When I was in the ninth grade, I was assigned to read Bram Stoker’s groundbreaking Gothic horror novel, Dracula, for my English class. I considered myself a reader, even then, but when faced with a 400 page book written in 1897 in the midst of my great exploration of science-fiction, I confess that I skimmed it as quickly as possible and remembered next to nothing. However, around Halloween last year, I had the good fortune to have a particular film recommended to me: the Hammer Horror production of Dracula, starring Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and none other than Christopher Lee as the Count himself. Having been thrilled by the performances, and wondering how closely the plot resembled that of the original novel, I was inspired to pick it up and give it another go.
And now I am insisting that the rest of you go read it as well. Seriously- go!
There are so many things I did not remember about the novel of Dracula, and so much that differs from the myriad of theatrical and print rehashings that have cropped up over the years. Here are some things that struck me as I read the novel:
-Did you know that Dracula is an epistolary novel? Rather than telling it from a single point of view, the entire novel is told through diary excerpts, newspaper clippings, and letters- something which I clearly remember in Frankenstein, but had completely forgotten about in Dracula.
-Did you know that Dracula in the novel is not harmed by sunlight? He may not change his form, and most of his supernatural powers are nullified, but there is nothing stopping him from walking around in the daytime and doing as he pleases. The idea of vampires being harmed by sunlight was actually dreamed up by the writers of the 1922 film Nosferatu, who came up with it in an effort to be different than Dracula and avoid a lawsuit.
-Did you know that, contrary to pretty much every later portrayal of Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, in the novel he is portrayed as a grey-haired scientist who speaks in broken English and often makes very little sense? And, even better, that his character feels way more like an uber-mensch for all his shortcomings than all the untouchable Hollywood actors who came after him?
There are plenty of familiar things, too- the Count’s angry red eyes, the pointy teeth, that black swooshy cape that everyone knows Dracula always wears, and the constant feeling of tension that comes from being stalked by a monster so old and powerful. If you can find an illustrated edition, all the better for you (I got a beautiful edition illustrated by Edward Gorey through Interlibrary Loan, which you could grab here! – but honestly, any edition will suffice, and with lengthy and intricate dramas like The Goldfinch and The Luminaries back in style in a big way, you’ll be surprised how well it fits into the modern literary world. After knowing the real story of the Count, you’ll never look at Dracula the same again!