Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mason Crest's Monster Mash

I've been somewhat intrigued by Mason Crest's "The Making of a Monster: Vampires & Werewolves" series. No, not from reading it, but the fact that it actually exists.

The non-fiction vampire genre is awash with books that give fairly broad coverage, often rehashing the same kinda stuff, time and time again. So, when I come across a book that's devoted to a specific aspect of vampire lore, let's say my eyes light up. In this case, we're looking at a whole series worth! Let's take a look at the titles:
Ancient Werewolves and Vampires: The Roots of the Teeth
by Adelaide Bennett

Dracula and Beyond: Famous Vampires & Werewolves in Literature and Film
by Shaina C. Indovino

Fighting the Fangs: A Guide to Vampires and Werewolves
by Nicholas Martin

Global Legends and Lore: Vampires and Werewolves Around the World
by Adelaide Bennett

Howling at the Moon: Vampires & Werewolves in the New World
by Kim Etingoff

Pop Monsters: The Modern-Day Craze for Vampires and Werewolves
by Emily Sanna

The Psychology of Our Dark Side: Humans' Love Affair with Vampires & Werewolves
by Sheila Stewart

The Science of the Beast: The Facts Behind the Fangs
by Kim Etingoff

Transylvania and Beyond: Vampires & Werewolves in Old Europe
by Shaina C. Indovino
My elation was curbed by a few prominent factors. Firstly, the price. Each one of one of those titles is $22.95 (USD) a piece and they're 64 pages long. Still, you combine 'em together, and you've got a grand total of 576 pages. Not too bad, I 'spose. At least give you the option of buying them all in one hit. But what a hit: $206.55 (USD). I'm guessing the price tag doesn't include shipping.

That might be a bit too much for the average reader, so let's you're gonna be picky about which one you choose. Maybe you might want to read a synopsis, an extract or review. Here's what you get instead:

Yep, sweet bugger-all. Unless, of course, you like large cover views (couldn't fit the whole page in the screencap, but you'll see what I mean). Not very helpful, eh?

So, ok, they're pretty specific. And 64 pages isn't too bad for decent coverage of such specific subjects. Now we come to the next stumbling block: their target audience.
As one of our highly valued customers, we want you to know how dedicated we are to providing you with the most unique upper elementary and young adult quality books available within the school and library marketplace.
If experience has taught me anything, you're not gonna find much of scholarly value in a series of books written for kids. I don't envision these things laced with footnotes and thorough bibliographies. But hey, I could be wrong.

Maybe I'm being harsh on them. Like I said, I haven't read a single volume. I'm not even in their target "range". Also, seeing as they're a speciality publisher, the price is gonna be high. They'll probably drop down in price, soon enough. And perhaps having seven different contributors might provide a fresh spin on the genre.

But $22.95 per 64 page book? My expectations would be pretty damn high for that. Don't see why they couldn't've just tacked a few of 'em together and halved the series. Probably lower the cover prices, too.

Plus, it doesn't help that I had to outsource info for a more detailed description of their contents. During those forays, I came across this by Mike, who asked a pertinent (if not slightly naive) question:
I’m not a huge reader, but I must say that the mixture of pop culture, werewolves and vampires actually has me a bit intrigued in reading this series. But the real question is, will our sparkley vampires and shape-shifting Quilieutes make the cut? Or are these books simply piggybacking off of the success of recent phenomenon’s like Twilight?
I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that they are "cashing-in" on Twilight's success. Firstly, there's their publication date (2010). There's also the fact that they deal with vampires and werewolves (although, hardly unique to Twilight, doesn't seem to coincidental in context) and there's also this, from a page that he links to in his own blog entry:
“This is an exciting project to be a part of because these books tap into a craze that has taken hold of today’s youth,” said Ellyn Sanna, author of one of the books in this series.
Hmm, I wonder which craze she could be talking about. But will Mike's beloved Twilight denizens get a look-in? Being overly presumptuous, I'd say...yes. Also, I don't think there's anything wrong with cashing-in on the vampire interest spawned by her series' success. Hell, it's nothing new. Gabriel Ronay makes the following observation on the era following the Arnold Paole case, in The Dracula Myth (London: W. H. Allen, 1972):
Indeed, the number of learned treatises published in Germany between 1728 and 1732 is staggering, and indicative of the wide European interest in the Hungarian vampire epidemic. In 1732 alone, at least six major works appeared in Leipzig, Jena and Nuremberg, minutely analysing the metaphysical and theological aspects of vampirism (19-20).
And keep in mind, this was long before radio, T.V., movies, the internet and Edward Cullen. Wanna know how significant that case was to the popular audience? It gave us the word, vampire! Shortly after, the metaphorical applications of the vampire "model" were discussed. This would be integral for developing vampire fiction.

So, yeah, it was a pretty big deal. And guess what? If it hadn't been for that explosion of vampire interest back then, with all those scholars and writers jumping on board, would Meyer's vampire series even be in existence at all? Something to think about.

So, no, there's nothing wrong with "piggybacking off of the success of recent phenomenon’s". But, like anything, it's how you use it that counts. Cash-ins are a double-edged sword. Firstly, they can invigorate a genre. Stay in the same mould, but avoid aping their inspiration too closely, for fear of plagiarism, etc. On the flip-side, they can doom it to repetition when the same constructs are repeated over and over again.

Right now, there's ample opportunity to infuse something fresh into vampire studies. Strike while the iron's still hot! But that's also the kicker: how many authors will actually take advantage of this opportunity? How many scholars will stand up with something new to say? Are we doomed to even more pop culture rehashes?

In the end, it's a numbers game, really. The more non-fiction books published in the wake of Meyer's success, the more likely that at least some of them are gonna pretty damn good. Again, I'll give Meyer (unintentional) credit for that. On the flip-side, we could have too many vampire books out there. Flooding the market. So, a balance should (ideally) be struck. Of course, that's not what's gonna happen.

If history's taught us anything, the cycle repeats over and over again with different levels of intensity. As popular as the Twilight saga is, the vampire's captured popular attention many times before. Remember Buffy (the TV series)? How about Bram Stoker's Dracula (the film)? The Lost Boys? Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles? Hammer's Dracula series? Universal's? etc., etc. Twilight's gonna evaporate like Harry Potter. Count on it. And eventually, something'll take its place. That's the way it works. Read Nina Auerbach's Our Vampires, Ourselves (1995). You'll see.

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