“Dracula” by Bram Stoker is a well-regarded classic of horror literature. I’ve read this book about four times, now. The first three times through (years ago) I liked it, because I liked vampires and was very interested in the part this book played in the legends that have grown up around them. I walked away from the book thinking it was okay, but kind of tame by modern standards as a piece of horror fiction. This last time through, however, my view of this book has changed. It is a masterpiece.
I think in my younger years, I was too much enamored by sword fights and spell battles, the typical fodder of fantasy fiction. This book doesn’t really have much of that. It is all about a developing plot and building suspense. It is one part mystery, one part horror, not so much a fantasy action book. The prose throughout, although somewhat dated—it was written in 1897—is still remarkable and fluid. It’s a little difficult adjusting to the diary narrative, but once you do so, it is a remarkable read. Having read the story before, I pretty much knew what was going to happen. Even so, I enjoyed pretty much the whole thing. I picked up on a number of different aspects of the story that I don’t remember noting before (of course, it has been several years).
I’ve read here and there that this book is really all about sexual repression or what-have-you. I totally didn’t get that. The only elements that might indicate that, that I picked up on, where as follows: 1) the penetration of flesh by vampire teeth, which is true of all vampire stories. 2) Lucy Westenra kind of idly comments in one of her letters that she kind of wished she could marry three different men because she didn’t want to break any of their hearts. 3) Later in the story, a tacit connection is made between love and blood transfusions and Lucy winds up getting transfusions from four different men in an attempt to save her. Taking all these things together, I think you can interpret the work as promoting polygamy if you want to go that way, but I hardly think it is definitive. There is no connection whatsoever between romance and blood transfusions; maybe at the time it was written, it was thought that there was, but really? You’re trying to save a woman’s life. What else would you do? I’ve also read that the work promotes homosexuality. Throughout the work the male characters are described as “manly men” or something along that route by the other male characters (and the female characters). It’s kind of odd from a modern perspective, but I think that was largely the manner of speaking of the time period. It’s another: if you want to go that route, I think you can, but I, personally, did not think that that was the point Bram Stoker was trying to get across. I just thought it was a mannerism of the time period.
Basically, I’m kind of the opinion that all these literary critics and analysts go looking for things in the books they read, and whether the author intended the work in that way or not, the critics interpret it as they see fit. The critics also enjoy the “shock-value” of their interpretations of classical works. Once upon a time, our society would have been “shocked” by polygamous and homosexual themes being present in Dracula. That’s no longer true today, but by now, it’s become accepted that that is what Dracula is all about. Heaven forbid someone just write a cool story.
Anyway, the book’s great, but I think it was intended for a more mature audience. I don’t think a young adult audience would fully “get” it. I know I didn’t when I first read it. I’m not going to review the plot because I think most people know it already. The Francis Ford Coppola movie from a few years back followed the book pretty closely, although it kind of went with the over-sexualized theme and changed some of the characters around to suit that end. Whatever. If you don’t know the story, and you can put up with some of the older-style language (it’s certainly not as bad as say “Canterbury Tales,” but every once in a while the language may stump you), get the book and read it. It’s well worth it.
Before I part, I’ll list the cast of characters: Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker, Lord Arthur Godalming, Quincey Morris, Dr. John Seward, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, Lucy Westenra, and, of course, the esteemed, renowned, and rapacious Count Dracula. There’s also three other unnamed vampire chics, and a host of minor characters spread throughout.
Anyway, I’ll give this book four and a half out of five stars.
This post originally appeared on Goodreads on 10/15/12.
“Drasmyr” was the first novel I ever wrote. It tells the story of a traditional gothic vampire in a fantasy world of wizards and warriors. It’s kind of like Dracula set in Middle-Earth. I wrote it stream-of-consciousness about seventeen, or so, years ago. Since then, it’s been edited and re-edited, and finally self-published. The events of the entire novel take place over roughly a week’s worth of time. Most novels span months and years of time telling the story of a character and how he or she changes throughout. Not mine. Just a week. The reason it occurs over such a short time period is because it was written stream-of-consciousness without detailed plotting beforehand. Things just ran together, and events built from one to the next. The end result was fine, but if I want to expand it into something of an epic fantasy tale (which I do), I’ll have to expand the timeline a bit. Most epics don’t take place over the course of a month.
I’m currently working on the follow-up novel, “The Children of Lubrochius.” For this one, I’ve expanded the timeline to a whole season or so, about three months. At least, that’s the plan. But managing the timelines of the various characters and their activities is difficult. As I did not plot the whole thing out in detail before I wrote it (I used the hybrid plotting/pantsing approach), I’ve been running into some difficulties of late and they are mostly with respect to the timeline. It’s not that I have event B taking place before event A that caused it, or anything quite so serious, it’s just sometimes, since there are multiple story threads, I find one character or another sitting on his thumbs for a week or more when the others are going about their business. I could solve the issue by collapsing the timeline, so that everything took place over the course of a week or two, but I don’t want to do it that way. I’m sure I can resolve the issue with a little effort, but it is worth noting for the lesson it teaches: do the timeline before you write the story! Duh! So much for the pantsing approach. In the future, I will add far more structure to my pre-writing plotting. That will save me some headaches. But I suppose it’s a learn-as-you-write type of thing.
Of course, most readers probably wouldn’t notice the difficulties inherent in the timeline. I know for myself, not once in my life have I gone through a book with a fine toothed comb to sketch out the timeline of the story in detail. I just get caught up in the events and get swept away… or bored out of my skull as the case may be. As long as events follow each other in the appropriate chronological order, I think I’m reasonably okay. Still, it pays to be thorough. I will fix what I can. And I will have proofreaders.
I guess what I’m saying is: The more I write, the more I find myself shifting to the plotting-beforehand approach. Timelines are a part of this. They give structure to a story and they should not be overlooked. Maybe the reader won’t notice minor discrepancies, but it could be disaster if they do.
This is a continuation of the train of thought started with my “Monster Mishmash: A Vampire Dragon” post. In that post, I examined what a creature that was the result of crossing a dragon and vampire would be like. So, I thought, why not continue the thought process and see what happens when you cross a vampire with a werewolf? Unfortunately, this one doesn’t work quite as well. Depending upon the tradition you start with, it might not be really that much of a change. I remember in Francis Ford Coppola’s film version of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” there were several instances where Dracula shape-changed into something, that to me, looked pretty much like a werewolf. A snarling, lust-ridden, beastie of fur, and claws. And if that’s the case, trying to make a vampire into a werewolf, might be something of a step down or just an insignificant change. The vampire can already control wolves, and assume the werewolf form: what would the werewolf aspect give him? Dracula is, also, already supernaturally strong. At most, the vampire might just lose-control of his shape-shifting faculties on the night of a full moon. And lack of control would certainly be a weakness gained. Alternatively, and perhaps more probably, he would just absorb the werewolf nature and continue on his way, relatively unchanged.
On the other hand, if you go with the “Underworld” series of movies, the notion of a vampire-werewolf is already central to the plot: they beat me to the punchline here. Underworld vampires are limited to human form, and not as physically strong (I don’t think) as the werewolves. In such a situation, both species benefit from the mix and you wind up with something that is “stronger than either.” There’s really not that much to add to the notion here, because the whole movie series revolves around that plot point. They have their vampire-werewolves and they have several two hour movies to develop the theme in, compared to my mere few hundred words of text. Still, I should probably say something. A vampire-werewolf in Underworld, if I recall, gains a limited shape-changing ability, and also loses the weaknesses of each respective species. He is no longer affected by silver or sunlight. So, the only way to kill him is to rip him to pieces. And if that is your plan, since he is unusually strong, you’ll have your work cut out for you.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the vampire-werewolf. For myself, since I prefer my vampires like Dracula, I see only a limited benefit in the combination, if that. The vampire is already in possession of much of the werewolf’s strengths, so the combination is of limited utility.
All right, I was in a silly, childish mood the other day and I went to see “Hotel Transylvania.” It’s an animated kid’s movie. I have to say, I enjoy children’s movies—now that I’m an adult and I don’t care what other people think when I go see a children’s movie (unlike when I was a teenager and wouldn’t be caught dead watching such a flick)…. I think that particular transformation started in college when I saw Aladdin for the first time and thought, “Hey, that’s a pretty good story.”
Anyway, Hotel Transvylvania. It tells the story of Count Dracula (I don’t believe it: I saw a listing of the cast on-line and Dracula was played by Adam Sandler… my mind is just trying to register that; I totally didn’t recognize his voice!), his daughter, Mavis, and her human love interest, Jonathan. Besides Sandler, there are a number of other relatively big names in the film like Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, and John Lovitz among others. Basically, Dracula has had some bad experiences dealing with humans. So, he’s set up a hotel in the middle of nowhere where he, his daughter, and all the other monsters of the world can retreat to for safety and peace. He’s started a whole business on the basis that humans are bad and lead only to terrible things. He’s raised his daughter, Mavis, in the confines of the castle; she’s basically never seen the outside world or had any interaction with any humans at all. He’s raised her and taught her one basic rule: humans are terrible and must be avoided at all costs.
But it is now Mavis’ 118th birthday and she, like any other vampire of such an age (I guess), wants to see the world and experience new things. She’s feeling a little cramped in the castle. And in keeping with the typical teen-parent conflict common in movies, Dracula is intent on keeping his daughter safe at home; he’s also throwing a birthday party for her. All the other monsters of the world are invited: Frankenstein, the werewolf, skeletons, zombies, and more. However, this year there is an uninvited party-crasher: the human, Jonathan, who wanders into the castle on this most momentous of nights. He meets Mavey and the inevitable happens: Jonathan and Mavey hit it off and all sorts of chaos breaks loose.
Criticisms: well, there is some crude humor in the film (flatulence and nose-picking related), and there’s that whole vampire-human relationship thing which is just odd if you really think about it. But this is a kid’s movie, and you’re not supposed to think too deeply about a kid’s movie. Overall, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and worth the hour and a half of time spent watching it.
I’ll give it four stars out of five.
Vampires have been a staple of modern mythology for the last two centuries or so, from Bram Stoker’s aristocratic and sinister Count Dracula, to the sparkling Edward Cullen of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series. The last twenty years or so has seen an uptick in vampire interest; indeed, it is nearly a frenzy. But what is it that makes vampires so intriguing, so alluring?
In the beginning, vampires were portrayed as sinister forces of darkness that seduced women and turned them into agents of the devil. Now, they are just semi-dangerous love interests. Throughout they have been associated with sexuality, at least to a certain degree. The drinking of blood summons images of bestial, carnal urges, while the penetration of human flesh by vampire teeth summons images of… well, you get the idea.
In Dracula’s time, sexuality was still viewed as a vice, something of the devil that should be avoided. So, making Dracula seductive and human-like in appearance, resonated well with his nature as the prince of darkness. He existed to tempt women, to draw them away from the path of virtue, and corrupt their very souls. His sexuality at that time was synonymous with his corruptive influence; it was his avenue to damnation. We’ve moved beyond that now. Courtesy of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, vampires have become perfectly respectable dance partners, dates, even husbands. I don’t know what that says about us… but it probably isn’t good.
There is a third aspect to the vampire that we also find alluring. That of the soul-searching creature of the night. We’ve turned from the vampire as tormentor, to the vampire as tormented. It began with Anne Rice (I think) and the vampire Louis from “Interview with a Vampire.” Now, the vampire broods and ruminates, suffering ungodly horror for his fate. He endures incomprehensible moral anguish for every human he kills. This window into a dark soul entices us, it hopes to offer a better understanding of our own human condition—we with all our faults and failures, and our own anguish for the things we’ve done that eat away at our soul. Perhaps we can find relief and meaning from the experiences of a creature condemned like Louis.
In the end, the vampire is a complicated amalgam of forces. It is seductive and intriguing in many ways; it is a monster with a human soul, a sexual lure into darkness, or perhaps… a potential boyfriend with a spotty past. Whatever the case may be, its pull on us mere humans is undeniable.