Encyclopedia of the Undead by Dr. Bob Curran. Review by Lisa Schussler
Who do those eyes at your window belong to? Is that really just the wind rustling the curtains? Dr. Bob Curran brings us closer to the dark beings that have haunted man for thousands of years. With thorough cultural research, Curran helps us get to know vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and many other monsters.
Don't let the title fool you. The book does not resemble your typical encyclopedia. There are no dry, itemized entries in alphabetical order. There is no need for constant cross-referencing and perpetual page-turning. Rather, each section follows the evolution of various undead inhabitants from their earliest recorded beliefs to the modern versions of creatures we encounter in literature and film. There are chapters dedicated to Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies and Voodoo, Ghouls and the Golem, and The Terrors of H.P. Lovecraft. One might argue that the Lovecraft chapter doesn't seem to fit. However, this section does not discuss his actual works much. Instead, after a brief biography, it focuses on the myths and legends that influenced his tales. The book is nicely completed by an appendix of Miscellaneous Nightmares, in which Curran discusses the lesser known entities of evil from more remote areas. For the more studious there is even an index for specific searches. Although the writing itself is engaging, Ian Daniels' classic black and white illustrations provide a frightening but aesthetic break from reading.
I think this book would satisfy any reader interested in myths and legends, especially the terrifying sort. But it's also a great general reference for those looking to make horror fiction interesting again. If Anne Rice's woeful vampires make you want to shake them and scream at them to get a spine, then read about the deadly shades that frightened the ancient Greeks and Romans. If you get that sickening fuzzy feeling from the Charmed girls because they are just so darn cute, you can find horror in real-life Voodoo practitioners whose dealings with dark forces allowed them to command great influence in their societies. If, like me, you are bored with the typical vampire and werewolf stories that seem to plague the store shelves, then Encyclopedia of the Undead is a great source for ancient and obscure objects of fear.
Lisa Schussler is a medical scientist, long-time reader, and horror fan. She has entered several fiction writing contests and is currently moderator of the Horror Forum on the Bestsellers & Literature online community.