I’ve been meaning to read the classic Dracula ever since I read (and reread) The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. With all the vampire fiction that’s been coming out recently, I realized I really abhor the glamorized vampire and prefer the good, old-fashioned Dracula, and so I grabbed the chance when I spotted the Viking Studio illustrated edition featuring comic book artist Jae Lee at last year’s Cut-Price Sale at National Bookstore, for about P200, along with a copy of Jane Eyre from the same line, also P200.
I knew I read Dracula when I was in 6th grade but it must have been abridged, or maybe I covered my eyes over the scary parts (Rich Hall has a sniglet for it — “snargle” — to lessen the visual impact of a horror movie [in this case, a book] by filtering it through one’s fingers) because I don’t remember much of it.
Anyway, I had to read Dracula because I need to read the book “Mina” by Marie Kiraly, a Dracula spin-off assigned to me by another Flipper for the Flips Flipping Pages Diversity Challenge this year. I also have some more Dracula-themed books in my TBR that I’d like to read so I figured I needed to read the original for comparison.
Dracula is one of the world’s most popular classics — no other novel can lay claim to having a title character that has inspired a cult following, as well as countless adaptations in the arts and popular culture. In fact, according to the Guinness World Records, has been portrayed by more actors in more film adaptations than any other horror character, outnumbering Frankenstein at 161 to 117.
Published in 1897 by Irish novelist Abraham “Bram” Stoker, Dracula did not invent the vampire, nor was it the first vampire novel ever written, but it forms the foundation of popular vampire fiction.
Dracula‘s storyline is common enough that I think I’m not giving anything major away by summarizing it here.
Jonathan Harker, a solicitor (fancy term for lawyer), embarks on a business trip to Transylvania to consult with a client about some recent property acquisitions in London.
It’s an ominous start, as Harker is puzzled at how the locals have been acting around him when they find out where he’s off to — throwing him grievous looks, making the sign of the cross, and refusing to accompany him to his destination: Castle Dracula.
An epistolary novel, the story is told in a series of letters, journal entries, and other ephemera, and in the first part of the novel, we get to know the strange Count Dracula through Harker’s letters to his fiancee, Mina.
Count Dracula proves to be a most gracious host, so gracious in fact, that he does not want Harker to ever leave his castle! After several thrilling encounters, Harker manages to escape Castle Dracula and is found months later, wandering and delirious, by a religious congregation in Budapest, where Mina nurses him back to health and marries him.
Meanwhile, back in England, a mysterious Russian vessel enters the coast — the interior is in ruins, and the few crew members left on the ship are all dead, with the captain found tied to the wheel, holding a rosary. The ship is said to carry wooden boxes of earth from Transylvania, and a massive wolf is seen leaping away from the ship as it hits the shore.
Not far off from the wreck live the Arthur Holmwood, a distinguished gentleman engaged to the beautiful Lucy Westenra; the comical cowboy Quincy Morris; Dr. John Seward, who also runs the town’s mental asylum, which houses a strange patient named Renfield, who appears to get more agitated by the day.
More trouble brews when Lucy contracts a strange illness that has her wasting away, and wandering in her sleep. Puzzled, Dr. Seward turns to his former mentor, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, who recognizes the signs of a vampire at work. Lucy dies, but a rash of killings — mostly children — leads Van Helsing to believe she is undead, and soon a vampire-slaying team (Van Helsing, Seward, Quicey Morris, and Holmwood) is formed to put Lucy to rest and destroy the evil vampire.
As the hunt for Dracula unfolds, Dracula moves on to his next conquest, Mina, whom they momentarily forgot to guard (arrgh!!!)! To save Mina, the team joined by Jonathan follow Dracula’s flight back to Transylvania for the quintessential battle of good versus evil.
I haven’t read anything this scary in a very long time (not since The Historian, which is also based on the classic Dracula), to the point that I couldn’t read it after dark, and I couldn’t read it without people surrounding me. Hence I had to read it in the weirdest places — at a fast food, on a jeepney while commuting, the MRT, the line at the supermarket — and it took me the longest time to finish the book.
Right in the middle of it, I contracted dengue hemorrhagic fever — a blood-related disease caused by the dengue mosquito, and I couldn’t bear to read it while I was in the hospital, especially as I was getting several blood tests a day and was facing the possibility of a blood transfusion. Because of the fever, I was also ghostly pale with red red lips, and I felt like I was actually bitten by a vampire, as my platelet count was dropping daily, even with the IV hooked to my arm.
I didn’t expect the horror to start until I was well into the book, but even the first few chapters were enough to raise goosebumps — the superstitious locals, creepy carriage rides, and wolves building up to dramatic and horrifying scenes that made me clutch at the pages to keep me from throwing the book in the air in fright, especially the shaving scene where Jonathan realized Count Dracula did not have a reflection; his run-in with the trio of female vampires; and his discovery of Dracula’s resting place.
And then it gets scarier — and better! — the ship crew succumbing to their deaths, Renfield’s gruesome diet inside his cell, Lucy’s blood transfusion, the escaped wolf, Lucy’s death and her transformation into the ‘bloofer lady’, and the (awesomely gristly) slaying of the undead Lucy.
And then it builds up again as Mina gets bitten, to that hair-raising scene where Dracula forces Mina to drink blood from his chest in front of Jonathan, and on to the thrilling pursuit towards the vanquishing of Dracula!
I like the atmospheric quality of the book that makes it scary even though there are no flash-bang, scream-inducing devices in it, just very well-written prose and starkly horrifying events, bringing on the terror very very quietly. This particular edition is illustrated by comic artist Jae Lee, and before you read the book the art all seems very harmless, but as the horror unfolds, the illustrations seem to get more and more terrifying the longer I look at them!
I am also amazed that despite the fact that it was written more than a century ago, Stoker appears to have been way ahead of his time. Despite the old-fashioned setting, technology, and customs in the novel, Dracula remains very readable a hundred years later, and today’s reader need not adjust to take in its prose.
I’ve always enjoyed reading epistolary novels, and had fun reading one that uses not only journal entries, letters, newspaper clippings and typewritten reports, but also delightfully dated telegrams and phonograph recordings. Dracula makes excellent use of this technique, with the characters (mainly Harker, Seward, and Mina) possessing distinct identities as they chronicle events.
I recently watched the Coppola film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” on HBO and while it had some artistic merit (I loved Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, and Gary Oldman may not be *cough* sparkling but he makes a dashing Dracula on borrowed youth), I didn’t like the liberties it took with the original story, considering Coppola had the temerity to include the author’s name in the title of his film.
I’m really annoyed that the movie invents a back story about Mina being the reincarnation of (the then human) Dracula’s 15th century wife. Even more annoying is how Mina and Dracula have a love affair (even as her best friend Lucy is dying!) in the movie and the whole thing becomes a bawdy cheesefest, with lesbianism, frontal nudity, smoking (literally!) sex, and s&m thrown into the fray.
And the lines — get this:
Dracula: Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?
Mina: I want to be what you are, see what you see, love what you love.
Dracula: Mina, to walk with me you must die to your breathing life and be reborn to mine.
Mina: You are my love… and my life, always.
Dracula: Then, I give you life eternal. Everlasting love. The power of the storm. And the beasts of the earth. Walk with me to be my loving wife, forever.
I remember I loved Dracula: Dead and Loving It, though. And I love Count on Sesame Street. Haha!
Still the best
Reading Dracula has confirmed what I’ve believed for a long time now: nothing beats the classic Dracula, and it’s no wonder that it’s the basis of the modern vampire novels that populate bookstore (and teenyboppers’) shelves these days.
Dracula is definitely one of those must-read classics, and now counts among my favorites, too. Now I can complete the FFP Diversity Challenge, and read the other vampire novels in my TBR, and just in time for Halloween, too!
My copy: trade paperback, Viking Studio illustrated edition
My rating: 5/5 stars