Good evening, Blucher!
Apologies for my absence of late, I have had a number of things to deal with; fortunately I’ve got a lot of draft posts to complete and post so anticipate a lot of activity in the coming days, starting with this Dracula review……you know what, this font is really hard to read so I’m going to find something a bit more legible.
By the way, as ever I speak quite candidly of the events in the story. If you don’t want to know the ending, then enjoy my Twilight rant instead.
Vampires are a concept almost as old as the tired clichés in romantic literature that authors like Stephenie Meyer trot out regularly, so it’s hard to really know how one learns about them, though I suspect my generation’s first exposure to vampires may be here. Though the folklore has been around for centuries and there have been several vampire novels that predate, Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ stands as the best known and, by many, thought to be the original vampire story. As the modern exposure to vampires comes in the form of pre-teen novels like the ‘Twilight’ series and “gritty” American TV Dramas like ‘True Blood’, it’ll be hard to write this review without making some comparisons; but this is not a rant about how much I despise Twilight, I’ve already done that.
I feel, increasingly, like scary movies have spoilt me in what I expect from the horror genre, as I went into reading Dracula, I anticipated a continuous narrative of one horrific event trapped in Castle Dracula, a la ‘House of Wax’, which would serve a few jumps and a bit of gore but nothing genuinely chilling. I was quite wrong. The narrative of ‘Dracula’ is a collection of journal entries from the main protagonists and occasional newspaper clippings over several months. The titular Count Dracula is, in actuality, seldom seen past the first act, and so he becomes much more of a feared presence which lends the story a far more eerie and paranoid element; it’s a mark of good horror to invoke true fear rather than just the shock-factor of a bit of blood and human dismemberment.
A theme throughout the novel is skepticism, which I found quite engaging, personified through Dr. Seward’s reluctance to accept what has happened to Lucy (a female character whose infection by Count Dracula and eventual un-dead death serve to exemplify the vampire effect and provoke three of the main characters, all of whom were in love with Lucy, to action against this threat) as something unknown to modern science. Through the open-minded Van Helsing, Stoker delivers a kind of “treatise to the skeptic” on following evidence where it leads, even if the conclusion that is drawn goes against what one knows to be true. It’s not a criticism of science, it’s simply an imploration to scientists of the day to accept what evidence shows even if the conclusion that can be logically drawn from it contradicts known understanding; though this message’s significance today is debatable.
I had some gripes with ‘Dracula’, in particular that the latter 100 pages detail the preparations of the group to hunt Count Dracula down and then the actual travels of them as they head towards the Castle, hot on the heels of the now fleeing (yes, fleeing) Count. After a while the whole thing began to feel a bit ‘Scooby Doo’, all it needed was a detailed journal entry from Lord Godalming describing how they chased The Count through a hallway of doors that kept leading back on the same hallway and a talking dog. The ending is pretty disappointing and, though Stoker builds tension sensationally by describing the closing in on the Count on all sides whilst the sun is seconds from setting (at which point Dracula revives), there is little payout from this tension. There is a fight (of sorts) with a group of gypsies who are protecting the box in which Dracula lies “dead” during daylight, but they don’t really feel like much of a threat. They do, during the fight, manage to kill Quincey Morris, one of the protagonists, but largely Morris was an uninfluential character, who has such a swift death with so little emotive impact that I can’t help feeling that the character was written in as an afterthought whose only narrative purpose was to die. The death of Count Dracula is underwhelming, the demise of the titular character around whom the entire novel has centred feels like it should be somewhat more ceremonious, but details on the vampire affliction make this inconvenient. I suppose one of the biggest drawbacks of having a character who is completely incapacitated and vulnerable for half the time (during the day), and then near-invincible the next (the night), is that he can only be defeated in the vulnerable state which, if he’s unable to put up any resistance like Count Dracula, makes for a weak ending.
The passiveness of Dracula at his death is an interesting characterisation choice and one that is probably significant, were I more learned in the art of analysing literature I may notice it. But to me it seems to be at odds with his portrayal and indeed description throughout as a powerful, cunning creature who has survived centures, yet is no match for an old man and a knife. Perhaps Stoker intended the great fear and impression of power to feed the theme of paranoia throughout, as it turns out that for all the fear that the protagonists regard him with, he fails to live up to it when someone dares to challenge him regardless of reputation, as they do. Ooo, I’m analysing … fun.
There are, as you’d expect from a book more than a century old and still well-known, plenty of film versions, though the first was a massive departure from the original story as Stoker’s widow refused the copyrights. The best-known adaptation has Christopher Lee as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing as Professor Van Helsing and was made in 1958; I haven’t yet seen it but I expect it’ll be hard to watch it without wondering how Van Helsing survived the destruction of the Death Star.