Guides, Roundtables

Dracula Postmortem, Part IV

11.06.09 | Permalink | 3 Comments

With the reading of Dracula concluded, the Guides will spend the week discussing the novel in roundtable format. This is the last of four parts.

Is Dracula still relevant?

Kevin Fanning: That’s a tough question. I think that vampires in general are still so relevant, compared to the half-lives of zombies and pirates and mummies and ninjas, is in part thanks to the larger vampire narrative that Bram Stoker’s Dracula helped set in motion. But as far as the book itself, I’m glad I read it, and it’s an interesting piece of vampire literature, but it doesn’t change or alter my opinions about Buffy, Twilight, Irma Vep, Cronos, Castlevania, True Blood, Anne Rice, Underworld or any other vampire media. Vintage sent me a copy of their book The Vampire Archives: The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published, and it’s astoundingly huge and sprawling. Vampires are bigger than any one book.

Matthew Baldwin: Van Helsing’s excruciatingly slow revelation of Fun Vampire Facts doesn’t work as well when the average reader already knows more about the undead than they do about the Supreme Court. But the underlying motifs of Dracula are as relevant today as ever: xenophobia, sexual hysteria, and the eternal struggle for power. At times the book was a novelization of the worst fears of the anti-immigration crowd, a depiction of malevolent foreigners skulking into a Western country, siphoning off valuable resources, and converting people over to their side.

In picking her top 10 favorite Victorian novels, author Sarah Waters described Dracula as “An exercise in masculine anxiety and nationalist paranoia”. As neither is in short supply, even in the 21st century, the novel strikes me as relevant today as it was a century ago.

Claire Zulkey: What I think are most relevant about the book are the the way it’s written and its treatment of gender roles. I still think that Stoker’s use of correspondence is an ingenious way to tell the tale: I love that it’s put together like a scrapbook and that it utilizes different voices to tell it, so me that’s still fresh and just a lesson in general for writers. Meanwhile I think Jonathan and Mina Harker’s relationship is worth discussing even today–at some points to me it’s a model of modern partnership. At other times…not so much.

Guides, Roundtables

Dracula Postmortem, Part III

11.05.09 | Permalink | 1 Comment

With the reading of Dracula concluded, the Guides will spend the week discussing the novel in roundtable format. This is the third of four parts.

Claire commented on the constant tension in the novel between the supernatural and the scientific method. Any additional thoughts on the subject?

Matthew Baldwin: I was unclear if Stoker was championing the scientific method, or warning about relying upon it too much. Obviously Van Helsing and others–the ostensible heroes of the novel–used science as a tool for defeating evil. But at the same time, a subtext of the story seemed to be “ignore the supernatural at your peril, because ignorance of evil makes you a target for it.”

Obviously vampires are hot right now. How is their current incarnation different from Stoker’s introduction to them?

MB: One obvious distinction is that the seductive power of Dracula was designed to repulse Victorian readers (at least superficially–I have no doubt that Stoker was pandering to baser instincts a bit), whereas modern vamp-lit authors package their bad boys as genuinely sexy, with their allure portrayed as a pro rather than a con. In other words, while Stoker had to titillate on the sly, today’s writers do so brazenly.

Claire Zulkey: I rewatched “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and had to laugh about how deep I thought I was when I first saw it, saying “You see, it’s not a horror story, it’s a love story.” Well, actually, the book is pretty much just a horror story. Save Jonathan and Mina’s relationship, there is no real love in this book, especially coming from Dracula. There’s no immortal beloved, no sensitive vamp. Just a blood-sucking bad guy.

Kevin Fanning: I think the main difference is that it’s no longer a case of vampires being seen as creatures of pure evil. Between Anne Rice, the Underworld series, Buffy & Angel, True Blood, Stephanie Myers and Scott Westerfeld, there are lots of people making the case for a distinction between good and bad vamps. This is part of what’s really revitalized the genre in the last few years, and it’s a big change from the origins of the vampire myth.

Guides, Roundtables

Dracula Postmortem, Part II

11.03.09 | Permalink | 2 Comments

With the reading of Dracula concluded, the Guides will spend the week discussing the novel in roundtable format. This is the second of four parts.

What are the strengths and drawbacks of the epistolary format of the novel?

Matthew Baldwin: One advantage is that the reader never really knows where the author stands on some of these troubling issues raised by the novel. For instance, you could argue that the book contains not a whit of evidence that Stoker himself is sexist, only that he creates characters that are. (If anything, Mina comes out looking like the strongest of the protagonists.)

Curiously, though, I feel as if Stoker didn’t exploit the format to its fullest, because none of the narrators were “unreliable”. They were all remarkably consistent and forthright in their stories, so you never had to wonder if a given character was being deceptive or self-delusional, which is often the most compelling aspect of tales told in first-person. It would have been interesting if a character fell under Dracula’s sway, for instance, and used his journal entries to talk about what a swell guy he was.

Kevin Fanning: I also wonder if he should have exploited it more, because you get the sense that he was going for a pastiche effect, tying together a bunch of different narratives. But the narratives rarely overlap, and he leans on Seward and Mina’s voices to propel the storyline. There are large gaps in what we know about Jonathan’s story, we hear next to nothing from Van Helsing, Quincey or Arthur. A more jumbled collection of voices and storylines and newspaper clippings might have been really interesting. As long as it didn’t involve more ridiculous accents.

Claire Zulkey: I actually think that the format cuts down on too much over-the-top writing about an over-the-top subject. On the other hand, somebody pointed out that we don’t know what any of the characters really look like (since we don’t usually put down the details in our diaries of what the people we’re talking about look like), save Jonathan’s graying hair, but that didn’t really bother me too much.

Why do you think Stoker included Quincey Morris with the crew?

KF: I liked Quincey! Do people not like Quincey? I’d vote that Lord Godalming is a much more peripheral character, and questionable in terms of his value to the story. I don’t have any theories about what it means that Stoker felt like including an American character with a taste for shooting things, maybe as a counterpoint to the scientific & religious approaches to Dracula taken by the other characters? But he’s memorable and keeps things interesting, so he’s OK with me.

MB: Quincey strikes me as the pragmatist of the group, one less concerned in whether something was supernatural or scientific and more in whether it could be punched. He didn’t seems as vital a character as some of the others because he was considerably more laconic (and apparently didn’t feel the need to record each and every minute in a journal of some sort), but his emphasis on deeds rather than words keep things moving along.

KF: This 100% explains why I like him so much more than Van Helsing.

Guides, Roundtables

Dracula Postmortem, Part I

11.02.09 | Permalink | 9 Comments

With the reading of Dracula concluded, the Guides will spend the week discussing the novel in roundtable format. This is the first of four parts.

What were your exceptions going in? Did the novel meet or defy them?

Matthew Baldwin: Having previously read a number of olde tymey adventure novels (Frankenstein, Man in the Iron Mask, and even Moby Dick to some degree), I expected there to be a fair amount of action embedded in long, florid, and somewhat dull (to my tastes) passages, along with occasional digressions that dead-end in a cul-de-sac of superfluousness. So I was kind of surprised that the story was mostly linear and focused. If anything, it was a bit too focused, with Van Helsing often using an astonishing quantity of verbiage and time to divulge even the most mundane of details. Sometimes it was like listening to a guy who is way too enthusiastic about a hobby go on and on about it.

Kevin Fanning: I touched on this a little in my first post, but this book really went against my expectations. I haven’t read a lot of Victorian literature, so I was expected something really sterile and dry, nowhere near the level of vampire gore I’m used to. So I was really extremely surprised by how quickly it gets genuinely creepy. When this book is good, it’s extremely good.

MB: The amazing qualities of the first four chapters almost worked against the novel, as their promise of a real potboiler was not always fulfilled. But I thought it was pretty engrossing through-and-through.

Claire Zulkey: I remember enjoying it the first time I read it which I think was in late grade school or early high school. Both times I marveled at the concept of having the story be told only in correspondence, memos, official documents and published stories.

I do remember not enjoying the last third of the book as much as the first two and a few people who had read the book recently also felt that way, so I was surprised to find that I actually was more into the book towards the end than last time, neverending monologues from Van Helsing not withstanding.

KF: But I will cast my lot in with those who are disappointed with the last third of the book. It was a bit of a slog at the end, but I was delighted that it wasn’t a slog all the way through.

MB: Yes, I don’t fault the many filmmakers who, in adapting the book for the screen, have felt the need to “punch up” the ending a tad.

KF: I tried to rent Bram Stoker’s Dracula this weekend but it was all rented out. Super sad. I really cannot wait to see it again.

CZ: In case you were wondering what happens in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” that does not happen in the book, here are a few:

  1. Mina hooks up with Dracula.
  2. Mina hooks up with Van Helsing.
  3. Dracula cries like a baby when Mina gets married although you’d think that since he is already the undead evil conventions like marriage wouldn’t matter to him.
  4. Dr. Seward hooks up with Lucy
  5. Lucy gets boned, big time, by Dracula as a wolf-man.

There are more but those are a few standouts.

Claire Zulkey's Journal

And If I See Van Helsing, I Swear That I Will Slay Him! Hah Hah Hah!

10.28.09 | Permalink | 9 Comments

I think this is my last post on old Dracky which makes me sad since I had so many things I wanted to still wanted to ask and discuss. Like why do we think Stoker included Quincey Morris with the crew?  (I don’t think I would have missed him if he weren’t there).  And does anyone else think Joseph Valente is sort of pushing the Irish thing too hard? “The goulash clearly represents cabbage, a staple in the Irish diet”.

But really, what I want to know now is how Van Helsing can believe so many things at once. I just finished Chapter 25, where Van Helsing delivers yet another one of his long, LONG monologues, this time about Dracula’s “child-brain” (something I have a hard time not reading strangely since the last thing I think of when I think Count Dracula is a child [unless it's a dead one]).  We seem to be back at criminology, or the psychology of the criminal mind, which Stoker first visited when Jonathan was in Transylvania. This is how Van Helsing decides to deal with Dracula for the moment, which is fine.  I just wonder how Van Helsing, especially as a doctor, can rationalize relying on psychology, medicine and religion all at once in dealing with Dracula. Obviously we’re suspending our disbelief (in just a few ways) for the duration of the book but I was already raising my proverbial eyebrow when Van Helsing began invoking Christianity in earnest.  Van Helsing and Stoker sort of reinvent religion to give it specific guidelines for dealing with things like vampires, when, as far as I know, vampires were never mentioned per se in the Bible (although that would have made Sunday school more fun).

It’s just interesting to wonder where Stoker (and Van Helsing) decided to draw the lines between Van Helsing’s various ways of dealing with Dracula.  When does your faith in Jesus stop aiding you and at what point do you need to start relying on science, either medical or psychological?  Moreover I’m getting sick of Van Helsing’s neverending monologues which he seems to deliver based on whatever’s motivating him at the moment. SHUT UP ALREADY AND GET TO VAMPIRE FIGHTING.  So as long as he’s blabbing I’m just curious what at the moment he’s deciding to use in his war on the undead, and why.

bram-stokers-dracula-scary-sexy-movies-1

Speaking of vampires, I am going to re-watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula and sink my fangs into some candy come this Halloween, just to compare the book and the movie like I said I wanted to (I still think Keanu Reeves as Jonathan is going to be greater than I remembered).  But last week I watched the film Let the Right One In which is undoubtedly a better movie and probably vampire flick (although the vampirism in the movie isn’t as scary as some other parts of it).  It’s no vampire rock opera from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but still, I approve.

letonein1

Kevin Fanning's Journal

All Male Review

10.26.09 | Permalink | 4 Comments

Moisten your lips with some brandy for our man Renfield, all. Surely I’m not alone in mourning his untimely demise? How will we manage to get through the rest of this book without him? In a novel filled with infuriating characters and their weak motivations, Renfield was a rock, our touchstone. Yes he ate bugs, if you want to make a thing about it, but while the rest of the men were busy excluding Mina from their boys’ club, Renfield was the one trying to do something to save her. Put me in jail, he said, I don’t care, I just need to not be here tonight. But they didn’t listen, so Mina got vamped and Renfield got a nice Transylvania beat-down for his troubles. And then! Lying in a pool of his own blood, he fills in some backstory for Van Helsing and Seward, who repay him by leaving him to die in his cell. What total dicks! Sorry Renfield, you deserved better.

Renfield RIP

Renfield RIP

What else.

Harker

I’ve done a complete 180 on Harker at this point, and now kind of love him.

Firstly, here is a video of a Kukri knife in action. OK? Harker launches himself at Dracula, swinging one of those, and gets all his gold coins. That’s my man right there.

Secondly, easily one of the most chilling passages in the book:

To one thing I have made up my mind: if we find out that Mina must be a vampire in the end, then she shall not go into that unknown and terrible land alone. I suppose it is thus that in old times one vampire meant many; just as their hideous bodies could only rest in sacred earth, so the holiest love was the recruiting agent for their ghastly ranks.

Is that not the most ice-cold shit ever?

Quincey

Quincey is pretty bad-ass, you guys. Is his character meant to be symbolic of the U. S. of A? If so I think we’re looking pretty good. While everyone else is updating their Livejournals, Quincey’s prowling around the house, blowing out windows trying to ping off bats. When Dracula shows up at the Picadilly house, everyone else panics, but Quincey busts out some Green Beret hand signals to quickly get everyone positioned. GANGSTA.

Lord Godalming

Is this guy still in the book? I keep hearing about him, but am totally unable to point to any evidence of his presence. Frankly I’m inclined to agree with the note in the back of the Norton Critical Edition that suggests Godalming as the inspiration for Snuffleupagus.

Seward

Interestingly, I don’t have strong feelings about Seward one way or the other. I think I accept him as the main narrator of the story, essentially neutral to the story. Although, he’s the one who brought Van Helsing into the mix, and never blinks whenever his former mentor pulls a bunch of nonsense. Maybe he’s not so neutral after all.

Van Helsing

Van Helsing remains the worst. Nothing redeemable about this guy, whatsoever.

This past month, whenever someone mentions disbelief about something Van Helsing says or does, someone chimes in with a comment that explains why it makes some sort of sense, given the times or the dualistic nature of his and Dracula’s roles. But I challenge anyone to find meaning in this scene, from the end of Chapter XXIII:

…Mina looked at him appealingly as she asked–

“But why need we seek him further, when he is gone away from us?” He took her hand and patted it as he replied–

“Ask me nothing as yet. When we have breakfast, then I answer all questions.” He would say no more, and we separated to dress.

After breakfast Mina repeated her question. He looked at her gravely for a minute and then said sorrowfully:–

“Because, my dear, dear Madam Mina, now more than ever must we find him even if we have to follow him to the jaws of Hell!”

There is no reason (none!) why his reply has to wait until after breakfast. He’s just a manipulative, controlling ass, and I sincerely hope that this book will end with Vampire Mina chewing Van Helsing’s throat off.

This is how fan fiction is born, isn’t it.

Matthew Baldwin's Journal

The Many Adaptations of Dracula

10.23.09 | Permalink | 4 Comments

Despite having never read Dracula before, I have long been a fan of the character and his undead ilk. And so I’m going to cheat a little bit, using my analysis column to instead give a quick rundown of some of my favorite Dracula adaptations in a variety of media.

Theater

Dracula (1924): Dracula the novel owes much of it’s success to “Dracula” the play. First staged in 1924, the many liberties the playwrights took with the original story (such as combining the characters of Mina and Lucy while jettisoning many of the rest) have since become canonized by subsequent adaptations that followed the play’s storyline rather than that of the original book. Furthermore, Béla Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula would forever define how the Count was thought of in popular culture.

Film

Nosferatu, a Symphony of Terror (1922): In the first cinematic adaptation of the novel, “Dracula” appears in neither the title nor the film. Because the studio was unable to secure the right’s to Stoker’s work, director F.W. Murnau instead called vampires (and the film itself) “nosferatu”, and the lead antagonist “Count Orlok”. When the Bram Stoker’s estate sued for copyright infringement, the court ordered all prints of the motion picture destroyed. The film had become so widely circulated by that point, though, that its eradication was impossible, and copy are now widely available.

You can even watch the entire movie on Youtube.

Dracula (1931): The Universal Pictures version of Dracula is what most people think of when they hear the name. Based on the 1924 theatrical production (complete with modified storyline), Universal drummed up interest in the film by publicizing (and probably staging) several “fainting spells” that afflicted terrorized audience members. The film’s success led to a decade of Universal horror movies, including Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992): Although Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the novel restored much of the original story (Mina and Lucy were portrayed as separate characters, for instance), the eroticism of the original was much more explicit, and the screenwriter played loose with Dracula origin (and end). Still, the film was generally well received, and was something of a box office sensation, starring, as it did, the then wildly popular Winona Rider as Mina.

Television

Count Dracula (1977): This adaptation of the novel by the BBC had fairly abysmal special effects (even for the time), but is considered to be one of the truest to the original story.

In 2006, the BBC made yet a second adaptation of the work:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In the season 5 premier of the popular dramedy serial, creator Joss Whedon pit his blond heroine against tall, dark and gruesome himself. Many worried about the clash of styles–the gothic villain dropped into a campy adventure–but as always, Whedon proved himself equal to the task.

Literature

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2002): To say anything about this graphic novel would be to give away too much. Suffice to say, if you are enjoying Dracula (or the era in which it is set), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 would make a fine follow-up. You may even see someone you know.

Games

Fury of Dracula (2006: As a boardgame enthusiast, I would be remiss not to mention perhaps my favorite adaptation of all, Fury of Dracula. One player assumes the role of the count, skulking around Europe and trying to avoid detection; the other four players become Mina Harker, Van Helsing, Doctor Seward, and Lord Godalmling, trying to stop the fiend in his tracks. Based on the novel (not the films), the game is remarkably faithful to the original plotline, and makes for a tense evening. You can read my full review of the game here.

Claire Zulkey's Journal

Damn All Thick-Headed Dutchmen! (And Englishmen and Americans)

10.21.09 | Permalink | 15 Comments

I am reading the edition of Dracula that includes a forward and commentary by Joseph Valente. In his intro, Valente bemoans just how idiotic the vampire hunters are at times in the book and we’ve just gotten to the place where Van Helsing et al are starting to behave like a bunch of dumbasses. It’s almost as if the team’s combined intelligence crumbled at the first sight of a vampire, as things started to get silly at Lucy’s mausoleum.  Van Helsing could have killed vampire Lucy when he had the chance but he decided he had to drag Arthur back to see her, thus giving her ample opportunity to suck the blood of another kid. Nice going.

The team’s biggest folly to date, obviously, is deciding that Mina is suddenly too delicate to keep up with all things vampires, even though Van Helsing declared that “She has a man’s brain.”  Even though she had been an integral part of putting together the puzzle pieces, Van Helsing and the rest decide that the best thing for her is to treat her like a child–in fact, a child that you don’t respect that much.  What’s the best thing for her? To go to bed, all the time.

What disappoints me the most is Jonathan’s newfound desire to keep things from Mina.  Even though, after his return from Transylvania, they made a vow of honesty in their relationship, even though she could obviously handle the truth when she read his journal, now he gets all buddied up with Van Helsing and the boys and it’s suddenly “Ooh let’s not bother the poor woman with the truth.”  Meanwhile while they’re off playing with the terriers Mina’s getting her blood sucked, and she’s not just “fatigued” and “pale”, she’s crying because Jonathan revoked his trust.  Guys, next time you go hunting vampires, take your womenfolk with you and don’t leave them behind in the insane asylum. They might complain but it’s for their own good.

What’s interesting, not to bring this back to the women/men thing in the book once again, is that the more Mina is treated like a weak helpless woman, the more she feels and hence acts like one. She now keeps things to herself in order to avoid upsetting Jonathan and the gang, she goes to bed when they tell her to and she considers her discomfort around Renfield “a new weakness.” I highly doubt she’d be questioning herself this much if she were as much a part of the adventure as she was when all her records were of such necessity to Van Helsing. But now they used what they needed and she’s fading away in more ways than one.

Men! Can’t live with ‘em, can’t drive stakes through their hearts.

Side note: I didn’t know that terriers were enemies of Nosferatu.  Gives even more meaning to that classic song “God Loves a Terrier.

Kevin Fanning's Journal

Dear Diary I Am Freaking Out

10.19.09 | Permalink | 15 Comments

So, wow this is starting to get pretty awesome, yeah? I guess going into this I was expecting it to be a kind of historically quaint little vampire tale? Dracula being creepy-ish but mainly overwrought, most of the good action either implied or happening off-screen, me going “NOT AS GOOD AS BUFFY S3″ after every chapter? Needless to say, Vampire Lucy biting a kid and tossing it to the ground to go after Arthur kind of reset my gauge, as far as creepiness goes. I mean right? And then Arthur, with the stake? Eesh. Basically I’m on board at this point, is what I’m saying.

Although, I have to note, Van Helsing is driving me crazy. The never telling anyone anything. The rushing here and there with little explanation or reason. I’m all: Let us in to your world, guy. Ugh and plus the accent. Actually let’s do this here:

Top 5 Annoying Accents In Order of Annoyingness:

  1. Van Helsing
  2. Thomas Bilder, the wolf-keeper guy
  3. Mr Swales
  4. Lucy’s impression of Quincey Morris (“I know I ain’t good enough to regulate the fixin’s of your little shoes”) (?)
  5. Drac

That’s just my humble, folks, but annoying accents are almost a leit-motif in this book. Surely there’s a barista somewhere who will be more than happy to share his master’s thesis on the topic.

Van Helsing is on my nerves because in this section there are multiple places where—stay with me—Stoker has written Seward having recorded Van Helsing expounding at length on basically nothing. I’ll suspend disbelief about vampires no problem, and I guess I’m suspending disbelief of the fact that Renfield has broken out of his cell four times so far, so fine, I’ll suspend disbelief about everyone’s ability to perfectly remember everything everyone ever said, accent and all.

It serves me right to be irritated by Van Helsing—I put up a big fuss about Harker being all talk and no action. Now I get a guy who’s mostly action and very little explication, and when he does explicate, it makes no sense whatsoever. The parts where VH goes on at length (e.g. Side 2 of Diver Down KIDDING little VH joke there) are the only parts of the story that really drag for me, and they often plainly illuminate the author’s stitchwork. Arthur being the one to pound the stake into Lucy is a hugely affecting and memorable scene, but we arrive at that scene because Van Helsing first convinces himself and Seward that they don’t need to kill Lucy right away. Which, uh, what? We’re talking about the same undead creature of the night who is attacking children all over the city, yes?

But the fact that the seams occasionally show is OK, because what I’m really loving about this book, beyond the whole vampire thing, is that the entire story is basically one big crush note to writing. Every chapter is written by one of the characters. They rush to write in their diaries before they forget what happened. They send each other urgent notes and letters that would have been full of !!!s and OMGs if they’d been written 100 years later. The scene in Chapter 17 where Seward and Mina are talking shorthand vs. phonograph was really sweetly endearing to me, and struck me as the Victorian equivalent of a Moleskin vs. Tumblr debate.

Even if Stoker wasn’t the perfect writer, I like that we can see him trying, putting words down just as passionately as his characters do. Yes, garlic and decapitation and stakes through the heart are going to be what get the characters through the night, but recording everything, writing it down and sharing copies and making sure the stories they have inside them get told to the right people—that’s what fuels everyone’s passion here, that’s what gets them through the days. I like that Stoker seems to feel the same way about writing that I do.

Matthew Baldwin's Journal

Nobody Likes a Freeloader

10.16.09 | Permalink | 2 Comments

Okay, true confession time. After diligently keeping up with the Infinite Jest reading schedule for three months straight, Dracula somehow got the better of me. I am caught up now, but totally stalled out there for a spell. After tearing through the Castle Dracula prologue and 50 pages thereafter, the string of Lucy chapters–in which she became something of a human heart, blood merrily whooshing into and out of her–nearly did me in. By the time she finally kicked the bucket, it was sweet release for everyone involved.

Objectively, though, I recognize why Stoker felt it necessarily to dwell on Lucy’s longest goodbye. When read literally the events induce more eye-rolling than sympathy, but, when considered metaphorically, they neatly showcases what it is about Dracula (and vampires in general) that makes him so repellent.

I don’t mean the killing. I mean, yes, killing is obviously qualifies as Very Bad, but we don’t need vampires for that–we’ve got zombies mindlessly assailing all who come within their reach, and werewolves chowing down on friend and family every 28 days. What vampires bring to the table (so to speak) is something more insidious. Take, for instance, the fact that Lucy wasn’t so much killed as converted. That vampirism can be passed from person to person taps into our primal fears of contagion.

But I don’t think that fear–fear of death, or assault, or disease–can alone account for the revulsion that vampires inspire. I believe that anger also plays a key role. Because, as the ravaging of Lucy demonstrates, vampires are just killers, they are thieves and cheaters.

I mean “cheater” here in the evolutionary psychology sense, one who takes from the community without contributing. Like all parasites, vampires are unable to “live” without siphoning off the energy of others. This is true of all animals, of course–if you’re unable to photosynthesis, you’re eating something else. But vampires don’t kill their victims outright, they feed from time and time, dropping in for a snack whenever the mood strikes. They don’t prey on humans so much as farm them.

And in the case of dear Lucy, Dracula found himself at an all-you-can-eat-buffet, as her lovelorn beaus helpfully refilled his plate every time he licked it clean. Imagine the anger they would have felt if they’d known that their efforts were going not to recuperate their friend, but instead only to fatten their enemy.6

In a funny way, the Lucy chapters struck me as a extended allegory of the current Wall Street bailout, as every day taxpayers are asked to roll up their sleeves and give blood, and every night their contributions are handed over to disreputable individuals, many of whom probably also live in castles. Think of the visceral rage many (perhaps yourself) have felt at the thought of CEOs getting huge bonuses after hardworking Everyman are asked to chip in.7

Stoker craftily exploits this instinctive anger we feel at those getting rich off the sweat (or blood) of others. And there is another dimension as well. In his foreword, Ian Holt said:

For women, Dracula represents the ultimate alpha-male. Wealth, power, will and strength define him. He exists on a higher plane than human men, appealing to the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” mentality.

I now understand what Mr. Holt meant by this. But I think that this is only half the equation–Dracula represents the ultimate alpha-male to men as well, and the effect is anything but “appealing”. Instead, it taps into that primal fear of all suitors: that after giving all to a woman they love they will be nonetheless jilted when a more powerful primate strolls onto the scene, someone who sweeps her away despite having done nothing to earn her affections.8 Good guys finish last, woozy from blood loss and reeking of garlic.

Vampires are not just beasts to be feared, but enemies to be hated. This is what makes Stoker’s character more malevolent than a straightforward killer could ever be. And it is why Dracula is more than a mere monster–he is a villain in the truest sense of the word.

« Previous Entries