Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chapter 49: In Which the Mob is Easily Captured (Except for the Ones Who Escape)

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The mob stakes a vampire. Maybe.

If I still had the delusion that the chapter titles in Varney the Vampire had anything to do with their contents, Chapter 49 (THE MOB'S ARRIVAL AT SIR FRANCIS VARNEY'S. -- THE ATTEMPT TO GAIN ADMISSION.) would be a disappointment. Thankfully I was cured of that unreasonable expectation around Chapter 3.

The chapter begins with the soldiers and police trying to figure out what to do about the mob. The soldiers soon enter the room where the mob staked a dead body and are immediately Shocked and Appalled. They try to capture the mob; the mob threatens to resist; they shoot at the mob, who are similarly Shocked and Appalled that things have turned violent; and the mob scramble over each other trying to escape.

JMR quickly reassures us that the soldiers were firing blanks, just in case we don't believe the soldier who quickly reassures the onlookers that they're firing blanks. In any case, the mob is soon subdued and marched off to jail.

In the midst of all this, some of the mob escaped and headed off to Varney's house. I imagine we'll hear about this in a chapter or three. The only thing really memorable about this one is how oddly distant and disinterested the narration seems, as if JMR has run out of things to lecture us about.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sponsored Post: Vampire Empire

So I'm selling ad space now--yay! For my first post of this kind, I'm talking about Vampire Empire, a site about (in the site owner's words) "history to cult classics to phenomenons no one saw coming."

The main part of the site showcases some very nice vampire artwork -- I think this one's my favorite, but I also love how the first painting of Lucy from Dracula captures the novel's themes of sexuality and violence. The site also offers custom vampire art.

In addition, there are sections on classic and popular vampire stories, such as Dracula, Interview with the Vampire (is that old enough to be considered a classic, in terms of vampire stories?), and True Blood (which reminds me, I'm still somewhere at the beginning of Season 2).

Anyway, you should check it out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chapter 48: In Which a Vampire Finally Gets Staked (Maybe)

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Varney checks up on the Bannerworths and the mob discovers a "vampire."

In Chapter 48 (THE STAKE AND THE DEAD BODY.) begins with a sentence masquerading as a paragraph, which I read three times and then gave up on:
The mob seemed from the first to have an impression that, as regarded the military force, no very serious results would arise from that quarter, for it was not to be supposed that, on an occasion which could not possibly arouse any ill blood on the part of the soldiery, or on which they could have the least personal feeling, they would like to get a bad name, which would stick to them for years to come.
It continues fairly soon with the woman at the end of the previous chapter, who thought a dead man was a vampire. Other townspeople crowd around the body to examine it. They summon a man who saw the body a few days ago, who confirms that it looks fresher now than it did when he first died.

So they decide that they must drive a stake through the body. Interestingly, the heart isn't specified as it is in many vampire stories; just the stake itself, "it was currently believed, inflicted so much physical injury to the frame, as to render his resuscitation out of the question."

The act itself is carried out by a handful of drunk guys unaffiliated with the current on-lookers -- I suppose that's so JMR (who puts on great airs of horror and disgust at the violation of the body) can continue looking down at the mob while mostly viewing them as stupid and misguided, rather than evil.

Was the guy actually a vampire? It's hard to say, although JMR comes down pretty strongly on the side of "no, and you're stupid for believing that there might be vampires in a vampire story."

But whether he was or wasn't, the problem with this scene is that it exists only so JMR can do what he's done every single chapter since the mob was introduced: smack us over the head with how stupid and uncivilized they are. The whole "drive a stake through the heart/cut off the head of someone who might have been turned to prevent them from rising" is a classic vampire trope, and in most stories it works because we are familiar with -- and care about -- both the character who's dead and the character doing the staking. It becomes a poignant moment of angst, reinforcing the loss of the loved one and demonstrating that the vampire slayer will do whatever it takes to stop others from getting hurt.

The mob is a sort of character, certainly, but by bringing in some random guys to do the deed, JMR fails to show the impact of the staking on that character. Worse than that, he gives the mob someone to look down on -- someone who's reviled for doing the dirty work that, if the mob is correct in their assumptions of vampirism, needs to get done. Like so much of the story, it's just all too convenient.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chapter 47: In Which We Encounter an Odd Combination of Fiction and Folklore

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Nothing much happens that we haven't been over before.

Chapter 47 (THE REMOVAL FROM THE HALL. -- THE NIGHT WATCH, AND THE ALARM.) begins with -- of all things! -- an argument between Henry and the Admiral over who gets to keep the furniture when the Bannerworths move out. It's amazing how dull the Admiral can get when thrown into such a context.

Thankfully they're interrupted by Varney's servant, who comes under the pretense of seeing how they are after the "flurry and excitement." It's just so very Varney: a smug reminder -- I'm still here! -- coupled with an underhanded, passive-aggressive "oh, I didn't hurt you, did I?"

To express their displeasure, they take the servant and stick him under the water pump. I guess that's what one did before the invention of toilet bowls.

Anyway, we then return to the mob. There's an interesting bit here when they're trying to figure out how the butcher got out of his coffin:
...nothing was more natural, when anybody died who was capable of becoming a vampyre, than for other vampyres who knew it to dig him up, and lay him out in the cold beams of the moonlight, until he acquired the same sort of vitality they themselves possessed, and joined their horrible fraternity.
So we have the whole moonlight thing again, not just as a healing source but as a necessary step in the process of making a vampire. The importance of moonlight is interesting in and of itself, since it doesn't seem to have a basis in folklore but rather in Polidori's "The Vampyre." Since Varney the Vampyre is one of the earliest pieces of vampire fiction, it illustrates the beginning of vampire stories building on each others' established universes as well as folklore, until the folklore gradually becomes all but forgotten.

(See also the criticisms of Twilight along the lines of "if Meyer had researched vampires she'd know they can't go out in the daylight!" There are many reasonable criticisms of Twilight but "it doesn't follow trends that other authors made up" is hardly one of them. But I digress.)

Then we move to a young man who has recently died of a sudden illness. A woman screams that he is a vampire, because "[his body is] fresher now than on the day on which it died, and there's a colour in its cheeks." (The idea that rosy cheeks indicate a vampire does come from folklore, although the appearance is just a natural part of the decomposition process, as JMR points out a few paragraphs later.)

JMR makes a point to tell us how crazy and delusional she is, and I'll spare you another rant about how the mob are the only ones acting logically based on the universe they're living in and the small amount of information they know.

Chapter 48: In Which a Vampire Finally Gets Staked (Maybe)

Digression: Vampire Reviews

So I've been working on my other project, Book of the Movie, and have a couple of video reviews about vampires:

Closed captioned version on YouTube

Real post coming later, though; don't worry!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Chapter 46: In Which the Bannerworths Decide to Move (Again)

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Who is good? Who is evil? Who is getting bored?

Chapter 46 (THE PREPARATIONS FOR LEAVING BANNERWORTH HALL, AND THE MYSTERIOUS CONDUCT OF THE ADMIRAL AND MR. CHILLINGWORTH.) is a short one, which is good, because my ability to focus has not been great lately.

We leave the mob and return to the Bannerworths, who are still arguing about whether or not to leave the house. I thought we'd been through that three or four times already.

Henry consults with his mother. She agrees to leave, and they briefly discuss the suicide of Henry's father. While they believe he killed himself because he couldn't pay his debts, he apparently mentioned some hidden money in his dying moments. I'm sure this will come in handy at some convenient time later on.

Chillingworth brings news about the mob, which has grown such that the local authorities cannot control it. The Bannerworths are most concerned about the possibility that more people will find out about their connection to the vampire. This concern goes all the way back to Chapter 4, but is perhaps more dangerous/embarrassing for the Bannerworths now that there's a bit more proof (from the mob's perspective at the very least) of the vampire's existence, rather than just secondhand rumors.

In the end, the Bannerworths decide to move the next day. There's really nothing else to say about this chapter.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Digression: Posting Schedule

I am thinking of dropping my regular posts down to one a week; things are just getting hectic again. Any thoughts/preference for days?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Chapter 45: In Which the Mob is My New Favorite Character

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The prisoner returns but does not stay for nearly long enough.

Okay, I've been putting this chapter off for too long. It isn't bad, I just needed to get my thoughts together.

Chapter 45 (THE OPEN GRAVES. -- THE DEAD BODIES. -- A SCENE OF TERROR.) begins right where Chapter 44 left off, with the mob trying to dig up a grave. There's an interesting little passage where JMR once again pounds in the idea that the mob--not vampires--are the evil ones:
"Sons of darkness; you're all vampyres, and are continually sucking the life-blood from each other. No wonder that the evil one has power over you all. You're as men who walk in the darkness when the sunlight invites you, and you listen often to the words of humanity when those of a diviner origin are offered to your acceptance."
And then they dig up Miles the butcher. The coffin is empty, save for a brick.

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, I don't get the sense of a mindless, faceless mob that JMR wants us to have. They are acting impulsively and without hard evidence, certainly, but at least they are acting like there is actually a vampire in the story.

Compare this scene to the one where Our Heroes open Varney's coffin and find it empty. There's the same sort of pointless waffling to pad out the chapter, to be sure; but entire tone of the scene is different. Our Heroes, being the fine upstanding gentlemen they are, have no sense of urgency or panic. They spend most of the rest of the chapter, and too many chapters after that, arguing and angsting over how it cannot be a vampire because that would be Most Illogical.

The mob is real and human, and their reactions make me feel like I'm actually in a vampire story, rather than some bizarre alien parody of human emotion. So mostly I'm just still perplexed that JMR wants us to see the mob as the bad guys, since they (as an amalgam, since they don't really have individual characters yet) are the ones I have identified with throughout the last several chapters.

Chapter 46: In Which the Bannerworths Decide to Move (Again)