"Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain."
-Brahm Stoker, Dracula
I have defended Dracula for years now. I can’t tell you how many times I have ruined a night of drinking by going on a tirade about the sheer force of will this creation is. The undercurrent this book was able to reach was, and is still, prolific on a gargantuan scale. Staying in print over a hundred years. More than a century of mainstream horror defining a genre through the personified myth of vampirism.
Dracula ends up in the same category as Frankenstein’s Monster. Neither of them gets the credit they deserve, and both of them have been butchered in film. The movies that drive these works of literature into the limelight while also misrepresenting them. Taking the mystery as well as the rough edges and filing them down into palatable dialogue, pretty faces. Taking the instinct of cruelty and covering it up with about an inch of studio makeup.
This saying, it can be argued this book wouldn’t be a classic without the Bela Lugosi interpretation from the 1931 film. These old black and white pictures have transmogrified the way we view horror to this day. The dark contrast of grayscale work, limiting the communication of the director, giving shadow the real leading role. The first film adaptation of the book, although far removed from the actual text, does capture the fascination we have with irredeemable evil. The community we find in hating a common enemy. Dracula gives an audience the chance to carry pitchforks and torches from the comfort of theater seating.
There are many directions you can take this classic. For me, I look for the concepts that hold up. The ideas Brahm Stoker caught ahold of that still burns in the human condition. The power of superstition. Asking us questions like;
“How much blood would you drink to be young again?”
“Are some so irredeemably lost that the only thing to do is drive a stake through their heart?”
“Are there really monsters?”
The last question being the most important. Playing on the imagination is what makes this book continually relevant to this day. There is no significant political push, no agenda beyond the fantastic. This work is a product of a transitional society, an old culture reeling in the wake of technological advancement, a world that is afraid.
The most significant thing we have in common with the world of 1897, fear. Enlisting Christian symbols to kill vampires, hideous, powerful creatures scaling castle walls. These motifs are primal storytelling at its finest, set into 1897, capitalizing on the fear we had to progress, and the fear we’ll always have to regress.
The skill Bram Stoker has to command dread is incredible. Reading classics like these shapes much of what I do. Learning how to harness panic in my work, looking for what makes work like this mean more to me than just a 1931 Bela Lugosi movie poster. Training myself to emulate something as powerful as incisors inches away from Helen Chandler’s blood filled neck.
Brahm Stoker’s words represent the spirit that keeps the genre of horror alive. The fear of death, the fear of survival. The fact that, as long as we are living, there will always be something lurking underneath your bed.
This is why Dracula is more than just a pretty face.