I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Dracula - Bram Stoker's Gothic thriller recounting the exploits of an aristocratic vampire - has transfixed and haunted generations of reader. Perhaps the most seductive villain in Western literature, bloodthirsty Count Dracula has inspired countless movies, books, and plays. Few of these, however, have been fully faithful to Stoker's original best-selling novel of mystery and horror, love and death, sin and redemption.
Written in the form of letters, diary entries, and news bits, Dracula chronicles the vampire's journey from his Transylvanian castle to the nighttime streets of London. There, he searches for the blood he needs to stay alive - the blood of strong men and beautiful women - while his enemies plot to rid the world of his frightful power. The now-famous cast of characters includes the English solicitor Jonathan Harker; his fiancee, the enchanting Mina Murray; and Van Helsing, the mysterious Dutch doctor and expert vampire killer.
This is where the vampire trend got its beginnings—Stoker is responsible for the plethora of vampiric fiction that we see today. He uses the folklore and old stories to set the parameters that constrain today’s fictional monsters. Because of him, we know that vampires hate garlic, crosses, holy water and communion wafers. We know that they must have caskets to rest in during the day, must have boxes of their native earth close at hand, cannot see themselves in mirrors and can transform into wolves or bats. Plus, they cannot enter a house until invited.
This book, which was originally considered a cheesy horror novel and never expected to amount to anything, has become a classic in the genre, a blueprint for things to come. And how far we have come! Dracula was horrid, evil and dreadful to look at. How different from today’s vampire characters, who preen in front of mirrors, dress decadently, seduce humans rather than deceiving them, and, occasionally, sparkle. What is it about the Undead that attracts us so greatly?
I speculate that it is our youth-loving culture that makes the un-aging Undead so attractive to modern audiences. In the Victorian Dracula, Val Helsing is respected because of his age and experience—when things start to go south, Dr. Seward immediately summons him, pitting the master of science against the master of evil. If Stoker were writing this today, I imagine that it would be a young scientist (whose research was cutting edge) who would get the call.
I think that I have said before that I love books written in diary and/or letter format, perhaps because I am an inveterate journal writer myself. This was a re-read—-I first perused it decades ago and I had completely forgotten the last half of the book and enjoyed reacquainting myself with the story. I was left with one question niggling at me from early in the book—-how did Jonathan Harker escape from Dracula’s securely-locked castle? It seemed to me that he should have been more traumatized than he was by the experience and that he should have been in peril of becoming a vampire after his encounter with the three vampire women in that castle. So there are a few loose ends, threads left dangling from the tapestry.
I also found that Lucy was awfully easily forgotten by the three men who had all requested her hand in marriage! It seemed that within a very short time, they were all pledged platonically to Mina Harker. Very interesting to see the brainy Mina surviving while the beautiful, flighty Lucy meets a grisly end. Stoker’s comment on women, perhaps?
An excellent book for the Halloween season!