Monday, May 26, 2014

The Horror Of...Dracula through the Ages - Stoker's Tale

Having enjoyed some folklore, having taken in some other literature, it's time for the main act.

It's time to get to the book most know. You know the book. Bram's Stoker most remembered tale.

Dracula (1931) Promo Photo


Dracula by Bram Stoker - Cover of early edition.
Bram Stoker was a Dublin born writer whose primary employment was as a manager at the London Lyceum. But as he worked there, he was also writing, including producing work for the Daily Telegraph. Among the novels he wrote are The Lair of the White WormThe Lady of the ShroudThe Jewel of Seven Stars, and The Mystery of the Sea.

Bram Stoker
And, of course, Dracula.

Stoker spent several years working on Dracula. He took in Eastern European tales told him by a Hungarian writer he knew. He also studied the folklore of Eastern Europe. Then he added in his experiences from staying in Whitby, England.

The results are a tale of a supernatural predator traveling to the political/social/economical center of the world. The story of Victorian society being preyed on. A struggle between the living and the dead.

The book follows the structure of some of his other novels, using the epistolary style. The book is made up of journal entries, newspaper stories, letters, and telegrams. It helps create a real world feel to the events of the novel. (I suppose it could be considered in parallel to found footage movies.) Of course this also means someone had survive and pull together all of these very personal sources, but I think that doesn't bother any reader.

Here are is a point by point view of the book.
  • Johnathan Harker is sent to visit Transylvania to finalize a land deal (for Carfax Abbey in Essex, and a number of other properties around London) with a local noble, Count Dracula.
  • Harker is warned by some locals about travelling there, but stays on the job. He is picked up by a mysterious carriage at Borgo Pass.
  • Harker gets to Castle Dracula, and is met by the unsettling Count Dracula. Then he is imprisoned by Dracula, trapped inside his castle.
  • Harker comes to realize that Dracula is not at all a natural being, seeing his face bloated with blood as he sleeps in a coffin.
  • Dracula keeps Harker alive, and safe from his brides (fellow vampires under Dracula's sway), so that Harker can teach him about England.
  • After Dracula has finally left for England, Harker manages to escape, though he ends up needing hospitalization.
  • In Whitby, England, Harker's finance, Mina Murray, is staying with her friend Lucy Westenra.
  • Lucy is being courted by three men, respected Dr. Seward, noble Arthur Holmwood, and adventurous Texan Quincy Morris.
  • The Russian ship, Demeter, crashes along the shore near Whitby; all hands are dead. The cargo aboard the ship is numerous boxes of earth, meant to be delivered to Carfax Abbey.
  • Lucy decides to accept the proposal of Arthur Holmwood. The other two try and smile, and promise to stay friends.
  • Lucy begins to sleepwalk, and is found by Mina, wandering the cemetery. Mina thinks she sees some figure looming over Lucy before she reached her.
  • Mina gets word finally of what happened to Johnathan. He's in a hospital in Budapest recovering.
  • Mina goes to be with Jonathan, and they quickly marry. 
  • Lucy soon, inexplicably, begins to become ill, slowly dying.
  • The three men are besought by what is happening, grasping for answers. Seward decides to call in his wise old mentor, Dr. Van Helsing.
  • Van Helsing has a sense of what has happen. So they begin a desperate series of blood transfusions to Lucy. But she is still weak.
  • They put up garlic around her bedroom, to keep Lucy safe. 
  • Lucy's mother removes the garlic, not liking the smell.
  • That night, a wolf attacks the Westenra home. Lucy's mother has a heart attack and dies, and Lucy suffers injuries that speed up her death.
  • Lucy is buried and mourned by the group.
  • Soon there is news that small children are being attacked at night by a veiled woman.
  • Van Helsing takes Seward, Holmwood, and Morris out, and they get to see first hand the results of vampiric attack. Lucy walks the streets and stalks children.
  • Together, they end her unlife, with a stake, some garlic, and a beheading. (Holmwood, as her betrothed, is the one to put a stake in her heart.)
  • Johnathan and Mina finally return to England. In London, Jonathan sees Dracula for a moment.
  • The Harkers, Van Helsing, Seward, Morris, and Holmwood begin working to unearth Dracula's hiding place.
  • In retaliation for destroying Lucy, Dracula sets his sights on Mina.
  • Dracula woos Renfield, a patient in Seward's asylum. He gives access to the asylum and receives lives to feed on.
  • Renfield helps Dracula get into the asylum, where all of Dracula's enemies are plotting against him.
  • Dracula feeds on Mina, and then feeds her some of his blood; a connection is formed. It gives him some control of her, but also means she knows where he is and what he's doing.
  • Mina slowly becomes weaker and further under Dracula's thrall.
  • Renfield is driven by guilt to warn Van Helsing and Seward about Dracula.
  • Renfield challenges Dracula, and is killed.
  • With Mina's information and some sleuthing, the group strikes at all of Dracula's hiding places. They destroy his earthen resting places, leaving Dracula with no where in England he can find refuge.
  • Dracula begins his retreat, and begins his flight back to Transylvania.
  • Mina helps the group track Dracula. They race to the continent to try and find his route home. hoping to catch him before he can get to his castle and personal domain. 
  • They split into groups to try and catch him, with Van Helsing and Mina heading straight to Dracula's castle. 
  • Van Helsing and Mina face Dracula's brides. The brides kill their horses, and Van Helsing creates a protective circle to keep them safe from the bridal onslaught.
  • Then Van Helsing goes to the castle during the day, and kills all of the brides. He also seals the castle's entrance with holy sacrament.
  • As Dracula is taken by box through Borgo Pass, night looming and loyal locals protecting him, the rest of the team arrive and strike. 
  • In the battle, they fight to reach Dracula. Harker manages to get to the box, open it, and slash Dracula's throat.
  • Quincy Morris manages to get in as well, with his trusty bowie knife, and drives it through Dracula's heart, killing him. Morris is fatally wounded in this effort.
  • The book ends with a recollection from Johnathan and Mina, as they look at their young son. His name, Quincy Harker.
I have to be honest. I was a little surprised the first time I read the book. It felt like Dracula's demise came too quick and easy. (Even though it follows a cross continent chase, a fight with three vampires, and one team fatality. I think a lot of the movies that followed the books created an expectation of some face to face fight between Van Helsing and Dracula. But those are the outcome of the cinema, not the literature.

The book is an entertaining read. The realistic construct for how the story emerges is engaging. And the struggle to hold back the tide that is Dracula is compelling.

Unfortunately, in Stoker's day it was not as heralded. People did like it. It was seen as a jolly good adventure. But then people moved on. Critics of the day were more positive, placing it the ranks of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It would take decades for the public to really appreciate it.

Dracula - The Graphic Novel - By Classic
Comics - Adapted by Jason Cobley and Staz
The book helped to setup some ideas about the vampire. It ties them to the bat (Quincy talks about vampire bats in the Pampas attacking his horse and draining it.). Dracula, like some earlier literary sources, was a shape changer. Wolf. Bat. Mist.

He could control and dominate. He had the strength of 20 men.

But he was still largely a monster. He, when first met, is an older man. He's so pale to be blue. Mustachioed. Claw-like hands. He wasn't much for sparkling.

And his weaknesses borrowed from many areas of folklore. Running water was hard for him to move over. Garlic, communion wafers, and the cross would bar his path.

And the sun? It does not trouble him. He walks freely in it, if he wanted to. But he doesn't. After the dawn, his powers are severely weakened. He is vulnerable. And he can only manage to shape change during the day right at dawn, noon, and dusk. Otherwise he is stuck in whatever form he is in.

So he uses the day to sleep and recuperate his strength. But even that is complicated. He requires his native soil to rest. If that is not present, he cannot really rest, and will grow weaker. So when his soil was destroyed in London, he knew that it would only be a matter of time before he would be killed if he stayed.

Some of these weaknesses we still hold as sacrosanct to a vampire tale, and others we all just toss aside. That is the way it goes. But the imprint on vampirism today is largely that of Dracula.

The weaker than desired sales left the Stoker family destitute. Late in life Stoker had to try for grants to support his family. It wouldn't be until after Bram Stoker's death that the Stoker family would see the real returns from Dracula.

While much of the public moved on from Dracula, it did stick in some people's head. It latched on. In the twenty century, various people started asking, "How would this look on stage?"

Something like this.
Raymond Huntley. The first to play Dracula on stage.

We'll look at where this is going next time around.

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