Mandatory Reading: The Greatest Vampire Stories of All Time

2. I Am Legend


What’s really interesting about Richard Matheson’s post-apocalyptic undead masterpiece is that it isn’t that influential in the vampire genre. But what it did do is inspire the zombie genre as we know it today. George R. Romero has outright stated that this was the book that gave him the concept that became Night of the Living Dead, which has since fueled and inspired….pretty much the entire current zombie-based pop culture overdose.

Another interesting aspect of I Am Legend is the way it incorporates science into the narrative, exploring why it is vampires are how they are while discarding impractical superstition along the way. In this version, vampirism is a disease that the protagonist intends to cure and his observations and studies include everything from whether a vampire can cross running water to the significance of the cross in warding them off. It’s still refreshing today and must have been earth-shattering back then.

If there’s one thing Matheson does consistently better than anybody else, it’s irony. His trademark is devastatingly dark and cynical endings where the protagonists reap what they’ve (often unexpectedly) sewn over the course of the story, or otherwise end up totally screwed by some unforeseen horrible twist of fate. The ending/title line of I Am Legend is the best example of that, not only among Matheson’s work, but arguably in all of fiction. Accept no imitations.

1.     Dracula


Obviously, this is the big one. A novel so ubiquitous that it appears nobody has even bothered attempting to count the number of copies sold. But rest assured it’s a lot. It’s been adapted over and over and over again in film, television, comics, and onstage and the character himself has invaded every single aspect of our popular culture beyond almost any other fictional concoction. No matter where you go or what you do, there is no getting away from Dracula.

The resurgence of vampire chic over the past couple of decades has led to a lot of semi-literate criticisms of this Victorian relic. Check the many one star reviews on Amazon for details and to experience brilliant critically analytical opinions like “OMG I cant believe i actually finished this book. It is a miracle that this book ever started the vampire crazzzzzzze…”

What makes Dracula such an amazing example of horror is its sheer originality. Yeah, I know I said Le Fanu did some of it before Stoker, but this particular story works on so many levels it almost has no top or bottom. From the xenophobic underpinnings of a foreign immigrant seducing the proper ladies and spreading their “disease” to political analogies about the monarchy preying on the people or the spread of corruption to the veiled sexuality and commentaries on love and faith there is an almost unlimited amount of material for philosophical discussion. It kind of puts modern popular literature to shame.

And then there is the actual format. Anyone can write a book from the characters’ point of view or the third person. But to concoct such an amazing story out of journal entries, personal letters, newspaper reports, and the like? Dracula was the literary equivalent of a found footage film in the 1800’s and I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything like it.

And even if you take all of that away from it, it’s still beautifully written and coined tons of quotable lines that permeate horror fiction to this day. Yeah, this book is better than almost all other books, vampires or no vampires. And there’s no possible argument that it isn’t better than what we’re being fed in popular culture today.


And with this I conclude my Vampire Appreciation Month festivities. Now all that’s left is for all of you fine readers to go out and get that candy.  Have a safe and cosplayful Halloween and happy haunting, everyone.

Similar Posts


    1. Who is this upstart author of which you speak? Thanks for the reminder. I obviously need to read that one. It must be pretty great if you’d consider it a better (if less influential) pick than any of the above.

      1. I’ve read all of the above, except Carmilla, which I am going to read this weekend. Thanks for that.

        I would place Fevre Dream after Dracula, but before all the others. I also might swap I am Legend and Salem’s Lot. Have to think about that.

  1. You should try out a book called Sunshine. I don’t know how to summarize it, but the blurb on the front calls it “pretty much perfect.” The guy who says that is Neil Gaiman.

  2. Dracula is really an astonishing piece of work. It’s kind of the “Treasure Island” of vampire stories, in that basically everything that came after was using it as source material.

    It’s also extremely creepy if you can get with it. I remember being pretty surprised at that; I expected the book to be “scary for its time” and what I got was a book that’s pretty much just scary.

    1. One of the things that I find so interesting about it is that – unlike all the other books on the list – Dracula only appears in a handful of pages.

      For anyone who want to get deeper into this book, there are a couple of annotated versions, and both are excellent.

    2. It’s just a great all around piece of literary art, but it’s also like LOTR in that modern readers just can’t get into it and it drives me nuts. If this generation can’t handle Stoker and Tolkien, what’s going to happen to Shakespeare in a few decades?

      I’m looking forward to seeing Dario Argento’s take on the character when it hits Region 1 DVD. I know everyone hates it, but like Stoker there seem to be less and less people who really “get” Argento.

    3. The first four chapters (Jonathan Harker’s Diary) remain some of the most legitimately terrifying I have ever read. I try to reread the whole book every year, but if I can’t make the time I at least read these chapters.

      The great thing is if you don’t mind ending on a note of complete despairing uncertainty, they stand alone quite well, ha ha!

  3. Mmmm, Carmilla. If this were a top 10, I’d definitely include Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls and Nancy A. Collins’s Sunglasses After Dark to round out the beginnings of the modern urban vampire.

    1. I first conceived this as a top 10 list of short stories but it’s been so long for many of them and some I can’t even remember the title of. I decided to play it safe for a change and stick with the absolute classics. Thanks for the recs!

  4. Stephen King has two shorts in “Night Shift” that act as a prequel and epilogue to “Salem’s Lot”.

    “Jerusalem’s Lot” has more a Lovecraftian “Rats in the Walls” atmosphere but “One for the Road” is a straight up whiskey gut shot of vampirism goodness.

    1. I have One for the Road in a vampire short story collection and it’s creepy as all hell. Need to get with Jerusalem’s Lot (and more of King’s collections in general). I love Rats in the Walls so you sure worded that recommendation correctly to get my attention. King also has a sequel of sorts written into his Dark Tower series in books 5 and 6 that cover what happened to Father Callahan after he left town.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.