A Field Guide to Demons, Vampires, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits

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A Field Guide to Demons, Vampires, Fallen Angels: And Other Subversive Spirits By Carol K. Mack, By Dinah Mack, book reviewImagine, if you will, that one day you are out walking in the Highlands of Scotland, generally minding your own business and bothering no one. As you stroll along a river bank, you suddenly find yourself approached by a handsome black horse, who tries to persuade you to climb on its back and go for ride. The thought of riding such a magnificent beast is tempting, but you think that a horse that can construct a persuasive argument is a suspicious thing, and you decline. The horse, however, is not one to take no for an answer and you start to get worried. What do you do?

Well, hope you have read “A Field Guide to Demons, Vampires, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits” (henceforth the Guide) is a good answer. Anyone who has read the book will recognise this beastie as a demon called a kelpie, and know that it means to drag you underwater and devour you. Fortuitously, the book will not only have enabled you to recognise this demon, but will also have instructed you on how to deal with a kelpie – despite living in rivers they cannot stand to be exposed to still water of any kind, so a quick squirt from your bottle of Highland Spring will soon put paid to the kelpie’s plans of having you for supper.

The Guide is an interesting and slightly unusual text. The copy I read was the newly released, revised edition of a book that has previously been a bestseller (although never having read the original, I am unable to make comparisons). Drawing on the current fascination for all things supernatural – which the authors speculate is due to the need to find something unknown in our information-dense world – this is a reference text for those seeking an introduction to demonology and the lore of demons. The book opens to a short section considering just what demons are and how they came to appear in all cultures, albeit in different guises and with an infinite variety of names. The book is then divided into chapters according to the locations where the demons reside (water, mountains, forest, desert, domicile and psyche), which each chapter describing demons, the lore they are to be found in and “disarming and dispelling techniques” should you ever come across one. The range of demons presented is quite considerable, ranging from the widely known (werewolf, changeling, mermaid, Dracula, etc) through to those less familiar to most readers (such as the liderc and the gwyllion), from the ancient (like the Biblical Lilith) to the more modern (Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr Hyde) and covers a global scale. Interesting, while you might expect creatures from folklore and tradition to be included, the Guide also has some more unexpected inclusions such as Jung’s Shadow that do make you stop and think about what exactly we mean by “a demon”.

“…this is a decent reference text to have on your bookshelf if you are interested in pursuing a greater knowledge of all things paranormal…”

Despite its considerable scale and scope, the Guide stands at only 288 pages long. As the book is standard paperback size, you immediately see that while a lot is covered, it is not a detailed text intended for the expert reader. Each entry is fairly brief, and covers only the basics about each creature and a brief mention of the lore that brings the demon to life. While I liked the simple, straight-to-the-point descriptions – and the disarming techniques were fun to read – I personally would have been interested in reading a bit more of the lore and stories about the demons. Clearly the authors are knowledgeable, but fitting such a vast range of information into such a small space has left these stories feeling a little insubstantial in places, although admittedly the comprehensive bibliography that finishes the Guide off does at least give you many signposts of where to head next for more information.

The writing style of the Guide is authoritative, but leans towards the academic at times. While I am used to reading academic texts (so this didn’t really bother me), some readers may find it a little dry in places. Some entries are accompanying by thumbnail black and white illustrations, but I would have liked to have seen an illustration included for each demon that is presented. While the descriptions are good, a picture tells a thousand words, remember!

Overall, this was a book I enjoyed dipping into; I have not read every entry from cover to cover, but the introduction and afterword discussions were certainly intriguing, and those entries that I did read I generally enjoyed. I also learnt a thing or two from it – I had no idea that our word “nightmare” came from a demon of Norwegian origin called a mare, which was said to torment people in their sleep, for instance. (If you are troubled by nightmares, incidentally, the Guide informs us that hanging a horseshoe over your bed “is a helpful deterrent”). At £7.99 this is a decent reference text to have on your bookshelf if you are interested in pursuing a greater knowledge of all things paranormal, and a good starting point for learning more about this fascinating subject.

A Field Guide to Demons, Vampires, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits” by Carol K Mack and Dinah Mack is published by Profile books – the paperback edition I reviewed was released in October 2010, pp.288.

With thanks to Profile Books for kindly sending this review copy to me.

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Field Guide to Demons, Vampires, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits, A
by Carol K Mack and Dinah Mack

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Written by collingwood21
collingwood21

Collingwood21 is a 32 year old university administrator and ex-pat northerner living down south. Married. Over-educated. Loves books, history, archaeology and writing.

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