Dracula by Bram Stoker

DraculaSuggested by Kung Fu Zu • During a business visit to Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, a young English solicitor finds himself at the center of a series of horrifying incidents. Jonathan Harker observes the Count’s transformation from human to bat form, and discovers puncture wounds on his own neck.
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29 Responses to Dracula by Bram Stoker

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Not Twilight, although romance and chivalry are central. Not True Blood, although there is surely a little Dracula in Eric Northman. First published in 1897, this gothic horror is perhaps the mother of them all.

    Dracula, snug in his Transylvanian castle, gets itchy feet (or bat’s wings) and decides he needs to move to England to taste new blood and spread his progeny a little further.

    The story is almost unique in that it tells the tale through the journals of seven or so primary characters. It’s a bit ponderous as first, particularly the journals between Lucy and her friend, Mina.

    But the story begins to gain momentum. Renfield, an in-patient of Dr. Seward’s, is an interesting character. He’s being driven mad, in between flashes of coherency, as Dracula’s influence (one suspects…of course you would be right) is slowly spread over him.

    The very best part of the book is Jonathan’s description of his stay (and fate) in Dracula’s castle, which is how the book starts off. This is wonderfully dark and shows just how cold-blooded Dracula is. Unfortunately Dracula is keeping no journals and after the castle portion, we get almost nothing personal about Dracula other than some of his powers as deduced (or guessed at) by Van Helsing — powers I still remain a bit confused about. Perhaps Timothy, our Dracularian, can help out. It seems that Dracula is free to walk about in the daylight and yet at other times, when sleeping in his coffin in the daytime, he is completely helpless.

    And these vampires are a little odd, although I suppose they set the standard. They can change to other forms (including bats…Dracula also takes the form of a dog or wolf). Dracula can effect the weather (we should hire him to help with global warming). But he can’t cross running water, which certainly comes from old vampire legends but doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, nor does it come much into play in this novel. Garlic, another flower (I forget the type), and holy wafers are all weapons against him. And you needn’t bring a wooden stake. Just stab a vampire’s heart with a steal blade and cut off his head and you’re good to go.

    Vampires, particularly at night, are amorphous. They are basically incorporeal and can squeeze through the smallest cracks in a door to get to where they want to go. Whether they are a mist or just transform between the body of the undead and something incorporeal is not made plain. And perhaps Timothy can explain about why Dracula had to carry his own dirt with him. Oddly, it is explained that this particular dirt suits his purposes because it has been made holy in some way…keeping in mind that if Van Helsing sticks a holy wafer inside the coffin, a vampire can’t use it. I found a lot of the vampire lore and powers to be a hodgepodge, at best.

    Aside from the opening castle sequence, I found the character of Van Helsing to be the most interesting. He is fearless, knowledgable, and polite almost to a fault. It is quite novel to immerse yourself in a novel where everyone is so damn polite. And yet perhaps those were the days before our present-day Vulgarians took over.

    The weaknesses of the novel include the sequence surrounding the slow seduction by Dracula of Lucy. Van Helsing is called in. And Van Helsing immediately suspects the truth and takes precautions (hanging garlic strategically, being the primary one). And yet despite extraordinary events night after night, Lucy is more or less left to her own devices and/or the protections that Van Helsing constructs are carelessly bypassed. It’s a little much.

    Also, the ending is fairly abrupt and not particularly suspenseful. Dracula as a person is not explored. He has a very little bit of dialogue from him contained in some of the journals of the various principals, but not enough to present him as anything but just an evil force of nature (other than the dialogue he has with Jonathan at the very start). And some of the explanations as to his motivations by Van Helsing seem invented, at best.

    But it’s a pleasant read overall. This is less a horror story and more of an adventure story or psychological thriller.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      The very best part of the book is Jonathan’s description of his stay (and fate) in Dracula’s castle,

      I found the scene where Jonathan watches Dracula exit an upper-storey window and crawl around the vertical wall, lizard-like, especially chilling. It is one of the most tingle-inducing bits in literature.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Yes, I agree. That was a very nice nasty bit. It was also a bit chilling when Harker first noticed that the Count was not reflected in the mirror. And especially (spoiler alerts for the non-bitten), it was chilling when Harker was made to write out letters that would cover his impending inexplicable disappearance…basically letters that would be posted by Dracula to show that Harker had long left the castle. He knew his doom was impending but he was nearly powerless to do anything about it.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Nearly, but not quite, as it proved. One TV version of Dracula, starring Louis Jourdan, actually shows him descending a wall.

          Van Helsing may be smart, and he certainly has access to someone with a great deal of vampire lore, but he also makes the mistake of leaving Mina Harker unprotected as they go off to hunt Dracula. One reason his protections fail is that Dracula is able to influence minds. Leslie Klinger, in his annotated version, suggests that he probably got away and used his powers to make them think he got them. Note that he was killed at dusk, so he may have been able to turn into a mist as they struck.

          Stoker probably got his vampire lore from a number of places (for example, the original site of Castle Dracula was Styria, not the border between Bucovina and Transylvania) — and that could have led to some of the confusion. As far as I can tell, Dracula can operate in daytime, but has no special powers (but all his weaknesses). I suspect that he can “cross” running water as long as he is over it and doesn’t come into contact with it.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            but he also makes the mistake of leaving Mina Harker unprotected as they go off to hunt Dracula.

            Good god, yes. I don’t remember any entries by Van Helsing of him garlic-proofing the house or anything.

            That’s an interesting take by Klinger to the ending. It’s certainly plausible enough for a sequel.

            Regarding his daytime powers, it sounds as if he can stay in any form he previously transformed into…but simply can’t change forms during the day. If I remember right.

            Certainly the issue of running water kept him confined in his box as he was ferried to his castle via a river. But I thought it would have been clever for Stoker to weave some coherence to all these myths. At least in True Blood, they deal with a few of them, if only by dismissing them as pro-vampire propaganda. For instance, I think it was Bill who told Sookie that the mirror thing was a planted myth, useful as a method for real vampires to remain hidden (because, of course, they can be seen in a mirror). And in True Blood, it’s noted that garlic is very mildly an irritant, but nothing more. And the Cross itself in True Blood is demoted to a mere geometric object — quite consistent with the passion of the atheistic/secular crowd to bleed the Holy out of everything.

            The Cross, sanctified wafers, and presumably holy water remain powerful weapons against vampires in Bram Stoker’s world. So there is little doubt that vampires are some form of evil, at odds with what is ultimately good. And it was interesting to note that Stoker used the phrase “true death,” a concept central to True Blood.

            Oh, and regarding crossing water, I *think* the book mentioned that Van Helsing suspected he could fly over it if in the form of a bat. I have to go back and sketch this all out. But it remains sketchy in my mind. Part of the problem is that there didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to any of this stuff.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              In fact, there have been sequels to Dracula. Fred Saberhagen did a whole series with Dracula as the hero, and a recent book co-authored by Dacre Stoker was not only a sequel but went into some of the inconsistencies in the original.

              Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, in her own vampire series about the Count Saint-Germain, gets rid of the religious taboo (though he isn’t Christian, he isn’t harmed by Christian items), but keeps others. In his case, his native soil allows him to survive the sun and running water, so he keeps it in his shoes.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                The Dacre Stoker book had just horrible reviews at Amazon. But there are very positive reviews for the first Saberhagen book: The Dracula Tape. Sounds as if it fills a few plot holes from the Bram Stoker novel and/or provides some further detail. 288 pages. 5 bucks. Hmm. Tempting.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                gets rid of the religious taboo (though he isn’t Christian, he isn’t harmed by Christian items),

                I think the idea of the cross makes perfect sense. Clearly, it is meant to tell us that Christ has dominion over the powers of darkness.

                But today, being a vampire is, no doubt, considered more normal that all that religious stuff. You know, vampires have rights too.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                I think your interpretation of the cross is correct; notice the importance also of silver in terms of mirrors as well as the vulnerability of werewolves. Yarbro’s vampire is not a monster, unlike Stoker’s Dracula, and in fact opposes diabolists in the first book (Hotel Transylvania, which I got at least partly because I had enjoyed her earlier Time of the Fourth Horseman). At one point he escapes them by seeking holy ground.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Stoker wrote a sort of sequel to this titled, “Dracula’s Guest”. I read it a few years back and can barely remember what it was about. I don’t recall it being bad, it just wasn’t “Dracula”.

    Of course, I read the original 50 years ago when my brain was a little more retentive, so perhaps it’s just a question of mental decline.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      They have Dracula’s Guest online at Gutenberg.org. But I think I’ll leave this one be for now.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      “Dracula’s Guest” is a prequel, not a sequel (presumably). An Englishman out on a night’s walk gets into trouble, but is rescued (in essence) by being the upcoming guest of Dracula. The implication is that the Englishman is Harker, though his name isn’t given and Klinger (who includes the story in his annotation) doesn’t think Harker matches his personality.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m 42% in “The Dracula Tape.” I stayed with it despite the rather easy, even sloppy, contrarian nature of the book. But it does begin to weave at least a consistent contrary tale to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” — helped along quite a bit by Stoker’s rather spotty writing.

    Dracula makes a tape (that is later discovered and transcribed) that explains his side of things from the events in the Stoker novel. Some of it is gadgety, at best, making excuses for things that have to be explained away. And yet he makes a good case that he is the Dracula who is not necessarily a particularly violent person. Instead, he is, as with his early meetings with Jonathan Harker in Dracula’s castle, the social sophisticate, even intellectual, who means to branch out into the world. But not to spread his minions but simply because the world has so drastically changed of late, he wants to be a part of it.

    Stoker pretty much set up this novel by Saberhagen, particularly in the way Jonathan Harker is displayed as so emotionally unstable. Dracula’s explanation is that he had no intention of harming him and ultimately desired for Harker to ask questions about some of the strange things he saw. Dracula said he had a cursory knowledge of English reserve and put it down to that when Harker pretended there was nothing at all unusual about the situation and instead clammed up. Dracula says that then he could do little diffuse the situation and keep Harker from losing his wits.

    And Dracula says his interest in Lucy was purely love (for a vampire…which includes a little transfer of bodily fluids, but of the red kind) and purely consensual. Again, Stoker wonderfully sets the stage for this by Lucy having so many suitors. One certainly gets the feeling she chose the least objectionably suitor. And then along comes the “bad boy” Dracula and she is instantly (according to The Count) drawn to him.

    Dracula explains that he did indeed drink from Lucy on a couple of their “dates” or meetings. But he had every intention of leaving her alone so that she could regain her strength. He also had no intention of turning her because he says she was in no state of mind to willingly and knowingly consent to such a thing. And he has nothing for contempt for Dr. Seward and especially Van Helsing who, he claims, actually were the ones who killed Lucy by giving her three transfusions. And this was before blood types (and the necessity for matching them) was known. He paints them as bumblers.

    Whether The Count is just rationalizing his evil or giving a more or less fair other side of the story is left to the reader. Certainly it makes sense that he didn’t (as he claimed) kill all the passengers on the voyage to England, for as he said, he had no knowledge of seamanship and, with his powers over the weather, was barely able to bring the ship in safely as it was. He admitted to making the fevered mind (in the first mate) worse by his mysterious appearances on the bridge. But it was the first mate who was killing everyone, not The Count.

    Anyway, the original novel has so many holes in it, it’s as if Stoker had Saberhagen in mind when he wrote it. I don’t know how canonical it would be considered, but Saberhagen gives you a lot of inside detail on not only what it’s like to be a vampire but Dracula’s past history. It’s a passably readable book, but would be of no interest unless you had first read Bram Stoker’s original.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Perhaps my favorite of the rationalizations is when he explains what the woman seeking her child said — nothing that of course she spoke Romanian, in which Harker would hardly have been fully fluent. Leslie Klinger also discusses the transfusion issue in his annotated version. (He also discusses other vampire series, including Saberhagen’s.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Yes, that’s a nice exchange, Timothy.

        According to The Count, the pig in a bag was brought to him by a peasant woman “in hopes of my doing, in return, some damnable evil upon one of her rivals in love.”

        The Count goes on, “What I did not then know was that he [Harker] had witnessed the women [his three vampirettes] pouncing upon my shopping bag, and had interpreted the porcine squealing therefrom, if his ‘ears did not deceive him’, as a gasp and a low wail, as of a half-smothered child. My imaginative solicitor had fainted.”

        This was connected, according to The Count, in Harker’s fevered and superstitiously narrow English mind with the woman who came crying to his castle door later:

        “…when that poor woman from the nearest village came to the castle pleading for my help . . . ‘Master, find for me my child!’ the poor wretch called up to Harker, whose moonlit appearance at a high window she mistook for my own. Yes, I know, I know very well, that in his journal he sets down her words as: ‘Monster, give me my child!’ But do you suppose she spoke English? Or that he had ready his ‘polyglot dictionary’ that he had needed in the coach fro Bistrita, to talk with these same folk? . . .

        “For my part . . . I understood her words. Nor did I need to raise my voice to summon up a few pretty children of my own — the wolves from a kilometer or two around. These set to work at my command. They combed the forest quickly and in the space of an hour had found the straying child. They herded it with nips and tugs into the courtyard, where the stupid woman — I suppose it was through some negligence of hers that the child had gotten lost — still beat her flabby hands upon my door, until she saw her infant come amid the howling escort. At that point she grabbed it up and ran for home, and small thanks I or my four-pawed rangers ever got. And Harker’s book implies that, having stolen the child from my own snack, I then called up the wolves to eat the mother. . .

        “Now I see in your eyes that this time you do not believe my version of the event at all. Well, and why should I not have helped her, as I helped a thousand others when I ruled as Prince? She came to me in my capacity of lord, and asked for help, and I was duty-bound to render it. That actions so elementary and right, on her part and on mine, must be verified and spelled out shows how far the world has fallen.”

        As much as I enjoyed Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” what was missing was The Count’s point of view, or at least more information about him. Had some of this been woven into the original novel it would have transcended the genre of mere horror or psychological thriller to something truly special. As it is, “The Dracula Tape” nicely fills in some of the gaps. The plausibility of The Count’s revisionist tale hangs on the one-dimensionality of the Stoker novel and its inconsistencies. The Stoker novel begins with a fairly well-rounded view of The Count, but then devolves into little more than a monster movie.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          As much as I enjoyed Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” what was missing was The Count’s point of view

          Going libertarian on us here?

          The point of view of the monstrous master of the undead is of no more importance that that of a virus. He spreads his misery just a virus does. Disinfection is what is required.

          On the other hand, it would have been nice for Stoker to go into some more detail as the book would have been longer.

          It is interesting to speculate why more of Dracula’s origins are not covered. Could Stoker not come up with a logical and somewhat believable story. Did he wish to keep the “mystery” alive in order to sell a future book?

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            A novel is able to set out its own parameters. In Stoker’s novel, Dracula was the bad guy. In Saberhagen’s scenario, Dracula is misunderstood. Parts of the Saberhagen novel seem to be weak rationalizations. He has to account for things that don’t paint Dracula in a good (or better) light such as when Harker heard outside his door Dracula say to the three vampirettes, “You can eat him after I’m done with him.” Saberhagen has Dracula saying that this was just the vampirettes sounding like Dracula in order to screw with Harker. The vampirettes were frustrated because they were told (in both novels) to leave him alone.

            Other parts give credence to The Count’s tale. First, there is no need for him to set the record straight. Why bother if he’s just making it all up? Second, and acquiescing to literary license, the Dracula in the Saberhagen novel is more of a complex and fleshed-out human being than any of the the protagonists in the Stoker novel. Dracula seems thoughtful and patient, nor does he paint the story of himself always in glowing perfection. He admits to mistake after mistake, particularly the idea that he could move to London and ever take part in that city’s life.

            The Stoker novel simply assumes that Dracula is a monster and doesn’t bother with the details. The Saberhagen novel assumes that Dracula is indeed a vampire who often feeds on humans (but according to Dracula, any mammal will do, not one being better than the other). But his real draw to humans — women, in particular — is that age-old draw. And his relationships are simply consummated in a different way. But the Saberhagen novel also assumes that Dracula used to be a human being and still has those traits. In the Stoker novel — after the early scenes in Dracula’s castle — he is a mere caricature. The Saberhagen novel, despite some of the weak rationalizations, is a more mature novel in parts than the Stoker one.

            As for what a libertarian vampire would look like, I think it would be one that was justifying its need to feed on humans as no more noteworthy than humans feeding on cattle. But thus far (49% into it), The Count has not used this line of reasoning. His line of reasoning is much more complex. One can extrapolate from this that The Count is no normal vampire and that, indeed, just as with humans, there may be low-brow libertarian-oriented vampires who try to justify their every act as mere personal “values.” I’ll see if the other half of this novel sheds any light on this.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              In Stoker’s novel, Dracula was the bad guy. In Saberhagen’s scenario, Dracula is misunderstood.

              An interesting contrast to the “monster-as-bad-guy” take on things is the way Mary Shelley treats the “monster” in the novel “Frankenstein.” Of course, that novel is about much more than monsters and men.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Some other follow-ups bring up the aspect that the original Vlad Dracula (aka Vlad Tepes) was a monster — but in a time and place when a ruler had to be a monster to survive.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            You certainly get some back-story on Vlad in “The Dracula Tape.” He was a prisoner of the Turks, for example, where (as a 14-year-old-boy) he was tortured. It also talks about his one great love — a woman who later threw herself out the castle window (while all parties were still human). “The Dracula Tape” is not a novel for those looking for black/white stereotypes. And although I was very much afraid this novel would be driven by the impulse for revisionism for the sake of revisionism, there is, at times, far more literary talent here than in the Stoker novel.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Note that the historical Vlad Tepes (one of the national heroes of Romania, as I learned in a pro-Romanian study of Transylvania) was in fact also known as Dracula (the Little Dragon, his father having been a member of the Hungarian anti-Ottoman Order of the Dragon.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The vibe running through “The Dracula Tape” is one we know well here — barely able to stand the idiots (of the Left). Dracula views Van Helsing & his cohorts as ignorant human beings. But The Count does not hold a supremacist view of vampires nor does he seem to have an innate distaste for humans. He has barely mentioned the existence of other vampires. He considers himself royalty (he was) and probably by nature of his human experience, not his vampiric ones.

    But he does dismiss Seward, Van Helsing, and some of the others as just plain dolts. There’s a movie to be made here. It’s interesting how Saberhagen introduces some interest to the Dracula character. Yes, the simplistic evil-monster motif is fun and entertaining. But what if someone wrote a movie wherein Dracula was indeed a bit morally harder to pin down?

    Here was a character who wanted to move to London to take part in modern civic life and see and experience all the cool stuff. Backwater Transylvania, peopled by ignorant, unwashed peasants, can hold only so much charm…and certainly not enough charm to last a sophisticated, intelligent vampire such as Vlad.

    Maybe I should watch “Interview with the Vampire,” because I think is has some of that tone. But it’s been a while.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I don’t recall that Lestat was a good guy. An interesting humorous take on Dracula as the good guy, of course, is the delightful movie Love at First Bite, with George Hamilton as the Count, Arte Johnson as Renfield (and a nice character), Susan Saint-James as his current interest, and Richard Benamin as her boyfriend (and a descendant of Van Helsing). They even do some humor that would never be allowed today.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Lestat was a cynic libertarian type. The “hero” was the Brad Pitt character.

        I also enjoyed “Love at First Bite”, maybe George Hamilton’s best movie.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          “Love at First Bite” is a vastly underrated movie. Yes, it’s silly. But it’s silly in a good and sophisticated way. This is George Hamilton’s best role. Johnson is splendid as Renfield, and Susan St. James is magnificent as the bored sophisticate/narcissist.

          But this is Hamilton’s film. And his sophisticated Dracula of charm and debonair is comical as he runs into the crude, modern world people by the nihilistic St. James. And Richard Benjamin as the stand-in for Van Helsing is wonderful as he plays off the self-doubt implicit in modernism. There are a lot of sophisticated messages in this otherwise funny movie.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I think it merits inclusion in the video list. Benjamin threatening Dracula with a religious symbol — but the Star of David doesn’t work. Neither do 3 silver bullets (the unharmed Dracula responds, “No, my friend, that is a werewolf”).

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I may watch it again and do a full review. One of my favorite lines is when somebody (Benjamin’s hilarious cop friend, I think) says something like “Couldn’t we kill him.” And Benjamin quips, “He’s already dead.”

              Really magnificent comedic timing all throughout this. This kind of comedy must be very difficult to do for so many movies are just clunkers. This one got it right.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Wasn’t Lestat sort of a sophisticated beast? But the Vlad in “The Dracula Tape” has a streak of Frazier in him.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I think the name and setting says it all. He would be a French sophisticate along the lines of the Marquis de Sade, I think.

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