Review: ‘Dracula’

dracula

Dracula

by Bram Stoker

  • Date Finished: Nov. 3, 2013
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1897
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Fall 2013
  • Grade: B+
  • Thoughts upon finishing:

Now, even though I only gave Dracula a B+, I will say this first and foremost: Bram Stoker’s novel was 100 times better than any vampire movie or novel (*cough* I’m looking at you, The Historian *cough*) I’ve ever seen/read (with maybe ONE exception). I’m not usually a fan of the vampire genre, and didn’t actually have an overwhelming desire to read Dracula in the first place, and probably wouldn’t have if I didn’t have a copy laying around the house.

But you know, I’m glad I read the book because, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there’s something to be said about the “original” horror novels. The origin stories, so to speak. You can’t have Twilight, cheesy vampire costumes or even the monsters in Stephen King stories without Stoker’s master work.

And I say master work because, for what it is, Dracula is a very good, entertaining, genuinely creepy novel. The story is told entirely in letters and journal entries (a pleasant surprise), and first tells the story of Jonathan Harker, an English businessman who visits Count Dracula in Transylvania – unaware of what he’s getting himself into – and is trapped for weeks. He eventually escapes, but Dracula is also planning a move to England and what follows is a small band’s efforts to rid their country of the monster, as well as kill him.

What should I say first….well first, I came into this reading having just finished The Historian, which tells the Dracula story in a different way but also delves much deeper into the history and myth surrounding the real Vlad the Impaler, or Count Dracula. Despite that book’s many faults, it introduces readers to Dracula the person, not the monster. And so, there was a little bit of disappointment in reading Dracula, as I found very little of the historical realness created by The Historian. In fact, since the entire story was penned by the folks fighting Dracula, I’d say the monster in Stoker’s novel is a little flat at times, since we only see him through the lens of his foes and their interpretations of his character and actions.

That being said, Stoker’s talent was evident at times; several passages were legitimately shiver-worthy, especially the somewhat erotic descriptions of being bit for the first time. And then, at one point, Stoker describes Dracula climbing down his castle wall, scuttling all spider-style and I’m sorry, but that’s cr-ee-py.

Of course, the books has its flaws. The epistolary style gets a little tiring at times, especially when all the players finally catch up with each other and spend 10 pages comparing notes and journals. It’s like, “How about we just talk everything out, dudes? Stop the hours of reading, you have a vampire to catch!” Then, there’s the fact that they don’t even say the word “vampire” until we’re more than halfway through. The “vampire-doctor-man”, Van Helsing, is not nearly as dashing as the similarly-titled movie suggests, and he spends most of his time holding out his knowledge that yes, they’re chasing a vampire for weeks.

And then, yes, there’s the sexism. Of course Dracula goes straight for the ladies, both of whom spend an annoying amount of time talking about how lucky they are that they have such strong, red-blooded men to protect their poor, vulnerable womanly bodies. In fact, I’d say the character Mina has more balls than her husband – who spends most of his time fainting from fright/sorrow/worry – and yet she’s still OK with the fact that yes, I should probably stay out of this vampire-catching business because it would totally overwhelm my woman brain.

But all in all, a good book and I’m glad I read it. Now I did say there was ONE vampire book that I’d say was just as good, or even better, and that’s (no surprise here) ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. But then, King’s vampires are truly terrifying baby-eating monsters (all I can think about is the Dixie Pig in The Dark Tower series…shudder). Though I think Stephen King goes a good way toward perfecting the vampire myth, I still appreciate that it all started with Stoker and for that reason alone, I’m glad I read him.

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