Postmortem: Dracula

Get it? Dracula postmortem? Oh ho ho!

Ahem.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is, of course, the quintessential vampire story, the grandaddy that spawned a genre still alive and kicking today. Stoker’s novel, published in 1897, didn’t invent the idea of the vampire – that was a much older myth – but it became the defining portrait of the creature for generations to come.

Reading it in 2012, therefore, is interesting for several reasons.

First, because it strips away a century of accumulated embellishment and returns you to the core tale. Most of the popular image of Dracula (tall, aristocratic, pale and creepy, East European accent) is accurate, but there are odd disparities. For instance: he has a mustache. This is so at odds with our modern perception that it isn’t even included on the cover, but it’s right there in the text. Dracula also has a host of supernatural abilities, including the ability to turn into a wolf or a large dog – which, today, would be more associated with werewolves, who are considered vampires’ enemies.

It’s interesting, too, because the novel presupposes a reader who no longer exists today: somebody who’s never heard of the Count. It’s hard to keep from laughing throughout the novel’s first fifty pages, as Jonathan Harker keeps thinking there’s something not quite right about this charming Count Dracula fellow. He lives alone in a castle, he only comes out at night, never eats, doesn’t have a reflection, is obsessed with blood…what could it be?

Putting aside the book’s status as a cultural icon, the novel itself holds up quite well even after a hundred years. It’s told in the form of diary entries, letters, telegrams, and newspaper clippings, which lends an air of verisimilitude to the work of fantasy. The first part – with Jonathan Harker traveling to Castle Dracula in Transylvania as the Count’s guest – is excellent, full of shadow and portent. Wolves – which the Count calls “the children of the night” – howl outside, and Harker becomes increasingly frantic as he realizes he’s trapped.

Dracula then travels to London, where the supply of blood is more plentiful. Here we acquire an ensemble cast of characters: Mina, Jonathan’s girlfriend; Lucy, Dracula’s first English victim; a handful of other, largely interchangeable, dudes who are all in love with Lucy; and of course, Professor Abraham Van Helsing, the only other character in the book that anyone remembers.

The London section of the book is also pretty good, with suspicions gradually increasing as nocturnal hijinx accumulate. Eventually, Van Helsing convinces everyone that Dracula’s gotta go, and the whole group works together to hunt him down. They eventually drive him back to Transylvania, where they finally (spoiler alert) kill him.

This final section of the book, which spans over a hundred pages, is also the weakest. The mystery is gone, replaced with the fairly complex mechanics of supernatural combat. Dracula himself spends most of his time not only offstage, but asleep in a box that other people are carting around for him. So, basically, they’re hunting a box. The climactic final scene? They open the box, find Dracula still comatose, and stab him. There’s a little more drama than that, but not much.

Still, a very solid read overall. For a book that’s over 400 pages, I tore through it pretty quick. Recommended to anyone who likes vampires or Victorian angst.

Or boxes.

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7 responses to “Postmortem: Dracula

  1. It’s still one of my all time favorite novels. I just think that no one else has been able to truly capture the creepiness that Bram stoker has in Dracula including the famous Anne rice’s interview with a vampire. It’s just classic creepy. Love it.

  2. One of Orson Welles’ many unrealized projects was that he wanted to make a movie of Dracula. Apparently the movies were based on a play (which was based on the book) and he wanted to go back to the original book, which he thought was much more powerful. He wanted to use the different narrators that the book uses — in essence an epistolary movie. That would have been interesting.

    I agree about the ending, by the way. Coppola followed the ending fairly closely, but then he added a finale where the Count gets out of the box before finally being destroyed.

    • Would you believe I’ve never seen any of the Dracula movies? (Well, aside from the Mel Brooks one, which hardly counts.) The Coppola version sounds intriguing. I also want to see the older ones, like the Bela Lugosi one and the original Nosferatu.
      Unfortunately, I’ve been biased against Orson Welles ever since Citizen Kane bored me to tears. An epistolary movie, though, is a cool idea.

      • Well, I’m a Welles fanatic (I’ve seen all of his movies — and in theaters, not just on video/DVD — and reviewed them on my blog), so maybe we’d better stay away from that topic. :-0 (If you ever want to try another one, though, I recommend Touch of Evil. It is, IMHO, his best film.)

        Coppola’s movie is interesting, but the casting is peculiar and the actors seem to be in different movies. The sequences at the beginning (in Dracula’s castle) are really good, though, depending on your tolerance for Keanu Reeves.

        My favorite vampire movie of recent years (and maybe ever) is the Swedish film Let the Right One In, which is great. Nothing to do with Dracula, but highly recommended.

      • I saw Let the Right One In a year or two ago, and then later, the American remake Let Me In. Loved them both. It was cool to discover that the bit about vampires needing to be invited in goes all the way back to Dracula.

        My tolerance for Keanu Reeves is astonishingly high. I’m one of the five people in the world who enjoyed Matrix Reloaded, Matrix Revolutions, and even Constantine. 🙂

      • I liked Let the Right One In so much that I was prepared to disdain the remake, but then I saw it anyway because Chloe Moretz was in it. I thought she was amazing in Kick-Ass, and she was really good in Let Me In, too.

        I’m afraid I’m with the majority on Matrix 2&3, but, hey, how about the first one? I’ve used that more than once as a textbook example of how to start a story, how to hook and audience, and how to reveal and conceal information.

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