Nov 10, 2007

Sundays with Vlad by Paul Bibeau

In this book, journalist Paul Bibeau pursues his lifelong fascination with vampires by exploring the role they play in popular culture. More specifically, he analyzes how an obscure medieval ruler by the name of Vlad Tepes became entangled with Dracula the literary star, and with the popular culture figure with a cape and a pair of fangs we all recognize.

The book starts in Romania, when, on their honeymoon, Paul Bibeau and his wife visited the castle of the historical Dracula. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t in Transylvania, but in Wallachia, a poor area of Romania filled with deserted industrial buildings. And the castle itself isn’t a big tourist attraction, but some deserted ruins you reach after a steep climb. Why isn’t Romania exploring the immense potential of their most legendary son? This is the question Bibeau attempts to answer in the first chapter of the book, and the answer involves a lot of information about the political and economical history of Romania and Eastern Europe.

But this makes it sound dull, which it isn’t at all. The book is written in an informal, conversational tone, and the author’s wonderful sense of humour permeates everything. After Romania, he takes us back to America, where he explores the role of vampires in everything from live action role-playing games like Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: The Requiem, to movies, seaside carnivals, Halloween decorations, breakfast cereal (Count Chocola!) and the goth/club scene. Our society is clearly fascinated with the figure of the vampire, and Paul Bibeau does a great job exploring where that fascination might come from.

The book is full of interesting facts. For example, contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence whatsoever that Bram Stoker based his Dracula on Vlad the Impaler. There is nothing whatsoever on his notes and manuscripts that indicates that he even knew about the medieval prince. How is it, then, that the two got so completely mixed up?

The author’s sense of humour really is one of the greatest strengths of the book. He pokes fun at everything, including himself. For example:
I was nowhere near the location of the story – Stoker set Dracula’s literary castle farther north – but somehow I’d found the heart of the novel right here. And I was Harker, I realized. I was a complete wuss, a pampered and arrogant westerner travelling into the wilds, making an ass out of myself with my worrying and my endless complaints that the food and the hotel weren’t like home. And now I was surrounded by the children of the night and the music they made. Not actual wolves – more like rabid weimaraners with the odd toy poodle thrown in – but still, the similarity was eerie.
Throughout the book, he always remains curious and open-minded about whatever strange fact or subculture he’s analyzing, and his interest and enthusiasm about everything are quite contagious. You can feel his passion – this is also a book about a man pursuing a lifelong interest, after all, and it is quite fascinating just for that.

Paul Bibeau writes about things and people most of us would consider weird in a way that humanizes them. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about RPGs. A bunch of adults dressed up in strange costumes and pretending they are vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night might sound quite odd, but in the end they are just people having fun, instead of spending the evening at home feeling miserable and alone. Of course, things get considerably stranger in the chapter about people who believe they actually need to drink human blood, and in the one about Jonathan Sharkley, a guy who ran for governor of Minnesota in 2006 and who wanted to impale criminals in front of the state capitol. There were bits in there that are not for the faint of heart, particularly the ones about people who actually bleed themselves to death to drink their own blood.

The only problem I had with this book is that the author sometimes tends to divert from the main point and go on at length about other things. But that wasn’t much of a problem, really, because he kept me interested in those other things. I can see how this would frustrate some readers, though.

This book is perfect for those who are interested in Dracula or in vampires in general. But even for those who aren’t, it’s a worthwhile read, especially if you’re looking for something humorous and a little different.

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  1. This book sounds awesome! I'm getting it. I've always loved vampires...ever since I first read Interview With a Vampire when I was a teenager, I've had a fascination with them and their history and the myths and lore that surrounds them. And I love books like this that can actually talk about history in a humorous and entertaining way. History can be such a dry topic in the wrong person's hands. Sounds like this guy handled it well!

  2. I just got this book a couple of days ago; happy to hear that you thought it was so good. Now I'm looking that much more forward to reading it! :)

  3. I definitely have to check this one out. We seem to be all about vampires in our household lately. :)

  4. Oh man. This book sounds fantastic!! I love vampires. I love the legends, and it seems like I'm not the only one. There is a big surge in the "vampire" market these days. I'm hoping to see 30 Days of Night tomorrow!

  5. Chris: Do! My love affair with vampires also started with "Interview". I was 12 when the movie was released, and it was a 16+ movie, but my friend and I got her mom to take us to see it. I was fascinated. At 14 I read the book, and then Dracula and the rest of the vampire chronicles, and whatever else I could get my hands on.
    I loved how this book mixed history, popular culture and just random facts in a very entertaining way.

    Court: I'd love to see what you think of it!

    Mama Gaia: Do! I think this one's essential for vampire lovers.

    Stephanie: I definitely think this one is right up your alley! I haven't seen 30 Days yet... do let us know if it's good!

  6. Sounds very cool. I love vampire stories and loved reading Dracula a couple of months ago. A couple of my friends do Vampire RPGs and I am thinking about going along to it someday.

  7. ah, this sounds very interesting... 'cause old dracula has become such a big part of our culture that simply to have books that examine where the myth came from isn't enough - we want to know how fits into our culture.

  8. This sounds great! I couldn't tell from the cover what kind of book it was, but your description definitely makes it sound like a good one!

  9. Rhinoa: You should go along! Reading this book really made me want to try those RPGs one day. They sound like a lot of fun.

    Jean Pierre: Exactly! And that's just what this book does.

    Carl: The cover is a bit odd, isn't it? But yeah, this is definitely a book I think you'd enjoy.


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