I took this idea from Rick Eaglestone’s blog.
I’ve been trying to remember the books I used to read when I was very young, excluding the British comics I used to get delivered to my house every Wednesday morning. I remember reading a lot as a kid, but I don’t seem to remember the specific books. As I remember more of these books of my childhood, I’ll be posting them here.
One of the most important books of my youth wasn’t Lord of the Rings or Wind in the Willows, it was the Usborne Pocketbook of Vampires, Werewolves and Demons – a kind of kid’s encyclopedia of creatures of the undead in folklore, film and literature.
Title: Supernatural Guides – Vampires, Werewolves and Demons
Author: Lynn Myring
Published: 1979, Usborne Publishing (Reprinted 1990)
I begged my mother to buy this for me in our local W.H. Smiths, probably when I was around 7 or 8 years of age. At the time I was aware of films like Dracula and Nosferatu, having seen photographs in library books and so on, and I desperately wanted this book so I could learn more. I could handle the stately aspects of Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee as the Prince of Darkness, but the classic picture of the decrepit, demonic Nosferatu/Count Orlok leering over Ellen in her bedroom was one of complete horror to me. The mystery of these creatures deepened when one day my mother explained that Dracula spelled backwards was Alucard (the name of a character from the Hammer film Dracula A.D 1972). I’ve no idea why this simple reversal of the name Dracula was so intriguing to me at the time, but it seemed to carry an air of mystery and otherworldliness, which piqued my interest even more, despite my nervous disposition. This was heavy stuff for a nervous kid like myself.
I think it was also around this time that I must have first learned of Vlad Tepes, the historical figure infamous for impaling his enemies and supposedly bathing in their dripping blood. What was so shocking to me at the time was that he was a real person and possibly a real vampire (gasp)! Ultimately, it was this story, mixed with the frightening images of the movie vampires and the many unknown aspects of vampire folklore which kickstarted my obsession with horror.
So, after some cajoling, seven-year-old me proudly carried home his new field guide to the the undead. I had visions of playing with my friends at the end of the street that night – staying out just after dark, hearing a strange noise from the trees, and being able to pull out my new book and quickly identify exactly which undead abomination was terrorising us. Then, when I was safely back at home in my bedroom, I could use the book to devise foolproof ways to defeat any potential vampiric attackers.
But unfortunately what actually happened was that I read the book from cover to cover and subsequently suffered from months of nightmares and sleep paralysis. A few images and stories in the book affected me so deeply that I became absolutely petrified at the thought of these evil monsters existing in the world. Each time I closed my eyes, I would see the images of the vampires, with their gloating, blood-soaked smiles and evil glares, and I just couldn’t sleep. Noises in the street at night time quickly became the violent stomping of werewolves hungry for human blood. Graveyards became places of extreme terror – but at least I knew I simply had to eat the earth from a vampire’s grave to be safe (or so the book instructed me). Through these childhood fears I developed a fear of the dark, which is still with me at times even today.
Eventually, my mother saw that I was not coping well at all and, despite it being a book for children, she confiscated it and I never saw it again. Gradually I was able to forget some of the images and I managed to fall asleep much easier than before – though with a bedside lamp on… to deter vampires, of course. Then a few years ago I found the book on Amazon for a few pounds and thought it was worth getting to look through the pages again for nostalgia’s sake. I’m glad I did – it brought back so many memories of the first time reading that book. Lots of context-dependent memories like being on a family holiday in Blackpool and reading the section on how to “vampire-proof” your house. Thankfully, the images and stories don’t affect me in the same way as they did back then, but it was slightly jarring to once again see some of the things that caused me so many nights of fear and sleeplessness.