Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Books Yay!: Dracula, by Bram Stoker

As I was trying to save for my spring break trip to Florida, I was cruising through the free section of the Kindle store and saw Dracula.  I've been trying to read more classic literature in order to better understand the progress of modern literature, and I also had made a note to read more of the actual Dracula legend after finishing the terrifying and freaking SUPERB The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which is a brilliant...reworking? update? tinkering-with? of the legend. 

Even as a voracious reader, I often have a hard time working up the enthusiasm for older writing.  I was having a similar issue with H.P. Lovecraft, to the point of announcing that I hated his work.  However, when Rose invited me to start Pink Narcissus Press with her, she, our coeditor Dr. Bill and I went through a period of nailing down what each other liked in literature and from there, what we wanted to publish.  Dr. Bill basically forced me to read some Lovecraft - suggesting that I start with the glorious "Rats in the Wall" rather with the Cthulu mythos - and explained that older literature is often hard to read and seems cliche because they were the works that new authors in the genre needed to meet and exceed.  Yes, he basically said, new entries in various genres are easier to read, but it's because they are standing on the shoulders of giants.  It was with this in mind that I downloaded Stoker's Dracula.  I thought it would be worthwhile to explore the horror genre and the Dracula myth in particular.

Though still a worthwhile experiment in the spirit in which it was intended, there were absolutely no boredom problems with Dracula.  This book is riveting.  It's written as a series of journals and letters collected by the protagonist Jonathan Harker's wife, Mina.  They chronicle the strange occurrences surrounding the movements of Count Dracula, a clearly no good but mysterious individual.  The Harkers, along with a team of friends assembled to help get to the bottom of it all, wind up pursuing Dracula in the hopes of destroying him and freeing his various enchanted victims.

You already know most of the Dracula mythos, so I'll just make a few comments about the story that I found surprising.  First of all, Dracula's mesmerizing hold on humans extends beyond women.  I think we most commonly see Dracula as a great seducer of women, but in the opening letters of the book, it is Jonathan Harker who finds himself enthralled by Dracula, not for sexual ends, but simply to meet Dracula's own desire for control.  That adds a depth and true menace to the Dracula character for me, taking the effect from simple sexual goals to a more insidious control over the human spirit, over free will.

I was also intrigued by the incredibly strong female character of Mina Harker.  Strong female characters were not what one would call super-dominant during the time Stoker was writing (you can insert your own commentary about whether or not they are prevalent now), and Mina Harker is an exceptional character.  She is strong, smart and proves her worth as a valuable member of the team as they track down Dracula.  I also appreciate the portrayal of the strong, rewarding female friendship at the center of the book between Mina and her friend Lucy.  Not only is it unusual to see friendships portrayed so nakedly and intensely, but it's particularly so between women, who are often set up as rivals instead of friends.  This, too, added depth to the story and to Mina's character.

I heartily recommend reading this one - it does not have the drag that older literature sometimes does and it's really fun to explore the Dracula story in its original literary form. 

1 comment:

  1. And it will creep you out like a good horror should.

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