Kageoween: Dracula Book Review

INTRODUCTION

     Bram’s Stoker’s magnum opus, Dracula is 121 years old this year and has been read, re-read and passed on from generation to generation as the granddaddy of all horror works. It has been ripped off, in the 1920’s, with Nosferatu. Bram himself, took elements of Carmilla and incorporated it into his work and a reference to that is included in the deleted chapter of Dracula, the short story called Dracula’s Guest. It has been made into umpteen dozen flicks, starting with Dracula in 1930’s, the Hammer films of the 1970’s and a remake from 1992 by Francis Ford Coppola and many more into the 2000’s. It’s safe to say this Iconic bad-ass won’t be going away anytime soon and he will continue to inspire for generations to come.

     How does the book hold up in our modern world? Let’s find out!

SYNOPSIS

     October 11thDracula is an espitsoly work, meaning it is told through letters, journals and other similar tropes. You have 4 main characters, plus two villains. The protagonist are Lucy Westerna, Mina Harker, Johnathan Harker, Dr. Van Helsing and Arthur. The antagonist are Dracula and his servant Renfeild.

     Our story opens with Johnathan Harker siting in a restaurant, enjoying some chicken and paprika dish, which he refers to as thirsty, which, is already brilliant before we’re even out the gate. John is a solicitor for Dracula, come to close a deal so the count can move to London and enjoy the beauty of 18th century England. On his journey, Harker continually runs into fantastic use of foreboding and tension building. Harker, a subtle atheist, which we soon find out, doesn’t quite understand the superstition of the town’s people, who give him multiple gifts for protection, on his way to Count Dracula’s castle. Garlic, a crucifix and typical anti-vampire devices. Memo-how the hell are the towns people so hip to fighting off vampires, but Dracula, in his weakened state, still lives to instill fear in the village?

     Once he has made his way to Dracula’s castle, we’re introduced to some, well, peculiar aspects of the count’s life. The count never seems to eat, he sleeps during the day, keep Johnathan up all night with daring tales of battles long past and he has no servants. He does have three vampress’ in his basement, like a boss, who are easily aroused by young blood and he has an exquisite library.

     During his stay at Dracula’s castle, Harker starts to realize he is a prisoner and discovers strange things about the count, like his despising of Harker looking into a mirror, claiming disgust at such vanity, clearly a brilliant foreshadow, but also a dig at the 1800’s culture of beauty above all.

     One night, Johnathan is awoken by the vampires coming towards him, when they’re quickly shut down by the count, who has other plans for Harker and tosses them a fun size snack, or an infant, however you want to see it. Memo-why do reviewers never point out the interesting male homosexual subtext to this, but imply it all throughout Carmilla?

     We leave the castle and start to be introduced to Lucy and Mina, both of whom are pollyannaish as fuck. That in and of itself, is an understatement, because there are infants with better street smarts, but I digress. Reminder- we’re in the 1800’s, not 2018, so it works.

     At first life is normal for both Mina and Lucy, but things start to get weirder and weirder after a boat mysteriously makes it to shore with everyone dead, which is clearly a brilliant reference to The Lost World: Jurassic Park… Note-apparently this book predates that movie, interesting, must remember this.

     Lucy is the first to be turned into a vampire and is subsequently killed by Dr. Van Helsing, a brilliant mind, who is clearly one of the best Ahab’s ever put into lit.

     It doesn’t take long for the Scooby gang and Giles I mean, our protagonist to realize that Dracula is behind all this and the build up to the climax is truly fantastic suspense the likes few could emulate.

CHARACTERS

     It doesn’t take much to note that Bram is a very social human being. He has a nack for people, which is unusual for Gothic horror, given one of its traits is usually emphasis on landscapes and buildings.  He has taken great care to elucidate on each of the individuals quirks, mannerisms, demeanor, educational history and more, through brilliant prose. Stoker wasn’t fucking around here and it couldn’t be shown any better.

     Each character is truly different in how they engage each other and how they come to their conclusions throughout this gem of a novel.

     My two personal favorite characters are Dracula and Van Helsing and love how well they’re written and brought to life. Van Helsing is clearly the old guard, his speech is archaic as opposed to the younger characters in the book. He is wisen, he is experienced, he has seen all the offerings life has to give and has lived to tell the tale. Dracula is similar in this regard, but they’re still vastly different characters. Almost like Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis. The best dialogue easily belong to these two. Although, I appreciate Renfeild, for the seemingly satirical take on Psychology at the time that he represents and at the same time how he is a subtle dig on people following trends before growing bored of them as a form of insanity, vs chasing your passions, regardless of what people think.

     The only really bad thing is in regards to character arcs and how easily some characters switch gears in their beliefs of wampires. Some need little convincing, or it seemed that way and the only real growth by the end is Mina, in my mind.

     Despite that small bit of criticism, everything else is on point.

PROSE

     Wonderful, beautifully written and very picturesque. It is written in a more modern prose than most novels of its age and this was clearly intentional from the getgo. It also helps us with understanding characters, since Van Helsing is older and speaks in a way more reminiscent of the style of the times. Bram doesn’t just stop there, though, he adds a bunch of fun Easter eggs through out, you need to find them, but they’re there and fun to see the references to old stories and science.

     Bram likes to refer to Dracula unspecificly at times as Him and He and It. The most peculiar part about it, is that it would otherwise be grammatically incorrect, if not for character building prior to its use. Only one other mention gets this treatment that is God himself, because it is grammatically correct. This suggest that it was intentionally done and subtly builds Dracula up to being a God himself, but in the reserve, almost like Dracula is a different take on Lucifer.

     It wouldn’t be an understatement to refer to him as the Shakespeare of the Gothic horror novel.

 

THEMES AND SUBTEXT

     In 121 years, I am sure a lot has been found. Some people see it as an analogy for immigration, for sexuality and the social mores at the time whilst others see it as just an adventure book.

     A lot of critics of the day didn’t quite appreciate the modernity of the story, especially featuring typewriters, among other items. One could argue that the subtext of the younger generation vs the older generations are too hard to ignore, especially when you factor in the detraction for being modern and I wouldn’t refute that idea, it is a valid take away.

     I personally think, the immigration aspect, is only a fraction of the take away that Bram most likely, subconsciously meant.

     One of Bram’s earlier works was about a young immigrant, who works at a theater and is married to a faithful wife, when they immigrate to London so the man can get a better job. He becomes paranoid of his wife’s infidelity, which would have been a bigger no no then, then it ever was.  It ends with him killing his wife.

     Now, what could that have to do with Dracula? Well, some of that book is autobiographical. Bram, who worked at a theater, immigrated with his wife to London, seeking better work. The only difference is his wife, as far as we know, wasn’t unfaithful, nor did Bram kill his wife. Given this aspect, it is tough to ignore that Dracula is really a fish out of water story, with Dracula as analogous to Bram himself and representative of his fears of leaving his home country, moving to London and being an outsider. Much like Bram showcased his knowledge of multiple topics through prose, such as chemistry, philosophy, science and psychology, so too, did Dracula, who wanted to fit in. Bram, clearly being sociable, exhibited a desire to assimilate to the culture. It should also be noted that all of those who didn’t quite appreciate the book, happen to be hugely Anti-social, the most notable of which was H.P. Lovecraft, scoffing about the book being great because it had an editor. Lovecraft’s criticism is invalidated when you realize he was anti-social, but also, racist as hell. Clearly he couldn’t relate to Bram and as such, he didn’t enjoy the novel, which is a shame and quite the contradiction for an anti-social human. I also believe Lovecraft was jealous, because he couldn’t write half as well as Bram could and it was noticeable in his thoughts on the book.

     Regardless, I believe immigration is the right take away from this, albeit, in a different context than most suppose it to be.

CONCLUSION

     Bram Stoker is one of the best writers to have ever lived. Despite minuite flaws, such as lack of character arc, some literary solipsism, since you have to be really well read to appreciate this deeper, I can’t help but see it as the near perfect novel it is. I took three pages of notes and still feel this review to be too short, as there is so much more that can still be said on this book after 121 years. It stood the test of time because it really is the best of the genre and no one has come close, not even Stephen King himself, to beating Bram as best horror writer ever.

     This is one of the few books that you can finish and desire to read again, right away. It is more than a novel, it is an experience. Older reviews from the time, point out its gory nature, but it isn’t there. They imagined it because Bram was a genius in how he wrote. Much like Halloween, the 1978 original, you only think it was a blood bath, the reality is so more was left to be imagined.

     The only suitable score for this book is

10 stars out of 5.

———-
Minor corrections to the text, 11th OCT 2018 9:18 pm

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