Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

Book Review:

Grammar with Gargoyles -- A Review of The Deluxe Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon

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.

Consider:

From a section demonstrating the complement of a verb: "The lamia assaulted a baba in red boots and demanded a cigarette and a scarf."

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 of characters.

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 coach,

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 first place?

 

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:
The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed

Karen Elizabeth Gordon

Knopf Publishing Group

ISBN 0-679-41860-1