with Gargoyles -- A Review of The Deluxe Transitive Vampire by Karen
By Sara Watson Arthurs
Copyright © 2007 by Sara Watson Arthurs, All Rights Reserved
Every writer has heard it a hundred times: spelling and grammar matter.
We all know we should use good grammar, and that we need to double-check
when we aren't sure.
The problem is that learning grammar is seldom fun. If you've studied a
foreign language in school, you no doubt remember dry grammar books
listing verb conjugations and tenses. It can get tedious.
The Deluxe Transitive Vampire
by Karen Elizabeth Gordon takes a different approach. The full title --
The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for
the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed -- lets you know what's in
store. This isn't like most grammar books.
Look at the table of contents and you'll find it has much in common with
traditional grammar books. There's a chapter on each part of speech,
from nouns to adjectives and adverbs. Gordon walks the reader through
basic sentence structure, looking at increasingly complex sentences as
the book progresses.
What makes the book different is her examples. Gordon uses vampires,
bats, and gargoyles as the subjects of her creative sentences.
From a section demonstrating the complement of a verb: "The lamia
assaulted a baba in red boots and demanded a cigarette and
From a lesson on auxiliary verbs: "The rats, having heisted the
Brie, went in search of a worthy baguette."
From a page on the possessive case: "Our mozzarella comes from
the most contented or contentious buffaloes."
From Gordon's explanation of the passive voice: "The bat suspended from
Loona's hair was repulsed by her Nuit Blanche perfume."
Learning grammar Gordon's way is genuinely entertaining. Reading The
Deluxe Transitive Vampire is like immersing oneself in a gothic
story, a world where vampires, lamias, and bats are at play. As the
sentences grow more complex, so too do the adventures of Gordon's cast
As if that wasn't enough, the illustrations add more delight to the
study of grammar. Sketches of bats and gargoyles adorn the pages of the
book. Eighteen sources are given credit for the illustrations. They're
fun and just a little bit spooky, adding the right gothic touch to the
pages. Turning the page to find one of these creatures peeking out at
you makes the study of grammar a lot more fun.
The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, published in 1993, is a revised
edition of The Transitive Vampire, published in 1984. I've never
seen the original version, but I can tell you that the revised edition
is truly deluxe. Gordon examines the stories behind her sample
sentences, as in the following excerpt from the chapter on phrases:
"If I say,
The rats in drag, on the lam, struggled with their luggage into the
I'm giving or hinting at an enormous amount of information in these
small, oh-by-the-way, throwaway words. The essential subject and
predicate of the sentence amount to: "The rats struggled." But look at
the drama going on in the four prepositional phrases! There a whole
story unwinds: that the rats are fugitives (meaning someone's on to
them), dressed in women's clothes (which they acquired, it seems, along
the way -- by theft, or barter, or exchange at gunpoint), and are taking
their stuff with them in an antiquated vehicle (and where that
came into the picture could be quite a story in itself)."
In such a way Gordon illustrates the power of words, the way each
individual noun or verb can illustrate the story behind a situation. She
clearly has a love not only for grammar, but also for language itself.
Through her tales of bats and gargoyles, lamias and vampires, the reader
learns to savor the precise choosing of the right words in the right
order. And really, isn't that one of the joys of being a writer in the
The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:
The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the
Karen Elizabeth Gordon
Knopf Publishing Group