Monday, 2 June 2014


In May we read Bram Stoker's Dracula. Dracula is a classic horror novel, and we're all familiar with the character if not the novel. Written in 1897 this novel is quite old (there's a whole century between us), but it is still a fairly easy read. This is a horror novel in the format of journals, diaries (what is the difference between those anyway?), news cuttings and letters. I found it quite entertaining that they talk about assembling these different sources and turning them into a manuscript as the story progresses, so meta. That said I'm not the biggest fan of epistolary story telling, as the structure can turn a story quite cringe worthy and/or boring depending on who it's handled. In this case it is a pretty effective way to have several characters seeing things from very different points of view and coming up with a multifaceted narrative that works very well at times. There are boring parts though, where things are repeated without adding new insights.

The first part of the novel is Jonathan Harker, travelling to Count Dracula in his castle in the middle of nowhere, Transylvania. I find Jonathan to be much less bright than the rest of the characters in this novel, and also quite annoying. He really is slow to understand that something isn't right with the count ( I get that he didn't know about vampires and was 100 years to early for Buffy, but it was pretty obvious that something was up with the count) and he's also very sedate about it until he screws up and then allows himself to panic (which incidentally is when he manages to do something about his situation). Both castle and count is well written and satisfyingly creepy though! Jonathan Harker has a knack for descriptions, if nothing else.

What I found when I started reading Dracula was that I knew the story much better than I thought I did. I have seen movies, and read an illustrated children's version of the novel, but I didn't quite realise how familiar I am with the story as a whole, specially the beginning, which is probably why I noticed the writing the most here, and there really are some great descriptions in this novel.

All the characters have good and bad traits, and they all ended up annoying me somewhat. Van Helsing and his stupid exclamations of friendship and adoration (honestly, you'd think he'd never met a person before), and Mina's heartfelt speeches that showed just how good and godly she was. Very boring. Also the fact that later in the novel when Mina is so tired no light goes on in anyone's brain. YOU'VE JUST BEEN THROUGH THIS! I felt like shaking them all so very badly.

The pacing of the story could also have been better. It starts off well with Jonathan's journal, then it jumps to Mina's (who explains that she is practicing shorthand for her future husband so she can be a good lawyers wife, and otherwise wouldn't be journaling) who is spending her time with her mysteriously ill friend Lucy, and this part felt like it was too long. I understand that it was a set up, and that Lucy was so dearly loved by everyone (three men, friends even, asked for her hand in marriage on the same day, she's also Mina's BFF) waists away and nobody knows how to stop it (at leat not until Dr. Van Helsing does some research). This waisting illness is of course Dracula, who in the shape of a bat (mostly) sucks at Lucy's neck. At one point Mina finds her on a bench with a crature with red glowing eyes bent over her. I'm sure you know the gist of the scene (it's eerie and quite good). I found Lucy's drainage period lasted too long, at least proportioned against the later hunting of Dracula, which was, in the end, very anticlimactic.

To sum up, I'd like the focus to have been a little different (and thus the pacing to have been a little different) and there was just not enough Dracula. I'd have loved to learn more of Dracula's thinking. I know Van Helsing describes his brain as a child-brain, but one that has developed for a long time and that Dracula was a very clever man when he was alive, and so he must be when he is dead, even if his brain isn't fully developed in his vampire state. What drives Dracula? Why does he have three female vampires running around his castle? Why does he go after Lucy? Then Mina (revenge I guess)? I'd have liked to see a little of his reasoning (this is what fanfiction is for I guess... And there is a lot of it).

There is a also the aspect of reading this in 2014 and the "themes" that stick out to me, the gender roles (or sexim as we call it today, ack, I wanted to punch someone, and Mina was really quite progressive at the start), the religious aspect (Dracula is referred to as a devil, while our heroes are strong in the faith of God etc.), science vs superstition, and the foreignness of Dracula and the primitiveness of the people in his lands (when Jonathan travels people become more and more superstitions and less and less "modern" as he journeys towards Dracula's castle).

The horror story itself is really creepy and really good though, so despite all my issues with it I did love it, and you know I do love a good vampire story, and this is one of the most famous (I'm going to tackle Carmilla soon!) ones and for good reason. Dracula is delicously evil, and fascinating in how he can transform into bats, rats and effing mists! He also controls the wind you know (in a small radious). He literally creates storms and eats entire ship's crews!

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