Have you ever wanted to know more about Anne Rice's notoriously famous creation, the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, but you haven't had time to untangle his history from Rice's several novels? Have you ever wanted to know more about Countess Mircalla Karnstein but you haven't been able to hunt down a copy of Sheridan Le Fanu's original tale? Or have you wondered about the origins of comic book vampires such as Vampirella or Draculina?
If you can answer "yes" to any of these questions, then this new book by vampire expert J. Gordon Melton will seem like mana from heaven. Created as a companion piece to his award-winning The Vampire Book, The Vampire Gallery is an encyclopedic reference that contains detailed biographies on all the major fictional vampires. Mr. Melton hasn't limited his scope to just literature and film; he also looks at television vampires and comic book vampires, as well as vampire lore from the popular role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. In short, Mr. Melton has hunted down vampires with the fervor of Professor Van Helsing, but instead of killing them off, he hopes to share their legacies with everyone.
This book is particularly useful in the cases of vampires who have appeared in multiple works, such as the aforementioned Lestat or the vampire Barnabas Collins in the many episodes of the television soap opera Dark Shadows. Or if you want to know how vampire Kurt Barlow differs in the book and film versions of Stephen King's Salem's Lot, Melton has the answers. In these instances and many others, Mr. Melton unravels the histories of individual vampires and discusses how they fit into the vampire tradition. Did they break any rules? What did they add to vampire lore? Were they influential on subsequent fictional vampires?
In addition to all the most well-known vampires, Melton also surveys a large number of one-shot vampires. However, I'm skeptical how useful the book's alphabetical arrangement will prove to be. For example, how many people will think to look up "Fern" while hoping to find information about one of the female vampires in Joseph Larraz's Vampyres? Or how many people will look up "Heather" while hoping to find more about the young blonde who becomes a vampire at the strip club in the low-budget thriller Vamps? In cases like these, the book's alphabetical arrangement by vampire names becomes more confusing than helpful. A cross-index of character names and movie/book/TV show titles would have been tremendously helpful.
In addition, the book is marred by some of the same informational problems that plagued Melton's Vampires On Video (a VideoHound publication). For example, Melton insists on misspelling "Princess Asa" (from Mario Bava's Black Sunday) as "Princess Ada." So if you look up "Asa," you won't find any listing.
But putting this quibbling aside, The Vampire Gallery is a marvelously substantial and useful book. For example, if you aren't familiar with the various screen versions of the legend of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Mr. Melton leads you through background information on the Countess and then he plunges into her numerous appearances in novels, comic books, and films.
For vampire lovers everywhere, The Vampire Gallery is essential vampire literature. Together with his The Vampire Book and Vampires on Video, Mr. Melton has provided an excellent vampire reference library.
The Vampire Gallery is now available from Visible Ink Press. Suggested retail price: $19.95. Paperback.