Choice Hot Topic: Halloween HorroRs

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The Hot Topic feature for October is Halloween Horrors. This selection of reviews from current and past issues of Choice highlights key readings on this important and timely theme. Choice publishes approximately 5,000 reviews of print and electronic resources annually. For more information on the Choice platform of products and services, visit www.choice360.org.

Asma, Stephen T. On monsters: an unnatural history of our worst fears. Oxford, 2009. 351p ISBN 9780195336160, $27.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2010In this enjoyable and edifying book, Asma (Columbia College Chicago) unfurls the long and twisting cultural history of monsters, both imagined and real. But, as readers quickly learn, the book is more than a historical account; it is a map of people’s at once intimate and disowned fears, a map that extends from antiquity to the future. Thus Asma surveys the cultural record and formation of monsters in the ancient period (e.g., the works of Plato, Aristotle, Pliny), through the medieval period (e.g., the Alexander romances and Beowulf), the early modern period through the 19th century (the scientific material of Darwin and Paré), to modernity (with considerations as varied as the Leopold and Loeb trial of 1924 to fictional creatures such as zombies), and finally into the present and beyond with examinations of cyborgs and terrorists. [Click for full review]

Cole, Phillip. The myth of evil: demonizing the enemy. Praeger, 2006. 256p ISBN 0275992160, $49.95.
Reviewed in CHOICEApril 2007

Cole (Middlesex Univ.) has written the best book on evil to date; it deserves a place on the shelves of both academic and public libraries. The author considers the literature on evil from mythology to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including recent philosophical works by S. Neiman (Evil in Modern Thought, 2002) and J. Kekes (Facing Evil, 1990), and old standbys such as H. Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1964). Three major arguments emerge from this extensive review, all of them cogent. One is that the concept of evil is not only a meaningless concept that adds nothing to an understanding of human behavior, but also a dangerous one because it obscures possible understanding of events. [Click for full review]

Dracula’s daughters: the female vampire on film, ed. by Douglas Brode and Leah Deyneka. Scarecrow, 2013. 310p ISBN 9780810892958, $65.00; ISBN 9780810892965 ebook, $64.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2014For their third collaboration as coeditors (after Sex, Politics, and Religion in Star Wars, 2012, and Myth, Media, and Culture in Star Wars, 2012), Brode and Deyeka deconstruct female vampires in cinema. The 16 provocative, scholarly essays explore the historical and literary origins of the female vampire and chronicle her near century-long legacy in film. Individually, the essays provide comprehensive critiques of cinematic portrayals throughout the genre–from Gloria Holden’s reluctant vampire Countess Zeleska in Dracula’s Daughter (1936) to postfeminist-era iterations in such offerings as Let The Right One In (2008) and Twilight (2008)–while also analyzing how prevailing social perceptions of women of the time informed and influenced the making of these films. [Click for full review]

A Fairytale in question: historical interactions between humans and wolves, ed. by Patrick Masius and Jana Sprenger. White Horse Press, 2015. 318p bibl index ISBN 9781874267843, $100.00.
Reviewed in CHOICEAugust 2015

Editors Masius and Sprenger have compiled an extraordinary volume that evaluates archival sources detailing the human relationship to wolves since the Renaissance. The 14 chapters reveal the diversity of injurious and deadly encounters in regions of Europe, North America, and central and southern Asia. The historical record shows that pressures caused by human population growth and land conversion for agriculture often forced wild wolves to exploit the only available prey that remained: humans. [Click for full review]

Gibson, Matthew. Dracula and the Eastern question: British and French vampire narratives of the nineteenth-century Near East. Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 231p ISBN 1403994773, $65.00; ISBN 9781403994776, $65.00.
Reviewed in CHOICEMay 2007

Whereas much recent scholarship on vampire literature has focused on Bram Stoker’s fiction as a reflection of British attitudes about Ireland, Gibson (University of Surrey, UK) argues that authors of major vampire narratives consistently set their works in the Near East to explore the “Eastern question” in light of the changing political landscape in eastern Europe as the Ottoman Empire waned. In the first half of the volume, the author focuses on well-known British texts–John Polidori’s novella “The Vampyre,” J. S. LeFanu’s “Carmilla,” Stoker’s Dracula and The Lady of the Shroud–contextualizing them within specific Victorian political controversies. [Click for full review]

McClelland, Bruce. Slayers and their vampires: a cultural history of killing the dead. Michigan, 2006. 260p ISBN 047209923X, $65.00; ISBN 0472069233 pbk, $19.95; ISBN 9780472099238, $65.00; ISBN 9780472069231 pbk, $19.95.
Reviewed in CHOICEApril 2007

An independent Slavic scholar, McClelland draws on a wealth of meticulous research in this engrossing study of vampires and vampire hunters and slayers. Covering more than a thousand years of history and a broad range of geographical regions, the author traces the beginnings of vampire rituals and folklore back to their Balkan and south Slavic roots, explaining the historical, religious, and cultural contexts from which they originated. He follows the development of these motifs to the present day, considering their reflection as symbols of evil in current literature, film, and popular culture. [Click for full review]

McCloud, Sean. American possessions: fighting demons in the contemporary United States. Oxford, 2015. 175p bibl index afp ISBN 9780190205355, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICENovember 2015

Though by their very nature cultural fads and fancies change continuously, in the US, few new trends seem to stray far from the supernatural—whether angelic or demonic. Even as pollsters declare the decline of institutional religion, belief in God and in the power of prayer has remained strong. Indeed, American film and television industries trade on belief in unseen powers; witness the success of Harry PotterThe Lord of the RingsPirates of the CaribbeanTwilightThe Vampire Diaries, and many others. [Click for full review]

Schutt, Bill. Dark banquet: blood and the curious lives of blood-feeding creatures. Harmony Books, 2008. 325p ISBN 9780307381125, $25.95.
Reviewed in CHOICEApril 2009

Depending on one’s perspective, one of the most fascinating–or revolting–modes of existence can be found among those creatures that have adopted a survival strategy based on the consumption of blood. Relatively common among invertebrates, feeding on blood is a rare and unusual way of life among vertebrates. The book emphasizes a diverse array of outlandish animals, from leeches and bed bugs to vampire bats and vampire catfish. Here, Schutt (biology, C.W. Post College) indulges his own fascination with creatures that subsist on blood as he explores some of the macabre, humorous, literary, historical, and scientific aspects of hematophagy. [Click for full review]

Schutt, Bill. Dark banquet: blood and the curious lives of blood-feeding creatures. Harmony Books, 2008. 325p ISBN 9780307381125, $25.95.
Reviewed in CHOICEApril 2009

Depending on one’s perspective, one of the most fascinating–or revolting–modes of existence can be found among those creatures that have adopted a survival strategy based on the consumption of blood. Relatively common among invertebrates, feeding on blood is a rare and unusual way of life among vertebrates. The book emphasizes a diverse array of outlandish animals, from leeches and bed bugs to vampire bats and vampire catfish. Here, Schutt (biology, C.W. Post College) indulges his own fascination with creatures that subsist on blood as he explores some of the macabre, humorous, literary, historical, and scientific aspects of hematophagy. [Click for full review]

Young, Elizabeth. Black Frankenstein: the making of an American metaphor. New York University, 2008. 308p ISBN 9780814797150, $75.00; ISBN 9780814797167 pbk, $23.00.
Reviewed in CHOICEJanuary 2009

Frankenstein and his monster have infiltrated the American cultural imaginary in myriad ways, from cinematic features by James Whale and Kenneth Branagh to blaxploitation films to art to Franken Berry cereal. Young (Mount Holyoke College) marshals an impressive array of these appearances, including fiction, essays, speeches, and paintings, in order to reveal the racialized construction of the Frankenstein story in US culture. Young’s “black Frankenstein” monster becomes a powerful metaphor for negotiating the racial anxieties of modern America. As the author recounts, the figure appears in both racist and antiracist discourses, exhibiting the powerful mobility of the monster metaphor as well as its popular appeal. [Click for full review]

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