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Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality

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In this engrossing book, Paul Barber surveys centuries of folklore about vampires and offers the first scientific explanation for the origins of the vampire legends. From the tale of a sixteenth-century shoemaker from Breslau whose ghost terrorized everyone in the city, to the testimony of a doctor who presided over the exhumation and dissection of a graveyard full of Serb In this engrossing book, Paul Barber surveys centuries of folklore about vampires and offers the first scientific explanation for the origins of the vampire legends. From the tale of a sixteenth-century shoemaker from Breslau whose ghost terrorized everyone in the city, to the testimony of a doctor who presided over the exhumation and dissection of a graveyard full of Serbian vampires, his book is fascinating reading.


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In this engrossing book, Paul Barber surveys centuries of folklore about vampires and offers the first scientific explanation for the origins of the vampire legends. From the tale of a sixteenth-century shoemaker from Breslau whose ghost terrorized everyone in the city, to the testimony of a doctor who presided over the exhumation and dissection of a graveyard full of Serb In this engrossing book, Paul Barber surveys centuries of folklore about vampires and offers the first scientific explanation for the origins of the vampire legends. From the tale of a sixteenth-century shoemaker from Breslau whose ghost terrorized everyone in the city, to the testimony of a doctor who presided over the exhumation and dissection of a graveyard full of Serbian vampires, his book is fascinating reading.

30 review for Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality

  1. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Are no sparkly or sexy vampires here; not even any who wear evening dress and travel with coffins of dirt. This nonfiction book explores the very roots of the vampire legend and ties it to the unexpected things that dead bodies can do and how the people of yesterday interpreted those things. The average corpse does certain things: the face turns pale and waxy, the limbs become rigid, the blood coagulates, and it lays silent and unmoving. But not all corpses follow those rules; depending on how t Are no sparkly or sexy vampires here; not even any who wear evening dress and travel with coffins of dirt. This nonfiction book explores the very roots of the vampire legend and ties it to the unexpected things that dead bodies can do and how the people of yesterday interpreted those things. The average corpse does certain things: the face turns pale and waxy, the limbs become rigid, the blood coagulates, and it lays silent and unmoving. But not all corpses follow those rules; depending on how the person died, they may have a red face. After a certain point, rigor leaves and the body becomes limp again. The blood does not always coagulate. A corpse filled with gasses from decay may make sounds when moved or prodded. These things are explainable through science today, but weren’t 500 or more years ago. The book reads like a master’s or doctoral thesis: Barber makes his points clearly and presents well researched proof to back them. While much of his research was in folklore, he has also gone to the experts in dead bodies: coroners and medical examiners. He’s got the facts down cold: the physical signs of bodies that were declared vampires or revenants could all be explained by science. The stories that grew around them, of course, were all human imagination. If a body could groan and move and bleed, why couldn’t it be what was making trouble at night in the village? I’m not going to say that lovers of vampire novels will like this book (I’m not saying they won’t, either). Lovers of folklore and human nature will. A warning: the descriptions of dead bodies are very graphic, although certainly not sensational. It’s all presented in a dry, just the facts manner, but very interesting.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Barber presents a rather convincing and interesting theory in this book, arguing that vampire legends and folklore developed as a means to expalin decomposition. The book is worth a read not only for the theory but als because of the amount of translation and sources that Barber looks at. If you are a fan of sexy vampires, you should skip this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    The title basically says it all. An interesting look at vampires, burial rites, and death. A little dry in places, but the author's dry wit, especially evident in the footnotes, saves it. Recommended. The title basically says it all. An interesting look at vampires, burial rites, and death. A little dry in places, but the author's dry wit, especially evident in the footnotes, saves it. Recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Batgrl (Book Data Kept Elsewhere)

    It's been ages since I read this and I think it would get another star if the main thing I didn't remember so very, very clearly was the description of the process of decomposition. Specifically the "liquifaction of the eyeballs." So three stars because I am so annoyingly squeamish. But the book was extremely well sourced and interesting, so I'd definitely recommend it. It's been ages since I read this and I think it would get another star if the main thing I didn't remember so very, very clearly was the description of the process of decomposition. Specifically the "liquifaction of the eyeballs." So three stars because I am so annoyingly squeamish. But the book was extremely well sourced and interesting, so I'd definitely recommend it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Vampires, Burial, and Death is an older book from the 1980s. It is an interesting must read for people who enjoy reading about vampires. With historical cases and folklore from across Europe it is interesting to see how the vampire evolved but how much they share common traits. There is so much more that just makes this book worthwhile.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I recently started re-reading this great book as I'm working on an article on Serbian vampires currently myself. While Twilight and other vampire fiction and films currently have once again brought the vampire to the apex of popular culture, this book and its author offer both the history of the vampire in actual (mainly Slavic) folklore and the biological basis for after-death processes which gave rise to vampire myths across many cultures. The body, one must understand, takes some odd turns on I recently started re-reading this great book as I'm working on an article on Serbian vampires currently myself. While Twilight and other vampire fiction and films currently have once again brought the vampire to the apex of popular culture, this book and its author offer both the history of the vampire in actual (mainly Slavic) folklore and the biological basis for after-death processes which gave rise to vampire myths across many cultures. The body, one must understand, takes some odd turns once dead and many of these will surprise even the modern reader—at that even ones like myself with a strong biomedical background—so we can only imagine how our forefathers who lacked the advantage of clear scientific understanding saw what happened to a corpse after death. Moreover, the dead were not buried by professional undertakers nor had the advantages of vaults and other protective measures to ensure they would not be violated by animals or otherwise suffer ignoble fates. Dr. Barber, an anthropologist, provides a very good if sometimes creepy grounding in how the body changes following death, how issues such as weather, flooding, and animals can expose or otherwise affect the corpse, and thus how people in pre-modern societies came to explain some very natural—if gross and scary—processes as the work of vampires or other sinister forces. Dr. Barber's writing is academic but clear and oftentimes very entertaining and engaging. The man can certainly write, though having such an odd and engrossing topic certainly doesn't hurt matters in the least. His research is comprehensive—vast, I'd even say—and he offers plenty of additional sources to consult and read up on further if a certain aspect of vampire folkways strikes your fancy. Overall, there is little I could fault with this book and it's become a real favorite of mine not only for the topic and entertainment value, but as an example of well-organized scholarship for a general readership: Barber is also a master of grouping certain topics to chapters and presenting not only the wealth of data at hand about vampires and corpses but also making the reader aware of how vampire myths speak of greater conventions in folklore—how people found a "problem" in the natural decay processes of corpses and how they went about trying to remedy that problem and how such pre-modern logic is very telling of faith, culture, and how history itself has been shaped via belief systems. The only small issues I would have with this book would be that, as a Slavist well-versed in Serbo-Croatian folklore, I would have liked to have seen greater and more-nuanced exploration of various Slavic traditions than provided though what Barber gives us is good and to his credit, he didn't set out to write a history of Slavic folklore but a very specific history of how the corpse came in various cultures to be seen as a vampire. I do wish he'd write a book on general vampire lore though because despite not being a literary scholar, his work here indicates he'd do far better than many who have tried their hand at this task.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alex Reborn

    The book is based mainly on folkloric resources, the newest being the 1980s. There are accounts of vampirism and stories told by people, European mostly, about situations in which the dead affected the living. The archaeological resources, which are scarce, are also quite outdated and there are new theories available that provide a different interpretation, at least. It's definitely interesting to see where the idea of vampire came from, originally, but it's not that different from the other myth The book is based mainly on folkloric resources, the newest being the 1980s. There are accounts of vampirism and stories told by people, European mostly, about situations in which the dead affected the living. The archaeological resources, which are scarce, are also quite outdated and there are new theories available that provide a different interpretation, at least. It's definitely interesting to see where the idea of vampire came from, originally, but it's not that different from the other myths humans created through time. The observations are correct, but without knowledge and understanding of the science behind some of the natural phenomenon taking place, the interpretations mingle with imagination and strange things happen as a result. One parallel made for such interpretations, are the witch theories and accusations. But, just like the author said, the vampires were lucky enough to be already dead. All I could think of while reading was this picture, even if there wasn't anything like this mentioned in the book: Of course people have always made up their beliefs, but the society reached a point where the focus was on sin and the people who sin, meaning that everything that was bad could be blamed on that. It's almost unthinkable what they were capable of doing to those believed to become vampires. One could argue that it doesn't matter, because they were dead anyway, but those people mutilating the bodies and killing the revenants all over again actually believed they were somehow still living. It surely is difficult to understand some past concepts and belief systems, but at least from studying history and the people we are provided with an explanation and a possible cure against them. Thank God for science...

  8. 4 out of 5

    K.T. Katzmann

    As a writer, I can literally flip to any pages of this book and get two story ideas. Barber's written the most fun science/folklore book around. Vampires, Burial, and Death starts from a single hypothesis: legends of the returned dead come from nonscientific people trying to explain the weird stuff that happens to bodies. From this idea, we get several things put before the reader: *Bizarre testimonies of vampire outbreaks *An amazing overview of vampire/ghost superstitions over the world *A medical As a writer, I can literally flip to any pages of this book and get two story ideas. Barber's written the most fun science/folklore book around. Vampires, Burial, and Death starts from a single hypothesis: legends of the returned dead come from nonscientific people trying to explain the weird stuff that happens to bodies. From this idea, we get several things put before the reader: *Bizarre testimonies of vampire outbreaks *An amazing overview of vampire/ghost superstitions over the world *A medical examiner's eye view of the process of decomposition Out of these disparate parts, Barber weaves a compelling case. Basically, the book runs like this. "Here's three paragraphs of Europeans peasants talking about busting into Old Uncle Vlad's tomb and finding his mouth filled with blood. Now, oh course they thought corpses drank blood in the day. Here's why red fluid gathers in the mouth after death..." The folklore he deals with covers a great variety, including chapters on turning away the forces of evil and beliefs about how souls work. I was overjoyed to finally discover inside the folkloric reason why Jews cover mirrors in our house when a relative dies; that one had been bugging me. Also, if you need to know how to kill a vampire, this is the book to teach you. This is probably the only vampire book with a recommendation in the Journal of the American Medical Association. I doubt I could give it bigger praise than that to show how many interests converge in these pages. VD&B will always have a place on my writing research shelf; there's always some new tidbit to inspire.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mrs B

    Fascinating and unexpected; wholly original research; entirely free of fantasy but sympathetic to the human capacity for creating it. Nice clear prose, without padding. (This edition has a new preface.) I give it five stars because, apart from any other consideration, there is no book I know of that is even remotely like this. It is path-breaking and stands by itself. Barber's book is a rational investigation into the claims made by Eastern European folklore -- its witnesses and spectators -- who Fascinating and unexpected; wholly original research; entirely free of fantasy but sympathetic to the human capacity for creating it. Nice clear prose, without padding. (This edition has a new preface.) I give it five stars because, apart from any other consideration, there is no book I know of that is even remotely like this. It is path-breaking and stands by itself. Barber's book is a rational investigation into the claims made by Eastern European folklore -- its witnesses and spectators -- who often observed the processes of decay but did not understand what they were seeing and therefore came up with what seemed like plausible explanations for them. Barber expertly separates fact from folklore but also shows how they intertwine, in ways that uneducated locals were unaware of. Their account of the often bizarre mysteries of death makes sense when you understand, as Barber shows us, that they believed Nature to have will and personal agency. We moderns are still free to examine their accounts for truthful clues about the reality of nature contained within them. I always enjoy learning new words, and this book taught me 'apotropaic', which means 'methods of turning evil away' -- see chapters 7 & 8. Many apotropaics were applied to decomposing bodies not properly settled in their graves, since the pre-scientific peoples were not familiar with the facts of decomposition (but only with rigor mortis, which they expected to last).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Owen Spencer

    This book provides overwhelming evidence that practices and beliefs associated with death, funerals, burial, the soul, the afterlife, and the undead were strongly influenced by facts and misunderstandings about decomposition processes. This book shows the reader that bodies rot and decay in a variety of different ways, and unless you understand the science of decomposition it is tempting to resort to supernatural explanations for bodies that fail to decompose in the usual or expected way. Hardco This book provides overwhelming evidence that practices and beliefs associated with death, funerals, burial, the soul, the afterlife, and the undead were strongly influenced by facts and misunderstandings about decomposition processes. This book shows the reader that bodies rot and decay in a variety of different ways, and unless you understand the science of decomposition it is tempting to resort to supernatural explanations for bodies that fail to decompose in the usual or expected way. Hardcore scientists and atheists may feel validated by reading this book because it succeeds in debunking many (false) supernatural explanations of events and practices related to death and the soul. However, what such individuals may fail to consider, out of laziness or bias, is that FALSE beliefs about the supernatural do not disprove or provide evidence against the reality of ACTUAL supernatural entities and processes. Anyway, this book is worth reading and contains many valuable insights and interesting facts about a (somewhat) taboo subject. My only criticism is that the author tends to repeat himself and makes the same, or similar, points throughout the book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dan McCollum

    I first picked this book up the summer of my Freshman year of college. I found it at a used bookstore while out camping with my then girlfriend. Years later, I still have it my original copy and have read it multiple times. At the time, what drew me (and still does) is the masterful way in which Barber merges the fields of folklore as well as human biology to craft a very interesting thesis - namely that much of the folklore of vampires stems from the normal process of human decomposition. For t I first picked this book up the summer of my Freshman year of college. I found it at a used bookstore while out camping with my then girlfriend. Years later, I still have it my original copy and have read it multiple times. At the time, what drew me (and still does) is the masterful way in which Barber merges the fields of folklore as well as human biology to craft a very interesting thesis - namely that much of the folklore of vampires stems from the normal process of human decomposition. For those interested in the science of human decomposition, there's a good deal here. For those, like me, who are much more into the folkloric aspects of vampire lore, there is a great deal as well - Barber includes solid translations of a number of important primary sources throughout the work, and the accounts are still very gripping. Woven into this, he also traces the evolution of the vampire of folklore into it's current mediea representations. Throughout, the author's dry wit shines forth and makes for an engaging read. A word of note, as others have stated, the book isn't for the squeemish and it goes very much into the nitty-gritty of decomposition.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Piers Haslam

    An utterly engrossing book; I don’t need to add much here, given the rave reviews. The book discusses attitudes to death in Early Modern Europe in a deeply revealing way. Before reading this I didn’t truly know the origins of vampire legends. Barber makes it clear that it came about as a way of coming to terms with various phenomena observed in decomposing dead bodies, and also through the link between dead bodies and disease. In a world before modern science the corpse is dangerous in a very in An utterly engrossing book; I don’t need to add much here, given the rave reviews. The book discusses attitudes to death in Early Modern Europe in a deeply revealing way. Before reading this I didn’t truly know the origins of vampire legends. Barber makes it clear that it came about as a way of coming to terms with various phenomena observed in decomposing dead bodies, and also through the link between dead bodies and disease. In a world before modern science the corpse is dangerous in a very intangible manner; the line between contagion and supernatural forces were undefined. I feel I’ve come away from this understanding the subtleties of human behaviour that bit better, in a way similar to when I read Brunvand’s excellent book The Vanishing Hitchhiker. This is a serious and incisive work; recommended to all.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sirensaria

    Now I understand why this book has been sited over and over. There is SOOOOO much information in this book that I have yet to read anywhere else. I can't even begin to go over the information that is in this book. And it's NOT because I haven't read many books. I own quite a few books regarding historical vampires, way more than I care to admit, and all of them I have read at least once. This is definitely on my top five favorite list. The best part is that it's not JUST about vampires, it's als Now I understand why this book has been sited over and over. There is SOOOOO much information in this book that I have yet to read anywhere else. I can't even begin to go over the information that is in this book. And it's NOT because I haven't read many books. I own quite a few books regarding historical vampires, way more than I care to admit, and all of them I have read at least once. This is definitely on my top five favorite list. The best part is that it's not JUST about vampires, it's also about burial customs and there are even some bits of cultural information. I just finished the book and already I want to start reading it over!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Doig

    Nothing radical here, but some snippets of historical vampire tales and cursory look at decomposition. I think the best parts I picked from the book was how closely dreams and reality were tied prior to the enlightenment, and the concept of a body hat had not completed decomposition was often still considered agent. Liked the idea of Satan inflating corpses to make vampires, a way of explaining decomposition bloat, and other information of the sort with a grisly bent. Liked the old vision of a v Nothing radical here, but some snippets of historical vampire tales and cursory look at decomposition. I think the best parts I picked from the book was how closely dreams and reality were tied prior to the enlightenment, and the concept of a body hat had not completed decomposition was often still considered agent. Liked the idea of Satan inflating corpses to make vampires, a way of explaining decomposition bloat, and other information of the sort with a grisly bent. Liked the old vision of a vampire as a giant, hulking, stinking revenant. Too much repetition to validate its 200+ pages.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Zeb

    Fantastic book for those interested in vampires, folklore and the general macabre. Author uses a wealth of source material and scientific data about death (and its aftermath) to dissect why people believed what they believed about vampires. Plus, he knows his topic is unusual and isn't afraid of a little humor and anecdotes to highlight and explain what he's writing about. Where else can you read about a chicken volcano and how that relates to burial? Fantastic book for those interested in vampires, folklore and the general macabre. Author uses a wealth of source material and scientific data about death (and its aftermath) to dissect why people believed what they believed about vampires. Plus, he knows his topic is unusual and isn't afraid of a little humor and anecdotes to highlight and explain what he's writing about. Where else can you read about a chicken volcano and how that relates to burial?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Shelby Kollin

    "In Pomerania it was recommended that one dip part of the shroud in the blood of the revenant, leach the blood out into brandy, and drink the mixture to protect oneself against revenants. Whether or not vampires drank the blood of human beings, we have most persuasive evidence that human beings have drunk the blood of vampires." "In Serbia a vampire can transform himself into a butterfly. Moreover, among the Slavs and in the Balkans generally, the human soul is believed to take on a corporeal for "In Pomerania it was recommended that one dip part of the shroud in the blood of the revenant, leach the blood out into brandy, and drink the mixture to protect oneself against revenants. Whether or not vampires drank the blood of human beings, we have most persuasive evidence that human beings have drunk the blood of vampires." "In Serbia a vampire can transform himself into a butterfly. Moreover, among the Slavs and in the Balkans generally, the human soul is believed to take on a corporeal form when it leaves the body, and one of the forms reported is that of a butterfly." "The quotation from Dante's 'Inferno,' therefore is intended as a warning label for this chapter, like the ones on packages of cigarettes, to suggest that one's peace of mind and of stomach may be at risk here. But, however distasteful it is to do so, one must learn about the reality of death and decay in order to understand the folklore of death and decay." "Elwood Trigg, in a discussion of Gypsy beliefs, says, 'If, after a period of time, [the body] remains incorrupt, exactly as it was buried, or if it appears to be swollen and black in color, having undergone some dreadful change in appearance, suspicions of vampirism are confirmed.' Note that what is being said here is that if the body remains as it was, then it is a vampire, whereas if it changes--then it is a vampire." "Vampires differ from other monsters of folklore: although they have an active life in legends and tales, there is an endless array of evidence--folkloric, archaeological, and even legal--of what they were believed to do and how it was explained." "For the Berawan, America is a land carpeted with potential zombies." It took me forever to get through this book, but I found it incredibly interesting. I learned a lot and it put a whole new perspective on vampirism and death. How our thinking has evolved is amazing and I loved learning about all the beliefs people have in different cultures. This was a heavy read and took a lot of concentration, but it does a beautiful job of explaining how folklore has gotten so twisted.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lee Foust

    Ah, this perfectly reasonable and quite interesting scholarly look at vampiric folklore and possible explanations for the persistance of vampire lore from an actual scholar was the perfect antidote to the Montague Summer's (decadent Catholic-wannabe dandy who tries to convince us with his two books about vampires to be ever vigilant against Satan) book on vampires that I read just before this. It was particularly pertinent as both authors use a lot of the same source material and come to wildly Ah, this perfectly reasonable and quite interesting scholarly look at vampiric folklore and possible explanations for the persistance of vampire lore from an actual scholar was the perfect antidote to the Montague Summer's (decadent Catholic-wannabe dandy who tries to convince us with his two books about vampires to be ever vigilant against Satan) book on vampires that I read just before this. It was particularly pertinent as both authors use a lot of the same source material and come to wildly different conclusions--one rather reasonable who's methodology teaches how to read pre-literate folklore better, the other batshit crazy and pulling us back toward the credulity that's always let shysters control us, dominate us, and steal a lot of our wealth by selling us one god or another. Besides the reasonable approach and apparently valid conclusions Barber gets points for readability and a few nice zingers--he has a rather dry and winning wit on occasion. Even so he did repeat himself a bit and that made the book drag toward the end. I believe this is an expansion of his Ph.D. dissertation and that shows, as managing one's materials is easily the hardest part of writing one's first book-length study. I sympathize as I'm sure my dissertation suffers from similar flaws. Still, a good read and it gave me much fodder for my own teaching of Gothic literature in the future. I recommend it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    The way Barber presents his arguments is so clear. First there are multiple examples (always some sourced from various country's folklores, and sometimes a few modern-day anecdotes). Next, there's a rundown of the facts, totally without ornament or embellishment. This is then followed by extrapolation, which is the main part of each chapter, and of course what's most convincing about each section. It's fascinating seeing how science explains all the myths and legends surrounding vampires, but to The way Barber presents his arguments is so clear. First there are multiple examples (always some sourced from various country's folklores, and sometimes a few modern-day anecdotes). Next, there's a rundown of the facts, totally without ornament or embellishment. This is then followed by extrapolation, which is the main part of each chapter, and of course what's most convincing about each section. It's fascinating seeing how science explains all the myths and legends surrounding vampires, but to be honest I was equally interested in what exactly all the myths and legends were, and how they differed from place to place. There were a lot of facets to the folklore that I'd never really heard of, so finding out about them and then having them explained was sort of a weird experience, and a very different one than reading the explanations behind the legends I've grown up hearing about. Mostly though I'm just impressed by how well-researched this is - I could have done without quite so much detail into how exactly bodies decompose and all that (I'm easily grossed out), but all the different stories and myths made up for it

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elentarri

    An interesting and fascinating examination of the possible causes of various vampire legends and mythologies, focusing on what happens to a corpse during decomposition. The occasional droll observations were entertaining. The author also differentiates between vampire folklore/legends and literature, which are rather different. A bit repetitive.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Jr.

    This book is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in vampires and their lore. As the second part of his title suggests, Barber documents with fascinating detail the physical and social realities that account for the vast preponderance of "traditional" vampire behavior and appearance. Barber's is a classic revelation of the ways in which the most powerful superstitions can accrete, like the layers of a pearl, around a hard central truth. This book is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in vampires and their lore. As the second part of his title suggests, Barber documents with fascinating detail the physical and social realities that account for the vast preponderance of "traditional" vampire behavior and appearance. Barber's is a classic revelation of the ways in which the most powerful superstitions can accrete, like the layers of a pearl, around a hard central truth.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    Somewhat dry but very thorough and informative. Incredibly well researched

  22. 4 out of 5

    Loren

    From ISawLightningFall.com THREE-AND-A-HALF STARS No matter your opinion of Twilight, you have to give Stephenie Meyer her due. It's no small feat for a housewife without any prior writing experience to pen a title that sells millions upon millions of copies. Unfortunately for Ms. Meyer, I suspect that history will remember her not for spawning a pop culture phenomenon but for creating a horror monster that left fans and detractors alike scratching their heads -- the sparkling vampire. A decidedly From ISawLightningFall.com THREE-AND-A-HALF STARS No matter your opinion of Twilight, you have to give Stephenie Meyer her due. It's no small feat for a housewife without any prior writing experience to pen a title that sells millions upon millions of copies. Unfortunately for Ms. Meyer, I suspect that history will remember her not for spawning a pop culture phenomenon but for creating a horror monster that left fans and detractors alike scratching their heads -- the sparkling vampire. A decidedly odd alteration of the mythos, true. But Paul Barber reminds us in his cheerily titled Vampires, Burial, and Death that much of what we consider canon was never part of the original vampire legends. When we think of vampires, we imagine thin, pale, elegant and often royal creatures (e.g. Count Dracula) that can change into bats and drink blood by piercing victims' necks with sharp incisors. Barber argues, though, that the "original" vampires were almost exactly the opposite from those popularized by Bram Stoker and Anne Rice. They were swollen and reddish or purplish in coloration. They were almost always peasants. They were just as likely to open your chest as any other part of your to get their sanguine sustenance, and they weren't choosy about how they did it. And they more often transmuted into wolves than bats. In fact, the true vampire shared a lot in common with the classical zombie, and Barber lumps all of them into a single category, that of the revenant, the one who returns from death. The book does best when relaying specific historical accounts of vampirism and explaining how misunderstood natural processes gave rise to myths about the undead. Why would a Serbian villager still have almost entirely undecayed skin and liquid blood in his mouth after ten weeks in the grave? Barber explains that skin slippage and the reliquefaction of blood can account for such phenomena and backs up his claim with extensive sections on post-mortem forensics. (Note to the wise: Don't read the chapter entitled "The Body After Death" during dinner.) Unfortunately, at times Vampires, Burial, and Death feels about as dry as grave dust. A weakness for repetition and extraneous examples feels like an attempt at academic meticulousness, and no wonder since it was published by Yale University Press. Still, the end result is as often tedium as thoroughness. That's a shame, because Vampires contains plenty for both horror and folklore aficionados to sink their teeth into.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Orrin Grey

    Barber takes a novel (to me, anyway) approach to the folklore of the vampire. Rather than starting with the fictional tropes of vampirism and working backward to see how we reached them from folklore, as most books I've read on the subject have done, he instead starts from folklore and works backward to see how those beliefs were shaped in the first place. His basic thesis is that folklore of vampires (and other revenants, really) stem largely from misunderstandings (or a lack of understanding) Barber takes a novel (to me, anyway) approach to the folklore of the vampire. Rather than starting with the fictional tropes of vampirism and working backward to see how we reached them from folklore, as most books I've read on the subject have done, he instead starts from folklore and works backward to see how those beliefs were shaped in the first place. His basic thesis is that folklore of vampires (and other revenants, really) stem largely from misunderstandings (or a lack of understanding) of the processes of decay. It's a pretty interesting and fairly persuasive line of reasoning, and even if it doesn't always hit the mark it makes for interesting thinking. Also, since the book takes a folklore-first approach, there's a lot of description of folklore related to vampirism that doesn't usually make it into books on the subject. (One of my favorite parts is the claim that the vampire "has no bones, but is a sack filled with blood and comes into being when the devil pulls the skin off a particular corpse and blows it up.") While the book's style is occasionally dismissive and more often repetitive, it's mostly a pretty engaging read, and easy enough to get through. Of particular interest to me was that he made clear that taxonomical distinctions are really not present in folklore the way they are in fiction (or in most modern treatments of folklore and mythology). The difference between a vampire and a witch, for example, is often unclear. Interesting stuff, throughout.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dfordoom

    In Vampires, Burial and Death Paul Barber sets out to find the truth behind vampire folklore. He demonstrates that most of the stories about vampires in folklore ultimately derive from a lack of understanding of the processes that bodies undergo after death. Natural processes were misinterpreted a evidence that a body was not decomposing and that therefore the dead person had in some degree returned to life or at least a kind of half life. He provides some fascinating anecdotes about burial prac In Vampires, Burial and Death Paul Barber sets out to find the truth behind vampire folklore. He demonstrates that most of the stories about vampires in folklore ultimately derive from a lack of understanding of the processes that bodies undergo after death. Natural processes were misinterpreted a evidence that a body was not decomposing and that therefore the dead person had in some degree returned to life or at least a kind of half life. He provides some fascinating anecdotes about burial practices. The most interesting things in the book, for me, were the parts that describe folkloric beliefs about the soul. The soul was often seen as being more or less identical with a person’s shadow or with a person’s reflection. This explains some of the beliefs about vampires not casting reflections, and also explains some odd customs regarding mirrors and corpses. It’s a fascinating book, but you need a strong stomach at times. Some of the descriptions of decomposition, or of bodies that were dug up, or washed out of their graves by floods or similar events, are not for the faint-hearted. Barber concentrates mostly on European folklore although he does offer some intriguing observations from 19th century America as well, and also briefly touches on some Native American legends. It’s an exceptionally interesting and very persuasive book. A must for anyone interested in either vampires or in folklore regarding death.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rita Dinis

    Well, I bought this book without really knowing what I was doing. There are lots of books that try to explain the phenomenon and after expending some time searching and reading reviews, I ended up buying this one. And I gotta tell you, it was worth it. If you're a fantasy/fiction reader like me and if you like vampire stories, you'll certainly enjoy reading this book. It's the kind of book to read slowly, ideal for those moments when you don't want to do anything else and want to relax a bit. Th Well, I bought this book without really knowing what I was doing. There are lots of books that try to explain the phenomenon and after expending some time searching and reading reviews, I ended up buying this one. And I gotta tell you, it was worth it. If you're a fantasy/fiction reader like me and if you like vampire stories, you'll certainly enjoy reading this book. It's the kind of book to read slowly, ideal for those moments when you don't want to do anything else and want to relax a bit. The basic approach on the subject is amazingly done, the text fluidity is ideal and the way the book is organized is great. The examples are hilarious and what I liked the most was how the author explains and justifies all that is reported with nowadays and the actual knowledge, mainly in the medical/forensics area. It is a great reading and we get to see an amazing perspective of how superstitious people were back then. oh well, 5 out of 5 in my opinion. An essential to those who like the subject. Very down-to-earth and accurate.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Why is the idea of vampires so pervasive in world cultures? Where did the idea of blood-sucking ghouls come from? This book presents a very convincing theory in a little under 200 pages. The author starts by differentiating vampires in fiction (supposed to be intriguing) from the vampires of folklore. Since fictional vampires are pretty much by definition made up, the author concentrates on vampire folklore - what people used to believe about vampires. The upshot? Vampires are the result of an e Why is the idea of vampires so pervasive in world cultures? Where did the idea of blood-sucking ghouls come from? This book presents a very convincing theory in a little under 200 pages. The author starts by differentiating vampires in fiction (supposed to be intriguing) from the vampires of folklore. Since fictional vampires are pretty much by definition made up, the author concentrates on vampire folklore - what people used to believe about vampires. The upshot? Vampires are the result of an enormous misunderstanding - a misunderstanding about why people die (pathology) and decomposition (biology). The descriptions of vampires in folklore are fascinating; the old beliefs are so different from the fiction and what we understand today. My only complaint about this book is chapter 12, which describes decomposition in WAY too much detail. If you're squeamish, you may want to skip it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    A must for any anthropologist / folklorist or anyone who's ever read an Ann Rice novel (and especially so for Twilight fans - this might explain why every other vampire fan is down on their s---.) Barber does a wonderful job of not only successfully describing the differences between "popular" vampires and "folkloric" vampires - but then goes on to describe the forensics involved as to how and why these legends came about, including soil quality, animal behavior, as well as local superstition. If A must for any anthropologist / folklorist or anyone who's ever read an Ann Rice novel (and especially so for Twilight fans - this might explain why every other vampire fan is down on their s---.) Barber does a wonderful job of not only successfully describing the differences between "popular" vampires and "folkloric" vampires - but then goes on to describe the forensics involved as to how and why these legends came about, including soil quality, animal behavior, as well as local superstition. If you are interested in vampires at all, I highly recommend this book, as it gives a very insightful look as to how the folklore originated, as well as how it developed. (note, this book came out around the time of the movie "Bram Stoker's Dracula" by Coppola, and so there is no mention of "Twilight" or vampires 'sparkling'.)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Murtha

    Anyone with an interest in vampires needs to investigate this marvelous book by Paul Barber, a rare scholarly study that is written with verve, wit, and charm. Barber reminds us that the undead of folklore have precious little in common with Bram Stoker's Dracula or Anne Rice's Lestat -- those are completely modern concoctions. The traditional vampire is, in fact, a corpse. And not a corpse in any too good shape, either! Barber includes more information about the body after death than you could Anyone with an interest in vampires needs to investigate this marvelous book by Paul Barber, a rare scholarly study that is written with verve, wit, and charm. Barber reminds us that the undead of folklore have precious little in common with Bram Stoker's Dracula or Anne Rice's Lestat -- those are completely modern concoctions. The traditional vampire is, in fact, a corpse. And not a corpse in any too good shape, either! Barber includes more information about the body after death than you could ever have imagined, and yet somehow manages to maintain a jolly tone while he discusses the details of decomposition and other potentially gut-churning subjects. I laughed out loud at lines like these: "However tragic your death may be, it would be far more tragic if you were to take me with you." This is a great book!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kalyn

    This is a very well-researched look into the folklore of vampires (almost exclusively European). Barber explores the differences between common fiction tropes about vampires and the folklore surrounding them from cultures/ times where people believe in their existence. He also explores reasons why certain beliefs existed including the characteristics of dead bodies that were thought to signify vampirism (and which were fairly common in bodies). The writing is very scholarly - this reads like a r This is a very well-researched look into the folklore of vampires (almost exclusively European). Barber explores the differences between common fiction tropes about vampires and the folklore surrounding them from cultures/ times where people believe in their existence. He also explores reasons why certain beliefs existed including the characteristics of dead bodies that were thought to signify vampirism (and which were fairly common in bodies). The writing is very scholarly - this reads like a research dissertation - but it is very informative.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Starts out trying to understand why lots of cultures believe in vampires. Eventually the author realized that belief in vampires is closely correlated with ignorance of what happens to dead bodies. So he studies -- in icky detail -- what actually happens when bodies decompose. Pretty danged fascinating; makes me want to read more about decomposition, honestly. Is highly repetitive, though; worth skimming.

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