I decided to read Dracula as my horror classic for three reasons – first, a friend had loaned me The Book of Renfield: A Gospel of Dracula by Tim Lucas and I had really enjoyed it. Second, vampires are extremely popular in fiction today, and being better informed of the source material is always a good idea. Third, I like the vampire myth. I find it interesting how Dracula and other vampires used to be the ultimate predator of virtuous young women, and now they are the prey of young women, be they virtuous or not. It’s intriguing how our culture turned that myth on its head so abruptly and completely.
In Dracula by Bram Stoker, Jonathon Harkins leaves on a business trip, his first as a solicitor, and is gone far longer than he should be, while in Whitby his fiancée Mina battles her friend Lucy’s strange sleepwalking and weariness. When Jonathon returns from Transylvania he is a shattered man, full of self-doubt and fears of madness. Meanwhile, one of Dr. John Seward’s patients is decidedly odd for a madman, and keeps going on about serving his master. When Dr. Seward finally summons his old friend and teacher Dr. Van Helsing to try and determine the cause of Lucy’s strange illness the meat of the novel begins, as the characters realize that they have to struggle not just for their lives, but for their souls.
Dracula was for me, everything I could want in a horror novel. It was scary without being gruesome, it was full of tension for the safety and well-being of the protagonists, all of whom were extraordinary and likeable. It was fast-paced while maintaining that broody, descriptive atmosphere that typifies the horror genre. The epistolary form, which often gets on my nerves, was perfectly utilized in this case as the characters use their letters and journal entries to form a cohesive picture of their enemy. It added to the tension prevalent throughout the novel as it gave it an immediacy not always present in third-person narration.
Although the “fighting for their souls” bit seems almost cheesy now, I don’t think it was when this was first written. It had a fresh feeling to it, and was scary. The idea of no matter how virtuous you were, another creature having the ability to take control of you and make you do unspeakable things, without even the release of death to look forward to, was communicated in a more horrifying way by Stoker than I can.
When reading about Dracula we can’t forget that this is the novel that redefined the vampire. Before Stoker they had been considered barely above zombies – shambling and grotesque creatures who feasted on blood rather than brains. This novel was brilliant enough to change the entire world’s concept of what something was. That’s no easy feat. Dracula also provided the inspiration for the more likable vampires of Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbo’s novels – slowly giving rise to the hordes of pretty vampire novels that sparkle and shine at us today.