Magazine article The Spectator

'I Never Drink . . . Wine'

Magazine article The Spectator

'I Never Drink . . . Wine'

Article excerpt

BITE: A VAMPIRE HANDBOOK

by Kevin Jackson

Portobello Books, £9.99, pp. 199,

ISBN 9781846272110 £7.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Although almost every country in the world has some vampire element in its folklore, it still comes as a surprise to learn that Wales was once home to something called a Vampire Chair which bit anyone who sat in it. The Bulgarian vampire, however, is much easier to recognise, being possessed of only one nostril and given to emitting sparks at night. But if you should ever find yourself nostril to nostril with a vampire, there's a lot to be said for hoping it hails from Germany.

As this handbook rather touchingly informs us, the German vampire clutches one of its thumbs while lying in its coffin. It can also be killed by the comparatively simple method of sticking an apple in its mouth. But perhaps it's no wonder German vampires are a bit delicate; traditionally, their mothers are women who have 'used horses' collars to ease the pain of labour'. Yet another reason to opt for the epidural, I would have thought.

Ever since he was a child - a snarlingly disturbed child, one can safely conclude - Kevin Jackson wanted to be a vampire.

Denied this modest ambition, he inched one rung up the evolutionary ladder and became a film critic instead. In Bite, he combines both obsessions, tracing the vampire from its earliest appearance and following its triumphant progress into movies.

After drifting around in a purposeless haze for several hundred years, vampires really caught the public imagination at the start of the 19th century. Here, with some measure of predictability, all roads lead back to Lord Byron. When Byron, Shelley, his fiancee Mary and their other houseguests wiled away rainy days trying to scare each other senseless in the summer of 1816, Byron came up with a fragment about a vampire. Expanded by his friend and doctor, John Polidori, it was published three years later. …

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