Please welcome guest blogger Suzie Blue
I recently bought a digital e-book reader (this didn’t involve a contract for my eternal soul, as some believe). I generally like my books like I like my music – in tangible format – but the digital age brings a convenient freedom, and there’s a huge range of free e-books available to the connected avid reader. I’ve been working my way through some selected classics that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise read, most recently Bram Stoker’s 1897 horror, Dracula.
I was first introduced to the vampire myth by Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of Dracula, followed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV series, not the 80s film..) and the novels of Anne Rice. When I found the freebie digital version of the vampire tale that inspired them all, I had to read for myself about where it all began.
Most cultures have their own version of the vampire myth going back centuries, and before 1897 there were plenty of vampire novels, but Stoker’s novel created a character which is at the heart of the modern myth – Count Dracula. Much parodied in film in the first half of the 20th century, the Count is thought to be loosely based on Vlad III – the Impaler, awarded the Order of the Dragon (or Dracul, in Romanian) for his part in preventing the Turkish invasion of Romania. Both the novel and Coppola’s critically acclaimed film allude to the Count’s past as an heroic emperor and fearsome warrior.
The 1992 film goes further than the novel in showing Dracula’s weaknesses – it gives him a tragic wife and portrays him as a lonely, desperate mortal turned to evil, while the book suggests a powerful man who willingly seeks immortality and merely insinuates his desire/need for the company of beautiful women (the 3 brides who inhabit his castle, for example).
Both make much of the close ties between the European vampire myth and Christianity, e.g. the use of crosses, holy water and wafer to repel the demonic beings. It’s not that surprising for a Victorian-era tale. Neither is the portrayal of the female characters. Both Mina Harker and the doomed Lucy Westenra are good, honest, virtuous ladies, but Mina is described as having a “man’s brain” for her intelligence and emotional strength. Lucy is virginal, demure, weepy and physically weak, and there is said to be a sickening twisting of these qualities in her “voluptuous” vampiric recreation.
During the time the novel was written, there was a fashion for “invasion literature” – horror stories based upon the fear of outside forces threatening the British Empire. Count Dracula’s desire to move from Romania to be among the “teeming masses” of London fits this theme perfectly and guaranteed initial commercial success.
In my opinion, the form the novel takes – diary entries written by most of the main characters, newspaper articles and even a ship’s log – is beyond its time. It’s used to great effect, as it is vital that the reader not know who lives or dies until the very end – having a narrator would spoil this a bit. This style is more in use now because of the popularisation of social media (e.g. The Twitter Diaries).
Stoker’s dense, rich prose leaves a lasting impression, his descriptions gave me almost-memories of places I’ve never been. I was worried at first that Dracula would be a bit of an anti-climax and read slightly clichéd because of all that has come since its publication. However, it is a Gothic horror classic – well written, beautifully paced and, on a dark windy night with the lights off, still pretty frightening.