Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dracula, Part 1

'You are early to-night, my friend.' The man stammered in reply: --

'The English Herr was in a hurry,' to which the stranger replied: --

'That is why, I suppose, you wished him to go on to Bukovina. You cannot deceive me, my friend; I know too much, and my horses are swift.' As he spoke he smiled, the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth, as white as ivory. One of my companions whispered to another the line from Burger's 'Lenore': --

'Denn die Todten reiten schnell.' --

('For the dead travel fast.')

I picked up a copy of Bram Stoker's classic novel after I finished NaNoWriMo 2009 (during which I worked more on what's probably my darkest effort to date), and re-acquainted myself with one of the foundational vampire tales. Dracula is far removed from the modern re-imaginings of the mythology -- and, strange as this may seem, it was refreshing.

Anybody else tired of hearing about Bella and Edward and whoever else they hang with? Anybody else look with a canted eye at Buffy and Angel and other television series that have featured vampires?

But the suckers -- ahem -- critters have populated frightening tales for centuries, and I don't expect them to leave anytime soon.

In a little over a year, the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour has featured modern vampire novels: Shade by John Olson, and Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson. (My blog posts about each can be found here: Shade 1, 2, 3 and Jackals 1, 2, 3.) Both books are in series, and are different takes on the mythology. Shade presents more of a "psychic vampire" image without the traditional blood-letting, but Jackals is much more graphic and offers a twist on the ability of vampires to shape-shift.

I read those books, sampled some television series (those mentioned above, also Forever Knight and Moonlight), listened to teenagers -- and even adults -- rave about the Twilight books and films, and experienced the strange sensation of being lost, of being pressed under the weight of all those versions and the various leaps (or chasms) in logic that made me unable to suspend disbelief for long, if at all.

So I went back to what many might consider source material: Bram Stoker's Dracula. He was not the first to cover this ancient ground (other well-known stories include Polidori's The Vampyre, and Le Fanu's Carmilla), but he is very likely the most well-known and most-referenced author of vampire fiction. The copy I chose is the Simon & Schuster Enriched Classics edition, with notes and commentary by Joseph Valente, a Professor of English.

Though I enjoy books in which such additional information helps provide historical, social, political, or religious context, or discusses why something may have been important or overlooked by characters in the book, and so on, I sometimes wonder how much of the commentary is really just the commentator's twisting of the text to fit an opinion, and how much is straight-forward observation of the material. But I'll contain further remarks on the commentary vs. my reading of Dracula until the next post.


Anonymous said...

Good post. :)
Dracula's shape-shifting abilities always scared me when I read the novel. Though the "new vampires" have similar abilities, they do not convince me of the weight of evil and dread like Bram Stoker's Dracula possessed. Also, where is their history? The fact that Dracula was feared by all those around him for centuries lends a mythic feeling to his character.

Keanan Brand said...

Thanks! And I'll be talking about some of that stuff in the upcoming post.