Now you may remember that back when I wrote my Vampire Literary Canon post, I had yet to read one of the celebrated classics of vampire literature—Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. An early vampire tale, this novella was written decades before Bram Stoker dreamed up Dracula. And now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it, I can say that in my personal opinion, it’s significantly better than Dracula, too. Perhaps simply because it doesn’t drag on as much. And it also seems somewhat better suited to a modern context. For those of you that don’t normally spend your Sundays reading tomes from two centuries ago, you can still enjoy this charming vampiric classic. In this post, I will review the fun illustrated version I found, which would fit in on your bookshelf right beside your twenty-first century vampire novels. If reading the classics still isn’t your thing, stay tuned next week for my post on the modernized Carmilla webseries!
StarWarp Concepts’s illustrated Carmilla
A few weeks ago, I spoke of meeting this goth-friendly publishing company at the Brooklyn Book Festival. StarWarp Concepts publishes many original sci-fi/fantasy novels and comics, but they have also started a line of illustrated classics. Their version of Carmilla caught my eye at the festival. With a cover that looks like it belongs on the paranormal romance shelf in a bookstore and half a dozen illustrations provided by Eliseu Gouveia—the same artist who does many of their comics, including The Saga of Pandora Zweiback—this edition stands a good chance of tempting some younger readers to pick up this classic vampire tale. The book contains the full original text written by Le Fanu with only a handful of footnotes to explain unfamiliar words or allusions—not enough to distract, as the story is simple enough to understand without extensive commentary. Already under a hundred pages and broken up into easily digestible chapters, Gouveia’s illustrations simply add to the sense of approachableness in this little novella. I wish I’d picked this book up in seventh grade instead of slogging through Dracula.
For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, Carmilla is told from the perspective of a 19 year old girl named Laura. Lonely and isolated in her Styrian palace, Laura is delighted when another young woman mysteriously shows up and is entrusted to her father’s care. Carmilla is beautiful and entrancing and seems equally enamored with her new hostess as Laura is with her, if not more so. But strange happenings begin soon after her arrival: a disconcerting sickness seems to be sweeping the surrounding village and Laura begins experiencing frightening nightly visions and exhibiting strange symptoms. Eventually another visitor arrives who has disturbing news about Carmilla…
Also included in this particular edition is a bonus short story by Le Fanu, “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter”—a story of a young artist’s apprentice who witnesses a mysterious but wealthy stranger steal the hand of his beloved. It soon becomes clear that the stranger is no ordinary human, but by then it is too late to save the young woman.
As one of the earliest published vampire stories, Carmilla had a huge influence on the genre. Most notably, it started the trend of strong lesbian overtones in the depiction of female vampires. Carmilla was also one of Bram Stoker’s main sources of inspiration when writing, Dracula. It established Central Europe as the heartland of vampires, though Stoker ultimately popularized the country of Transylvania, despite initially setting his story in Carmilla‘s Styria in early drafts. Carmilla also provides early suggestions of the sympathetic vampire trope. Overall, this work is a classic and is worth being read/viewed in any form, though this illustrated edition was especially delightful.
Gouveia’s simple black and white illustrations serve to enhance several of the most climactic scenes in the book. While some of the images would hardly seem out of place in the original 19th century edition, others more obviously betray Gouveia’s comic book background. The text is also enhanced by adorable little bat icons used to break up sections within the chapters. Overall, while I usually prefer to read academic versions of my favorite texts, this edition of Carmilla won me over with both its simplicity and its pleasing aesthetics.
If you’re interested in checking out this version of Carmilla for yourself, you can find it online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Books-A-Million–or buy it straight from the StarWarp Concepts Website! At just over $10, it would also make a great gift for any young readers you may know. The holidays are always a great opportunity for easing youngsters into reading the classics!
And in case you haven’t had enough Carmilla yet, don’t forget that next week I will be reviewing the amazing Carmilla youtube series! Until then, stay morbid!