In preparation for Halloween, my favorite holiday, I always like to revisit favorite spooky stories. This year I’m following the excellent suggestion of my friend Charles R. Rutledge, the talented author of crime and horror fiction like the Griffin and Price series (with James Moore). Every year Charles ushers in Halloween by creating an imaginary anthology of favorite tales, and this year he has chosen to focus on vampire stories. Knowing of my fondness for vampires, he suggested that I join him in this venture. I’ll link to Charles’s choices at the end of my list. Here are my selections for the 2016 DeWees Vampire Anthology.
Théophile Gautier, La Morte amoureuse (often translated under the title “Clarimonde” or “The Dead Woman in Love,” 1836). Hands down my favorite vampire romance, this is also the rare 19th-century work that doesn’t use the figure of the female vampire in a spirit of misogyny. Gautier’s radiant courtesan Clarimonde, who returns from the dead to be with the smitten young priest (!) she loves, is a warm, luscious goddess of love and pleasure, a far more attractive choice than the cold, stern, and sterile world of religion, which tries to draw Romuald out of Clarimonde’s arms and back to the straight and narrow. Perhaps because of its daring in presenting religion in such a negative way, this story is not anthologized nearly as often as it deserves to be. The 1908 Lafcadio Hearn translation (fortunately the most frequently found) is my favorite for its sheer poetry; read it online here.
“Ken’s Mystery,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian (1888), is a gentle, poignant story that I wish were far longer. Like many stories from this era, it is a story within a story, and the setup goes on so long that the real meat of the tale—the encounter between the charming Keningale and the elfin vampire bride—feels insufficient. But that’s partly because I enjoy this wistful tale of Ken finding his ideal woman in a vampire who carries with her the romance and poetry of an earlier era, and I want to see more of this couple. Read it here.
Mary Elizabeth Braddon, “Good Lady Ducayne” (1896). The mother of the sensation fiction genre, which she launched in 1867 with the still-fascinating Lady Audley’s Secret, Braddon wrote many excellent stories of the supernatural. There’s little of the overtly supernatural here, but the plucky heroine is charming, and you can’t help but root for her to defeat the wicked old (literal) parasite Lady Ducayne, who uses up innocent young women to unnaturally extend her own life. There’s even a love story with a stalwart young doctor to provide a happy ending. Read it online here.
H.B. Marion Watson’s “The Stone Chamber” (1899) is intriguing because it combines a solid vampire story with a possession plot. The vampire that preys upon the two initially amiable young chaps in the story infects them with the spirit of a drunken, violent roué, with distressing effects. Find it in the anthology Dracula’s Brood, edited by Richard Dalby (1987), or read it online here.
E.F. Benson, “Mrs. Amworth” (1920). An exceedingly unusual female vampire, a far cry from the beautiful, seductive figures we are accustomed to seeing. I’m not sure I’ve ever read another story in which the she-vampire was described as “jolly”! Nor is this vibrant widow waiflike or wasting. Perhaps it’s this genial, thoroughly mundane “vampire next door” quality that makes her vampiric activities even creepier. In other respects this is a good, solid story of the type in which a supernatural threat is identified and then vanquished. Read online here, or watch the 1975 television adaptation on YouTube.
C.L. (Catherine) Moore, “Shambleau” (1933). I don’t read a great deal of science fiction, but this landmark cross-genre tale by Catherine Moore, her first published work, has always remained vivid in my memory. When interplanetary adventurer Northwest Smith rescues an odd young woman from a mob, he has no idea what he is getting himself into. His new traveling companion is a Shambleau, a mind vampire who sends her tentacles into your soul to feed. (I can’t help but wonder if this story was a precursor to Fritz Leiber’s “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes,” from 1949.) There’s a squicky eroticism to the creature’s predations that proves irresistible to Smith, leading some critics to hail the story as a depiction of addiction. Find it online here.
Henry Kuttner, “Masquerade” (1942). Meta before the term existed, “Masquerade” is a delightful story that manages to be both tongue in cheek and genuinely creepy. The writer protagonist sees nothing but a bunch of bad horror-fiction clichés when he and his wife are forced to take shelter from a storm in a crumbling old house staffed with creepy yet self-aware backwoods serial-killer types who like to make wisecracks about vampires. Are they pulling the legs of their guests, or is more going on? A perfectly delicious yet somehow bittersweet ending is the master stroke. I also love the relationship between the husband and wife, who wisecrack but share genuine tenderness despite all their years together. It may be sentimental of me, but I like to imagine that it reflects the relationship of Kuttner and his writer wife, C.L. Moore (author of “Shambleau,” above), who frequently collaborated with him. I haven’t been able to find an online source, but you can read it in the anthology Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors (1988), edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Robert Weinberg, and Stefan R. Dziemianowicz. Note: this was televised in 1961 for Boris Karloff’s Thriller TV show, with Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched) and Tom Poston (Newhart). The story is superior, but it’s a cute adaptation even though it has to stretch the story to fill the running time. View it here.
Joanna Russ, “My Dear Emily” (1962). In the 1880s, docile, respectable young Emily gains freedom from the stifling world she was born into when a vampire takes her as his prey and lover. Russ’s feminist vampire story has stayed with me for many years, in part because it’s set in the Victorian era, my favorite period for vampires (although it takes place, unusually, in San Francisco). The bittersweet ending always saddened me until I discovered Russ’s original ending, which can be found in her collection The Zanzibar Cat--it is downright blood-chilling. I’m a romantic, so I’ll take the bittersweet one, which can be found in anthologies such as Masters of Fantasy, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Terry Carr, and The Dark Descent, edited by David G. Hartwell. You can take your pick, too; it’s an evocative tale in either form.
Robert Aickman, “Pages From a Young Girl’s Journal” (1975). Robert Aickman was a modern master of atmosphere, as can be seen in such brilliantly unnerving story collections as Cold Hand in Mine and The Unsettled Dust. Unusually for Aickman, this is a period piece, which lovingly evokes the 19th-century British culture that infuses so much of our sense of the romantic vampire even today. This sweetly creepy tale is narrated by a young, restless girl who is traveling in Italy with her parents and begins to observe some strange goings-on… and to find herself fascinated with a mysterious stranger. Read it online here.
Dick Baldwin, “Money Talks” (1981). A delicious, sly swipe at status-symbol-loving yuppies fused with a good solid (yet compact) vampire story, “Money Talks” is perhaps the best example I have yet found of vampire mythology in which the effectiveness of weapons against the vampire lies not in their religious symbolism but in the faith of the person wielding them. Suspenseful, with a wonderfully repellent vampire, and a brilliant ending. This definitely deserves to be more widely known. Find it in Ghosts: A Treasury of Chilling Tales Old and New, edited by Marvin Kaye and Saralee Kaye.
Tanith Lee, “Bite-Me-Not or Fleur de Feu” (1984). The legendary Tanith Lee brings her inimitable style to a one-of-a-kind story of doomed love between vampire and mortal. “Fleur-de-Fer” reads like a forgotten fairy tale or folk ballad from the time before such tales were cleansed of their violence and power; in elegant, myth-spinning prose she creates vampires that are truly alien to humans, more akin to birds and angels than to the creatures they prey upon. Yet in this unlikely scenario, a scullery maid will rescue a fallen vampire prince, and theirs becomes a beautiful, bittersweet tragedy with a poignant, perfect ending. Utterly original yet with a timeless quality. Read it online here if you don’t mind lousy formatting, or find it in The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories, edited by Alan Ryan. Lee is also the author of “Red as Blood,” a fairy-tale retelling that reimagines Snow White as a vampire and is well worth a read.
I hope this list has given you some promising leads on vampire stories you’ll enjoy exploring during Halloween season. And for even more great vampire tales, see Charles’s suggestions here. Happy reading!