Kim Newman: 10 vampire novels that helped inspire Anno Dracula

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:51 PM EST

Neil Gaiman has called Kim Newman's Anno Dracula, "the first mash-up of literature, history and vampires, and now, in a world in which vampires are everywhere, it's still the best." Here are the bloody pieces from which Newman built that classic novel, back in print at last.

I've often said Anno Dracula is literally a vampire novel, in that it battens on to other novels and sucks their lifeblood—in the process, exploiting, abusing, degrading, feeding off, changing and perhaps immortalising them.

It was certainly intended to encompass all previous vampire books (and films and pop culture ephemera—a later entry in the series features the Count from Sesame Street) and—of course—couldn't exist without them. So, no matter how mean I may have been about some of the more pompous literary vampires, thanks are due ...

This list of 10 vampire novels that were primary sources for Anno Dracula (and its follow-ups) includes only books published before 1992, when Anno Dracula came out. Of course, there have been a lot of vampire books since then. If I were compiling a list of best or favourite vampire novels, Anne Billson's Suckers (1993), Tim Lucas's Throat Sprockets (1994) and John Ajvide Lindquist's Let the Right One In (2004) might edge out a couple of classics. And, if we were talking about 'most influential,' a few other writers would demand to be heard from—there'll be time enough for the sparkly romance stuff when I take recent developments in vampire fiction into account for future instalments of the Anno Dracula series. This is still a good starter list for vampire fiction.

The Vampyre, Dr John Polidori (1819)

Strictly speaking, this is a short story—though it was published and republished as a standalone book when it was rumoured that Lord Byron had written it rather than his minion Polidori. It is expanded from a Byron plot fragment, but also serves as a tart caricature of the predatory poet.

Before Dracula, Lord Ruthven was the default male vampire of literature and a lot of his style, wit and cruelty seeps into post-Stoker versions of Dracula as lounge lizard or the exquisites of Anne Rice. For something which is nearly 200 years old, it's still a smart little piece—Polidori was poking fun but he also makes Ruthven genuinely a creepy, intriguing character.

It's not just about the vampire, but the relationship between victim (or sidekick) and the monster. In the Anno Dracula series, I have Lord Ruthven—who is British—as the Prime Minister under Dracula. I think of him as a political survivor, sometimes out of office but always ready to return to power. In 2011 Anno Dracula, Nick Clegg is in coalition with Lord Ruthven.

Carmilla (in In a Glass Darkly), J. Sheridan LeFanu (1871)

A novella, though included in a collection of linked short stories, this is probably remembered now through the filter of Hammer's The Vampire Lovers and other film versions, including acres of direct-to-DVD lesbian vampire softcore you don't need to watch. Modern readings of the tale tend to focus on Carmilla's sexuality as she fixes on and feeds off young women, but I think the piece is more complex than that.

There is certainly a lesbian element in the story, but it's a mistake to pounce on it and think we're cleverer than those stuffy Victorians and understand 'what it's really about.' The aspect that seems strongest and strangest to me—almost never played up in film and TV versions—is Carmilla Karnstein's curiously passive-aggressive quality: she's an invalid in constant need of help and support from people she ends up draining dry.

I felt a need to evoke Carmilla in Anno Dracula but to use her as an example of what happened to vampires before Dracula ascended to powers—they got hunted down and destroyed. I have plans to get closer to LeFanu (and a few other vampire franchises) in a novella, "Vampire Romance," which will be in the new edition of The Bloody Red Baron. I'm planning on letting Carmilla stay dead, but we'll meet one of her relatives.

Dracula, Bram Stoker (1897)

Without which ... There is so much good stuff in Dracula it's no wonder so many writers and filmmakers (well before me) have felt compelled to work it over, borrow characters (there are two different novels about Renfield) and settings, reimagine it from other points of view (Fred Saberhagen's The Dracula Tape was the first of these), spin off series of sequels (I especially love Marvel's Tomb of Dracula comic, now collected in lovely oversize hardbacks), annotate the text or tease out hidden nuggets in an attempt to come to grips with its enormously thorny, fascinating and stimulating material.

All this activity may be possible because Stoker leaves gaps that ache to be filled in—there's no 'origin story' for his vampire, for instance. To me, it always seemed strange that the Count comes to Britain with colossal plans of conquest but comes a cropper because he gets sidetracked by an urge to seduce the wife of a provincial solicitor. Since Dracula is not a viewpoint character in Stoker, much of his purpose is obscure—and his downfall seems too easy. Hence, Anno Dracula, which is born out of wondering what the Count might have done if he hadn't tripped up over Mina Harker.

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson (1954)

All world-overrun-by-vampires books and films owe a debt to Matheson's science fiction vampire novel, as does the whole currently overworked zombie apocalypse sub-genre. Screwed up three times by Hollywood—the recent Will Smith version is the sort of thing that makes you wonder why a studio would spend a hundred million dollars on a book they plainly don't understand—this remains the one great vampire novel I'd love to see filmed properly.

Besides the set-up of the ordinary man besieged in his home by former neighbors who have become feral bloodsuckers, Matheson offers a precedent-setting attempt to depict vampirism as a medical phenomenon and sketches in the kind of (not very nice but functional) society such creatures might form if they were dominant. A tiny scene that suggests much more has Neville, the last true human, going about his daily routine of staking vampires only to find one who dissolves to dust like the monsters in the movies, and realises that she was one of the vampires who had always been among us before the disease became an epidemic and must have lived her whole life believing she was a unique supernatural monster before the whole world changed in a mirror of his own situation and she became just an ordinary person.

Matheson has resisted writing a sequel, but I'd love it if he were to write the story of that anonymous vampire.

Doctors Wear Scarlet, Simon Raven (1960)

Perhaps the least-known, hardest-to-find book on this list, this is an interesting, semi-mainstream novel about a young academic who is ensnared by a vampire on a Greek holiday and returns to Oxford bearing the taint. Raven was the first to rationalise vampirism as a psychological condition—or a sexual perversion—which puts the book at the head of a line which includes George Romero's movie Martin. It was filmed in 1968 in slightly ramshackle but interesting fashion as Incense for the Damned (aka Bloodsuckers) and the paperback I own is a movie tie-in.

In Dracula Cha Cha Cha, the third book in the series, I mashed together the plots and characters of Doctors Wear Scarlet (a great title, by the way—it's what's written on invitations to university functions where academics are expected to show up in gowns) and Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley. Thomas Blackburn's The Feast of the Wolf, which is even more obscure, is another homage to Raven.

'Salem's Lot, Stephen King (1975)

King's big thick best-seller—yes, I know it came out in hardback, but it's one of those novels whose natural state is a paperback with a gimmick cover (embossed black with a drop of blood)—is actually the first vampire literary mash-up: it's Dracula comes to Peyton Place.

A monster moves into a small town which is already covering up the usual dark secrets and spreads the curse throughout the population. King embraces the gothic and the mundane with equal relish ... here, he gleefully raids the trash-bin of pop culture as a vampire is seen off with a plastic crucifix gravestone from a glow-in-the-dark hobby kit monster and a major (genuinely terrifying) sequence is a rewrite of one of the cool bits from Blacula.

Interview With the Vampire, Anne Rice (1976)

If Rice had only written this book, her reputation would be higher. It's overripe, of course ... but, given the premise, how could it not be? The set-up is genuinely brilliant—and, as a writer, I truly admire the way the frame story justifies lazy one-damn-thing-after-another plotting because that's how everyone, not just the vampire, tells his life story. Rice may well be the first author to depict vampires who have distinct, vivid characters.

In Dracula, and many others, the Count is a brute and his victims are hissing sub-humans who can't hold up an end in the conversation. In her first book, Rice came up with two genuinely lasting, innovative vampire characters: the self-justifying dandy Lestat (how much better was he before the author fell in love with him and decided he wasn't a baddie after all?) and the rapacious eternal child Claudia. By the time I was writing Anno Dracula, Rice's Vampire Chronicles had devolved into self-parody, which didn't stop me poking fun at the breed of posy, clothes-obsessed, endlessly wittering vampires in her books.

I should say that the vampire novel desperately needed Anne Rice to take it beyond a dead end—she was the writer who first thought that vampires could also be characters.

The Vampire Tapestry, Suzy McKee Charnas (1980)

An assembly of linked novellas—a format I like too, and will use in the fourth Anno Dracula novel, Johnny Alucard—this comes at a long, complicated life from different angles and explores the dissociation of Professor Edward Weyland, another vampire who has found a niche in life as an academic.

In "Unicorn Tapestry," the novella at the heart of the book, he slips up slightly and has to have court-ordered therapy after an assault charge is pressed, and—out of centuried ennui—finally tells someone else, his analyst, what he is and how he lives. At first, she assumes it's a fantasy, but then she realizes she's entering into a complicated relationship with an inhuman being.

Again, what's crucial is the relationship between vampire and victim—and the blurring of these stereotypes.

Fevre Dream, George R.R. Martin (1982)

This is a big historical novel about vampires—a separate species from humanity, rather than revived and transformed dead folks—on the Mississippi in the 19th Century. I suppose it's a mash-up of The Vampire Tapestry and Showboat, but it's much more—dealing with what one might do with an extended lifespan and a dependence on human blood that makes living an ethical life difficult to impossible.

The Empire of Fear, Brian Stableford (1988)

An alternate world novel in which vampires co-exist with regular humanity, and thus history is changed—because, for instance, vampire monarchs wouldn't quit their thrones to make way for the heirs who succeeded them in our world. Also, over 500 years or so, scientific knowledge expands, paralleling discoveries about medicine, disease and the human body with revelations about what vampires are and how they came to be.

I'd incubated the basic idea of Anno Dracula since 1978, but didn't feel confident enough to write it up until after I read the Stableford and realised—among many other things—that readers could be persuaded to accept a large-scale parallel world scenario featuring vampires, incorporating historical and literary characters (Empire features Richard the Lion-Heart allied with Vlad the Impaler, and a vampire named Carmilla).

The fact that Simon & Schuster, who first published Anno Dracula, had published this book—which I read in manuscript to do a reader's report for a paperback house—meant that they were ready for an idea like mine because Brian had gentled them into it.

I have occasionally nagged Brian to deliver a sequel, The Empire of Terror, but none has been forthcoming.

Just because something didn't make this list doesn't mean it's not good, or that it didn't affect me—I loved Robert Lory's pulpy Dracula spin-offs when I was a lad—but that it was squeezed out. Leslie Whitten's Progeny of the Adder and its derivative Jeff Rice's The Kolchak Papers are also key, and no vampire bookshelf should be withour Skipp and Spector's The Light at the End, Nancy Collins' Sunglasses After Dark, Marc Behm's The Ice Maiden and Les Daniels' Sebastian Villanueva series.