Sunday, June 28, 2009

Book Review: Vampires Today: The Truth About Modern Vampirism

Recently, I ordered Vampires Today: The Truth About Modern Vampirism from Amazon, and have just now finished the last page. There are many elements which make Joseph Laycock's look at the vampiric subculture both fascinating and impressive. It can be said - accurately, I would add - that the work is educational without being dull, entertaining without being exploitative, funny without being insulting, and honest without being biased.

It is the work's impartiality that I find most impressive. Years ago, I studied religion back in Hampshire College (along with Joseph Laycock, by the way, which gets us past the requisite "interest of full disclosure" acknowledgement). While it was easy to find resources about large, organized religions, the only information about smaller movements tended to be produced by practitioners themselves. Trying to locate unbiased information about the Neo-Pagan movement, for instance, was an exercise in frustration: anything I found online was suspect by it's very nature.

"Vampires Today" was written for scholars of religion and cultural trends who are writing and approaching those who identify as vampires. Laycock provides a careful appraisal of the community, revealing, among other things, that these are not frightening people. Despite some very entertaining warnings, Laycock describes his interactions as being relatively mundane; certainly no more unusual than one would expect from other groups outside the mainstream.

The central point of the book is that the Vampire Movement cannot be understood as a religion, at all, but rather a culturally significant identity. Laycock's arguments are direct and rational, and his conclusions are highly convincing.

Laycock's exploration delves into the subcultures, organizations, and religions of the "real vampire," as well as their portrayal in the media. Laycock refuses to speculate on the validity of the vampires' claims: like any good scholar, he is observing, not judging.

While the book seems to have been written for academics, it has far greater appeal. Judging by the movement's positive reaction, it seems likely that many in the vampire community will purchase "Vampires Today." In addition, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the supernatural and history of the occult movement.

But, more than anyone else, this book needs to find its way into the hands of the myriad confused and depressed teenagers all over the world. New religious and cultural movements suffer from a lack of impartial literature, and, as a result, it's difficult to gain any perspective or realistic appraisal. Right now, there are unknown numbers of Twilight fans who are toying with the idea of adopting the label "vampire." This book provides a window into that world, along with a summary of vampire literature, film, and role playing games, which could provide an invaluable resource to those trying to define themselves. And, whatever choice they make, they'd be better prepared for what they would find.

Likewise, if you are a football player looking to elevate and better direct your insults against the goths you're giving wedgies; there is no better resource available. Truly, this is a work with wide appeal.

Whoever you are, if you are interested in the vampire subculture in any capacity, Laycock's book is a far better place to start than Google.

Joseph Laycock is an "independent scholar" and a graduate of Harvard University. He is not a vampire himself, however I can confirm that, during a long running Dungeons & Dragons game I ran, he once played a wizard who became a vampire.


Motherchi said...

Wonderful review, I couldn't have said it better myself. His research is evident in in the way writes this fascinating book.

Oculus said...

Hmmm, enjoyed your review. I must add this book to my collection.

- Oculus