Varney the Vampyre, or the Feast of Blood, is everyone’s favorite example of a Penny Dreadful: a horror novel that goes on for the length of a Bible because the author is paid by the word and doesn’t care if it all adds up when it’s put into one volume (you know, kinda like George Lucas). I mentioned this when I compared novels to TV Shows.
TV Shows, on the other hand, are episodic. An Episode is a self-contained story that takes place within a larger context. Each successive episode reveals more about the characters, because the pressure of writing demands it. Even a TV show that intends to repeat a situation ad infinitum – a “situation comedy”, for example – finds that in cannot. Each episode adds to the character.
In times past, this growth was largely incidental, a process of creating new scenarios for the characters each week. This had more in common with the old penny dreadfuls, in which new chapters were published each week, and writers paid by the word, increasing the incentive to drag out the story and add new characters. TV Shows are kept on the air until their audience starts to leave, then they are given a hurried ending that most people find unsatisfying. See everything I’ve written about How I Met Your Mother for further elucidation.“Movies are Short Stories, TV Shows are Novels” Content Blues
But despite knowing the novel in a meme kind of way, I’d never actually read it. Maybe part of the first chapter, found online. And frankly, I’d never thought I’d bother. That is, until I read this review of it by Nocturnal Revelries:
I haven’t posted much in the last month because I have been spending my time slogging through this immensely long book. At 1166 pages of very small print, this is undoubtedly the longest novel I have ever read. ‘Novel’ however, maybe isn’t quite the right word to describe this tome; it’s a series of different stories about the eponymous hero that were originally serialised in pamphlet form over the course of several years. Think of it like this: if Stoker’s Dracula can be turned into 2 hour movie, Varney would take a 5 season TV show to do it justice. Just as the book is long, this review is fairly hefty too, so pour yourself a cup of blood before you sit down to read it. If you haven’t read the book, you might want to skip over the sections in red. I say this not because those sections contain devastating spoilers (they don’t), but because they deal with issues that are so perplexing that they may scare you away from ever reading the book.“A Feast of Blood – Varney the Vampyre” – Nocturnal Revelries
I love to encounter agreement! But he needn’t have worried; the sections in red and the issues thereunto pertaining not only didn’t dissuade me, these narrative errors actually made me want to read the book more. And not just in an ironic, so-bad-it’s-good way. I think that those kind of confusions actually fit best what horror is trying to accomplish, albiet accidentally.
If Lovecraft taught us nothing else, he taught us that being helpless before the unknown, the unknowable, is the source of fear. Thus, the best stories are where the monster isn’t fully explained, fully delineated. This is why Friday the 13th and other slasher series get more tired as they go on; the monster becomes more known, more discovered, with each iteration. Eventually it devolves into a cartoon.
Hence, there’s actually some promise to VtV‘s losing of scenes and characters: sometimes things are unexplained, just fade away. I know this is unintended, but it can still work. It’s giving me ideas. Looking into the first chapter, the one I half-read long ago, and the author (whoever he is, there’s a mystery as to whom the authorship fully belongs to) knows exactly what he’s doing with regard to setting a scene in which horror can occur, and he’s just describing a storm breaking in the night.
It was as if some giant had blown upon some toy town, and scattered many of the buildings before the hot blast of his terrific breath; for as suddenly as that blast of wind had come did it cease, and all was as still and calm as before.
Sleepers awakened, and thought that what they had heard must be the confused chimera of a dream. They trembled and turned to sleep again.Varney The Vampire, Chapter 1
A bit corkscrew, a bit melodramatic, but it gets the mood right. On we bloodily stagger.