotator of the three-volume, encyclopedic "Annotated Sherlock Holmes."
"I like to think that Holmes and Dracula walked the streets of London at the same time," Klinger said.
Klinger's next book, "A Study in Sherlock," is a collection of short stories contributed by many contemporary writers in tribute to Sherlock Holmes that he co-edited with writer Laurie King. It's due out in November.
Other upcoming projects include "In the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes," a companion volume to "In the Shadow of Dracula," and annotated volumes of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu stories, and Neil Gaiman's acclaimed comic book series "The Sandman."
Klinger's books are available in Malibu at Diesel Bookstore. More information can be found online at www.leslieklinger.com