If you’ve been around Penprints any time since October 2018, you’ve probably seen my frequent references to Dracula and how much I love it and want to write Dracula fan fiction and wear all the Storiarts Dracula merch etc. etc. etc.. Well, today a little background into why I love it so much.
I’m not sure what compelled me to use one of my precious Audible credits to purchase an audiobook version of Dracula by Bram Stoker.
While I’ve always loved science fiction and fantasy and most else that can be classified as “weird”, I’ve had an aversion to the horror genre (a post for another time, perhaps?). I’ve never caught the vampire craze, and I have a tenuous relationship with most pieces of classic literature.
So why’d I decide to listen to Dracula—vampire novel, predecessor of the horror genre, piece of classic literature?
I still don’t know. But listen to it I did, expecting not to like it, expecting I’d not even finish it, and instead found I love it. So much so that when I visited Barnes and Noble last Tuesday, I bought a red leather copy to keep in my personal library.
So here’s a review/journal entry to explain some of why I so enjoyed Dracula. Maybe it’ll intrigue you into reading this classic.
Jonathan Harker, a young English lawyer, travels through the Eastern European country of Transylvania to conclude a real estate transaction with a nobleman. As Harker wends his way through the picturesque countryside, the local peasants react with terror when he tells them his destination: Castle Dracula.
Upon arriving at the crumbling old castle, Harker finds that the elderly Dracula is a well-educated and hospitable gentleman. But after only a few days, Harker realizes that he is effectively a prisoner in the castle, and as he investigates the nature of his confinement, he realizes that the count possesses supernatural powers and murderous ambitions.
Told from the perspective of multiple narrators, Dracula recounts a group of ordinary people who uncover the count’s plot and seek to stop him at any cost.
(Blurb adapted from sparknotes.com.)
The first thing to strike me about Dracula is its format: a collection of newspaper clippings, ships logs, letters, and personal diaries. And that style of storytelling is incredibly appealing to me
Each piece of writing—be it a telegram, ship log, journal entry, etc.—pertains in some way to the overarching plot surrounding Count Dracula. While the reader sees correspondence and reflections from almost a dozen different sources, we primarily get to know three narrators in particular: Jonathon Harker, Mina Murry, and Dr. John Seward, which brings us to the next thing I loved…
Um, I loved them all.
Well, mainly Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, Dr. Seward, and Dr. Van Helsing. But the rest were also endearing.
They loved each other so much and were so passionate in their affections and admiration for each other and all that is good that I just have to smile whenever I think about them. (More on them when we get to the themes.)
Amity, modernity the nature of goodness, and the nature of evil were some of my favorite themes from Dracula.
Victorian era London (where the main characters are from) was one of the peaks of modern enlightenment and science. I found it very interesting how that modernity failed in the fight against Count Dracula. The heroes had to suspend what science told them, what their enlightened minds could understand, in order to go after Count Dracula. Instead of science, they were forced to embrace that which would be scoffed at as mere superstition. Their modern intellect and rationality were forced to give way to that which cannot be explained.
I believe this is especially thought provoking in today’s modern world. We get so comfortable in our flesh and bone, in the brief moment of time we live on this earth, in the science that’s integrated into every aspect of our lives. We think we’re so logical, enlightened, modern, scientific, and knowledgeable—too proud (or maybe too afraid) to embrace what we can’t see or don’t understand, which, for the Christian, has frightening implications when it comes to our faith in a Savior God who has always worked in strange and supernatural ways.
We should take care not to become so modern that unseen, strange realities have no bearing on how we think and feel and live.
The nature of evil.
Count Dracula is cruel toward others, murderous, hateful, vengeful, cold, proud, selfish, and basically completely void of love for anyone but himself. He is humanity at its worst, most fallen. Not only does him simply love only himself, his heart is so hard that he is incapable of treasuring anything but himself.
In him, we see so much of the awful potential that humanity has to be evil (i.e. – total depravity).
Amity and the nature of goodness.
In our heroes (Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, Dr. Seward, Dr. Van Helsing, etc.), there is a simple honesty and goodness. They are diligent. They are afraid yet fight on, exemplifying courage and perseverance in the face of great evil. They are, it seems, outmatched against Count Dracula, but they keep at their quest no matter how bleak it looks or how much they’ve lost already because if not they cannot or will not fight Dracula, who will? They are quick to see the value in each other, quick the love each other. They are kind and love what is good.
In them we see all the best potential that humanity has for good (i.e. – ways people image Christ, like we were designed to).
[The Portrayal of Men, Women, and Marriage]
In general, the portrayal in the heroes of masculinity, femininity, and marriage was so wonderful and refreshing.
Mina Murray was smart and resourceful, and while sometimes the writing was over the top with surprise at how smart and resourceful Mina was, it was a fitting representation of women. She was kind and gracious, clever and helpful, brave and tenacious.
Also, all the dudes in this book were so amazing as men. They saw it as their responsibility to help and protect Mina and the other women at whatever cost to themselves. They were gallant and devoted as well as intelligent and strong. Where gentleness was needed, they were gentle. Where ferocity was needed, they were fierce. They, simply put, were good men.
Also, a certain couple gets married in the middle of the book, and their relationship and Stoker’s portrayal of marriage and the roles in marriage is just so beautiful to me.
[The Slow Burn Plot]
I just loved the plot for this. And I don’t usually love plots because I’m a character first person…. but Stoker was masterful.
In the first act, he attaches us primarily to one character (Jonathan Harkar, aka: my favorite) and then deploys an unexpected (at least to me) twist, veering off in a new direction while the reader reels from a mid-book cliffhanger.
Then, begins the slow burn.
The reader knows all along the way that something bad is happening, that the things that are being written—every ship log, diary entry, etc.—are relating to Count Dracula in some way, but the reader isn’t always aware how it is related.
There’s just this rising tide of dread that grows and grows as tension tightens and tightens around each arc of the plot.
It’s especially excruciating since the reader knows about Count Dracula, but the heroes don’t at first. Every little thing that’s a red flag or piece of foreshadowing for the reader just goes over the heads of our heroes at first because they have no idea what they’ve gotten into.
To me, it was so well done that I hope to write such suspenseful fiction one day.
Dracula is still the father of all vampire fiction (and some horror fiction too), so I cannot not mention that there were some things that unsettled me and stunt my recommendation when it comes to younger readers.
Generally, it’s a surprisingly bloodless book (considering these are vampires, people), but there are a few scenes where the violence and gore was unsettling to me. Also, there was a weird and unsettling sensuality in the way vampires were portrayed in some scenes.
However, I found these scenes/this content few and far between and not troubling to the degree that I can’t enjoy the story as a whole.
[To Wrap It Up]
Excuse me while I go write a ton of Dracula fan fiction and rave about how freaking amazing Jonathan Harker is.
(Seriously, though, if I ever were to write a Victorian era novel [or something steampunk-ish] it would be Dracula inspired. And if I ever were to write anything involving vampires, it would basically be a Dracula retelling. And also the main character is going to based off of Jonathan Harker. Just so you’re all warned.)
Have you ever read Dracula? What did you think?
p.s. – Let me just say that I’m so happy that I get to post on Penprints about persevering in the power of Jesus one week, curate a ridiculous collection of gifs about how to maximize bookstore enjoyment another week, and then turn around and share some thoughts on Dracula. All on the same blog.
Hopefully none of you have whiplash from such topic changes, but if you do, I will quote Lego Batman to you.
Mwahahaha (I’m done now I promise).