Dracula. There is no doubt in my mind that with mere mention of the name, you already have images conjured up in your head, undoubtedly related to some screen incarnation of this novel which has stood the test of time after being initially published in 1897, when Queen Victoria was still on the throne, the US had only just admitted its 45th state to the Union the previous year and a little Austrian boy called Adolf Hitler celebrated his 8th birthday.
Yes, this book is over 100 years old and I would respectfully submit to you that this story is often imitated but never surpassed. This is evidenced by the fact that Dracula has never been out of print since it was first published.
I seriously doubt that any reader of this review will be unfamiliar with the story behind this classic vampire tale; but have you ever taken the time to read the book itself? I would suggest that you ought to make time to read this and find out why, even at over 100 years old, this gothic tale is still the granddaddy of them all and blows the likes of Twilight out of the water.
For those of you who aren’t aware of or are totally oblivious to this particular piece of work, here’s a little synopsis:
“Young lawyer Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania on business for a mysterious Count. Months later in England, beautiful Lucy Westenra falls ill and dies, inexplicably, as if from a severe loss of blood. Lucy’s friends, including Jonathan’s fiancée Mina and the intrepid doctor Van Helsing, must begin a desperate battle against a powerful, ancient evil, in Bram Stoker’s definitive gothic tale.”
Unusual for its time, Dracula primarily takes the form of journal entries and letters from some of the book’s main characters. To my mind, this gives the story quite a personal touch and draws the reader in just that little bit more.
Written by an Irishman (Bram Stoker) and set mainly in England and deepest, darkest Transylvania, Dracula has been categorised at various times as vampire literature, gothic fiction, thriller… but what is not in doubt is the fact that it is true horror.
My affinity for horror really took root before I had even turned 10, as I would watch Hammer House of Horror movies on late night TV. There was The Wolfman, Frankenstein, the Mummy… but none captured my imagination as much as Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Count Dracula. He genuinely terrified me as a child. Looking back now, I can see exactly why. This wasn’t a mindless monster, rampaging through the countryside. This wasn’t an undead goliath created in a madman’s laboratory. No, this is a suave immortal with superhuman strength; powers of hypnosis and therianthropy; no compunction about killing to sate his lust for blood; and let’s face it, he’s quite the ladykiller…
From this screen introduction to Dracula, around the age of 9, I acquired my first copy of Bram Stoker’s novel and found myself immersed in a world that was infinitely darker and more terrifying than any film adaptation I have ever seen.
When it was first published, Dracula was viewed as a straightforward horror story. It was written at a time when writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle H.G.Wells and H. Rider Haggard wrote incredibly popular stories centring around the invasion of, or danger to, the British Empire. I think it is fair to say that the vampiric Count of Stoker’s tale represented such a danger to Queen and Country and was perhaps part of its appeal at the time. Now, Dracula is viewed with an eye on much of what it actually represents: issues surrounding feminism, the role of women in Victorian culture, views concerning sexuality, British colonialism, immigration, folklore and religion. To say the book is deep, is an understatement but it is doubtful if Stoker ever intended it to be so!
Dracula was not a bestseller on its initial release. Viewed as a good horror storry and critics of the time praised the book, Dracula was not elevated to its current status until well into the 20th century when movie versions of Stoker’s tale started emerging. In fact, when F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu was released in 1922, sales of the novel Dracula soared due to the controversy stirred up when Florence Balcombe, Stoker’s widow, attempted to have the film, effectively an unauthorised adaptation of Dracula, removed from public circulation.
As is now common knowledge, Stoker spent several years researching European folklore surrounding vampires and was particularly taken with the stories surrounding Vlad II of Wallachia; more infamous as Vlad the Impaler; allegedly responsible for the execution (via impalement) of anywhere between 40,000 and 100,000 criminals, political rivals, enemy soldiers and anyone he deemed “useless to humanity”; and whose descendants were known by the family name Dracula.
There is no question about it that Dracula is indeed a rich, well-researched novel that has endured for more than a century in no small part due to Stoker’s own research but this solid foundation is built upon with wonderfully dark set pieces in deepest Transylvania and Victorian England, combined with a story that is now famous throughout the world.
Stoker didn’t create the first vampire of fiction nor certainly the last. However, more than 200 movies have been made using the character and there is no question that Dracula established the archetype for the vampire character that has often been imitated, but never surpassed.