January 8, 2015 02:09:48
Posted By Michael Bell
Summers’ book, “The Vampire in Europe” (1929), obviously was a the major source for Wellman’s (and, thus, Pursuivant’s) vampire history and folklore. Both the Ray case (see Food for the Dead, pp. 157ff.) and that of William Rose (see Food for the Dead, pp. xix) appear on page 116 in Summers’ book.
Charles M. Skinner’s book, “Myths and Legends of Our Own Land” (1896), also makes an appearance when Puruivant reads an excerpt of a the vampire legend from Schenectady, New York; “The Green Picture” is the tale that I am certain inspired Lovecraft’s short story “The Shunned House” (see Food for the Dead, pp. 178ff.). Wellman’s description of the book is indisputable evidence that his knowledge of it was firsthand: “Judge Pursuivant sat in his cubicle, his jacket off, studying a worn little brown book. Skinner, said letters on the spine, and Myths and Legends of Our Own Land. He had read the passage so often that he could almost repeat it from memory: ‘To lay this monster he must be taken up and burned; at least his heart must be; and he must be disinterred in the daytime when he is asleep and unaware.’”
Like Wharton in her story “Bewitched,” however, Wellman cannot resist the stake through the breast motif, even though Pursuivant had just reviewed Skinner’s tale and had previously informed his companions that the Ray vampires were dispatched by burning their corpses. Needing to have the venerable occult detective once again employ his even more venerable weapon, Wellman writes: “There were other ways, reflected Pursuivant.” So, when the time for action arrives, Pursuivant “put aside the notes . . . and picked up his spotted walking stick. Clamping the balance of it firmly in his left hand, he twisted the handle with his right and pulled. Out of the hollow shank slid a pale, bright blade, keen and lean and edged on both front and back. Pursuivant permitted himself a smile above it. This was one of his most cherished possessions, this silver weapon said to have been forged a thousand years ago by St Dunstan. Bending, he spelled out the runic writing upon it: Sic pereant omnes inimici tui, Domine. That was the end of the fiercely triumphant song of Deborah in the Book of Judges: So perish all thine enemies, O Lord. Whether the work of St Dunstan or not, the metal was silver, the writing was a warrior’s prayer. Silver and writing had proved their strength against evil in the past.”
Do “silver and writing” prevail this time? To learn the answer, read Wellman’s tale, which owes a great debt to the vampire folklore and history of New England.