By Shelby Leonard
Dr. John Gordon Melton has studied many religious themes ranging from new and alternative religions to occultism.
Since the early ’90s, however, one nontraditional topic in particular has sparked his interests — vampires.
Although studying vampire literature is simply a hobby for Melton, it’s one that has, for years, provided both an outlet and a research venue for him.
It all began in the early 90’s in Romania with a man named Robert Eighteen-Bisang.
Although Melton had always engaged in vampire movies and novels as a way of escaping from the serious demands of his everyday work, he said traveling, writing and reading vampire novels was just one of the ways he chose to spend his leisure time.
“Up until the early ‘90s it was strictly a hobby,” Melton said.
In the early ’90s, however, it developed into something more serious.
During the time, Melton said he was frequently traveling back and forth from Romania. On one of his trips, Melton met Eighteen-Bisang, a writer and vampire scholar who has one of the world’s largest collections of vampire material.
Melton said he was inspired by his collection of vampire literature and films.
Although somewhat obscure, Eighteen-Bisang spent much time and money to accumulate what is still to this day one of the largest collections of vampire memorabilia.
“I after I met Rob I got real serious about collecting,” Melton said, adding that he and Eighteen-Bisang have co-authored before.
“Seeing his collection made me aware of just how valuable the things I had accumulated were.”
It was then that Melton said he started systematically gathering the materials, novels and films he had amassed over the years.
As a historian and biographer, Melton said he wanted to make sure any information he collected was historically accurate.
As a result, Melton began to research the history of vampires, as well as the study of contemporary vampire-related groups and rites.
In 1978, Melton’s first encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of American Religions, was released.
When Melton’s publishing contract was due for renewal, his publishers called him into Detroit to talk about his next contract. He made a list of 10 topics.
Item 10 was an idea for an encyclopedia of vampires. His publishers jumped on the idea.
Melton’s vampire encyclopedia, “The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead,” was released in 1994.
The book included vampire folklore, the history of vampirism and vampire novels, movies and entertainment.
With its meticulous detail and wealth of folk history, the book is one of his best known.
“The only time I’ve ever seen one of my books in a bookstore was when I was walking around New Orleans at Halloween,” Melton said. “There was my book in the window in a big bookstore, right there on Canal Street.”
Since the release of his first vampire book, Melton has traveled to numerous vampire conferences around the world.
Similar to Comic-Con, at these conferences, fans gather from all over the world for events, parades, costumes and discussions.
Melton said he attended the Count Dracula Society in Dublin, because it happened to coincide with a religion conference in England he was attending. While in Dublin, Melton said he met Elizabeth Miller and Jeannie Youngston.
“In August of 1997, the three of us planned a Dracula centennial conference, in L.A., called Dracula ’97,” Melton said. “It was the biggest of several centennial events that year.”
In 2004 Melton participated in “Therapy and Magic in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and beyond,” a conference “Buffy, the vampire slayer” held in Nashville, Tenn. At the conference Melton was titled as the “Count Dracula Ambassador to the U.S.”
Currently, Melton is also the president of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, of which, Eighteen-Bisang is a member.
In Nashville, Melton put together a session based on Dracula, Buffy and the fact that vampire interest has become such a popular item in pop culture today.
“I have pop culture stuff for every president since Nixon being portrayed as a vampire,” Melton said. “The permeation in our culture is just phenomenal.”
Melton said he is currently writing an article that incorporates this growing obsession in pop culture. There is a powerful metaphor that’s entered into the culture, which can be separated into two groups of people, Melton said.
“In the big group you have the millions of fans of vampire books and movies,” Melton said. “Then you have the smaller group of people who want to be vampires or people who claim they are vampires and or people who have adopted a vampire lifestyle. They work at night. They sleep in coffins. They have fangs implanted in their mouth.”
From fans to fangs, Melton has studied the historical transformation of vampires. In the 1400s the notion of vampires was taboo. Today, vampires are romanticized to the extent that people devote their life to the notion.
“But for me, this is something I do at the end of the day or on the weekends, after I spent the major part of my time doing my studies on China, African-Americans, Texas religious history, etc.,” Melton said.