Dracula

Monday, March 15, 2010


Dracula
Bram Stoker, 1897

I think Dracula needs a longer title.  I'd like to suggest: Dracula: Sexism Kills!  

I can't believe I couldn't get through this book when I tried to read it 8 or so years ago.  Maybe my nineteenth century reading skills have improved.  I can't imagine why.

I really enjoyed this book.  The characters were properly bluff and British when called for, Dracula was creepy, Renfield really tragic, Van Helsing, among other things, played for comic relief, which I was not expecting.  And Mina!  Level-headed Mina the super typist and analysis girl.  She was awesome.  I know the role she's given to pay in fighting the Undead is a bit of a rear guard, but I love her.  I love that once she accepts that Dracula is real and very dangerous, her response is: 'alright, now see all this information you've got all over?  Why don't you let me sort that out for you and clarify it?  Okay?  Great.'  She's an information processor, that's her strength, and I completely understand that. 

She's constantly paid the most backhanded compliments: “as good as a man” and such.  But said comments are all being made by the men around her, who are not always the shiniest pennies in the pot, so it is clearly their personal blind sexism, not necessarily the author's belief.  And it is their sexism that almost causes her to be turned.  Mina (Spoiler) almost gets killed by Dracula because, after she's been amazingly helpful, the guys “chivalrously” decide to “keep her out of it”, and so none of them talk to her for long enough to notice something's wrong.  Despite the fact that they just watched Lucy die.  Silly guys.  But then they turn her connection to Dracula around and use it to track him, and she personally deduces what routes he's likely to take.  So that works out.

I'm curious how much of the dramatic irony is intentional; I suspect most of it.  Vampire were by no means unknown in popular culture when Dracula came out, so all the characters stumbling around not recognizing what are fairly obvious signs of a vampire attack was probably clear to original readers.  In that sense it carries a nice horror-movie vibe, the kind where you want to yell at the characters “No, don't go there!  You idiot!  Don't you know you're in a horror movie?”  But it's not frustrating, just tensely plotted.

Dracula is Dracula, it's the classic.  Not the first vampire novel, but the most iconic, the one all modern works refer back to.  The most interesting thing, considering I'm looking down the timeline, is that after this it seems to split between alluring vampires and animalistic vampires.  But Dracula is both hideously inhuman, and weirdly charismatic.  So here we'll put the baseline of literary vampires, and I'll compare later incarnations starting next week.

Dracula's powers include:
Hypnosis, including long-distance compulsion after initial contact
Super-strength
Super-speed
Animal Control
Turn into bat, wolf, dust
Appearance of eternal youth, directly tied to ingestion of blood.

Limitations include:
Need darkness for most powers to function
Need connection to holy soil from native land  (Slightly unclear why, because he doesn't reliably sleep during the day)
Young vampires seem to sleep during the day
Need to be invited into a building
Weak against garlic, including garlic flowers
Branch of wild rose will reportedly bar
Driven back by holy symbols, including consecrated host.
Difficulty crossing running water

New vampires:
Made by draining the blood of the victim while under mind control over several nights.  May require the ingestion of vampire blood by the victim, or that may only make the bond stronger, it's unclear.  Victim becomes unholy while still alive, does not fully become vampire until after death.  New vampires seem to learn slowly, do maintain exceptional speed, strength, ability to turn to dust.  All vampires created by Dracula in the book are female.

How to destroy:
Stab the heart, preferably with wood but not necessarily (a knife is used on D himself!), and/or cut off the head.  Van Helsing reports a sacred bullet would be effective, but it is not tried in the book. Older vampires turn to dust, new ones revert to a normal dead body.  Sunlight diminishes power, does not kill.

4 Stars - A Really Good Book

Next Week: I Am Legend

1 comment:

Zak said...

Mina Murray is awesome! After reading DRACULA for the first time recently I happily remembered that THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN contains a ton of Mina Murray fan fic.

This book captured me much more than I expected, and I managed to cross that line between appreciating and enjoying that can be tough with classics.

As you mention, all the Mina Murray information processing bits are great. In general, it was really interesting how much information processing geekery there was in the novel. How to deal with and distribute the isolated experiences of the protagonists was really one of their main concerns, and it was always great how much importance proper (and modern) record keeping and review was seen as a strength in the fight against Satan.

It's the kind of concern all teams should have, but rarely gets addressed. I suspect that were Mina Murray to land on LOST island, she'd have that whole thing figured out pretty quick.

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