Thursday, July 26, 2012
Raiding the Stacks: Dracula, by Bram Stoker
If you don't know the plot of Dracula then you've been missing for the past hundred years and I'd like to welcome you to the internet. Seriously, everyone knows at least the barest outlines of the plot by now: Count Dracula is a vampire, he leaves his home in Transylvania to go to England, sucks the blood of pretty women, and gets hunted down by Professor Van Helsing and his band of compatriots. It's a story that's been told, retold, deconstructed, reconstructed, and parodied countless times since its release in 1897. What Dracula has going for it is that it is the vampire novel and defined many tropes which are still with us today in vampire-related fiction.
The story of Dracula is told in what I have learned is the epistolary format, where the story is told as a collection of letters, diaries, and telegrams generated by the characters within the story as they record the events of the plot. For roughly the first half of the book we get to watch the characters trying to make sense of a series of very strange events, and it's sort of like a mystery watching various pieces of information come together. However, considering how well-known the basic plot is it's not much of a mystery, but I at least was still guessing at some parts because I didn't know everything. The book's a little slow to pick up because the different characters are piecing together their information and figuring out what exactly they're fighting, but once you get into the second half it's pretty non-stop and the action doesn't end until the very last page. I felt like the book could have used a little more closure at the end but at least it didn't suffer ending fatigue.
The one thing that sticks out in my mind about this story is that Dracula's powers and weaknesses don't seem to be very well-defined, or in some cases include facts that haven't been included in later vampire stories. For example, if a vampire's in his casket apparently a branch of wild rose across it will prevent him from leaving. Also, the heart of a vampire does not have to be destroyed by a wooden stake (although Van Helsing seems to prefer them) and in a pinch a good bowie knife will do. In addition Dracula walks around in the sunlight a couple of times during the story, but at other times is confined to his coffin during the day and there's no real explanation as to why this is the case. But the most well-defined powers and weaknesses remain with us: a vampire's ability to turn into a bat or dust as well as their ability to command wolves and other creatures; their weakness to garlic, a crucifix, and other holy items; and the need for vampires to regularly rest in the soil where they were buried. Many of these tropes remain part of vampire lore today, although I don't think the vampires that the I Smell Sheep flock read about are exactly the same.
I will say that the one thing I really liked about this story was that the vampires are monsters that have to be defeated by man. Yes, the vampire has powers beyond our comprehension and can even hypnotize humans into doing his bidding, but the vampire can only think about himself and his own goals.We humans are not only able to work together and work for a good greater than ourselves, but we are capable of working together to accomplish those goals. It is only through the combined efforts and unique skills of the members of Professor Van Helsing's team that they're able to track down and not only defeat Dracula, but raze his lair as well. Vampires may think they are better than us and hold us in contempt, but they are little more than animals that only deserve to be hunted down to extinction.
If you're curious about the origins of vampire fiction Dracula is the book to go to, and if you want to write your own vampire novel it can definitely give you some ideas. You definitely shouldn't be rooting for the vampires, though, you should be rooting for the kickass vampire hunters like Professor Abraham Van Helsing or Texan Quincey Morris. If nothing else, this book reminds us that through hard work and cooperation we humans can band together and defeat the monsters.