Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book 17- "Dracula" by Bram Stoker

I’m a vampire book fan. One of my favorite Stephen King books is “Salem’s Lot,” I’ve read all of the Sookie Stackhouse books (the series “True Blood” on HBO is based on) and I even own and have read the “Twilight” series (which was ok. Not great, but ok.) So it made sense to me that in my desire to read classic novels, “Dracula” should be somewhere on that list.

And then I started to read it. About 35 pages in, I had to put it down and walk away… for 2 weeks. It wasn’t until I borrowed “Gone with the Wind” from my friend Beth that I firmly decided that before I could open the cover on that book, I had to finish “Dracula.”

Picking up where I left off was hard, but it turns out that if I had only read about 20 more pages initially, it would have drawn me in and taken hold. I finished the rest of the book in 2 days, to the sad neglect of my housework (but not my children. Let’s get that straight. They were both fed, dressed, and played with, despite my reading.)

“Dracula” is basically a story of assembled journals, letters, and telegrams—the whole story is told by several different people from different perspectives, but it’s not confusing to follow (as long as you take note to the name at the beginning of the chapter, so you know who is currently “speaking.”) It begins with the journal of Jonathan Harker, a solicitor (lawyer) from England who has traveled to the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania to conduct business with Count Dracula, who is purchasing a home in an area of England called Carfax. Upon arriving, Jonathan is slightly spooked by the behavior of the locals, all of whom act terrified when he mentions the man he has come to see, but he puts it out of his mind and actually enjoys Dracula’s company. It’s only when he realizes that he has no way of getting out of the castle and has become a prisoner that he gets annoyed, and only after being confronted with female vampires and the sight of Dracula crawling head-first down the side of the castle that he gets scared. Dracula has made it clear, without saying anything, that he intends to kill Jonathan, but fortunately Jonathan escapes, disappearing from the story for a few chapters.

Next, the story is picked up by Mina Murray’s journals and Lucy Westenra’s letters. Mina is Jonathan’s fiancé, and Lucy is Mina’s best friend—Mina is concerned about not hearing from Jonathan for so long, comforting herself by spending time with her friend Lucy. They are in Whitby, a town near the ocean, and are present when a ship wrecks, the only person on board being the deceased captain. Shortly after this, Lucy sleepwalks out to the cemetery, and when Mina finds her, she has no memory of what happened, and only has two small wounds on her neck as an indication that anything happened at all. Lucy seems no worse for all of her night walking, and when word is sent that Jonathan has turned up at a sanitarium/hospital with brain fever, Mina leaves Lucy to be at her fiance’s side.

Lucy gets slowly worse; Dr. John Seward is called by her fiancé, Arthur (Seward had also previously proposed to Lucy, and was heartbroken at her rejection) to figure out what is wrong with her. Discovering her unwell but with no known cause, he calls on his mentor, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, who comes to see her and seems immediately to be suspicious of a cause. He makes no mention of his suspicions to Dr. Seward, but after receiving blood transfusions from Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, Arthur, and Quincey Morris (a friend of Arthur and Seward’s, and yet another man who once proposed to Lucy) she continues getting sicker and eventually dies. Van Helsing finally confides in Seward about his belief that she was killed by a vampire; he proves this theory by taking all 3 of the other men to the cemetery, where they see Lucy the Vampire in action. Arthur drives a stake through her heart, killing the vampire, and Dr. Seward and Dr. Van Helsing cut off her head and stuff her mouth with garlic. Van Helsing then travels to meet Mina, to find out more about the sleepwalking incident he read about in Lucy’s diary; in meeting her, and reading her diary and Jonathan’s (from his time in Transylvania), Van Helsing makes the connection and all of the people involved pledge to find Dracula and kill him.

Throughout all of this time, Dr. Seward’s diary periodically mentions a patient, Mr. Renfield, who believes that by consuming life, he prolongs his own life. He eats a lot of flies and spiders, and at one point consumes several birds… raw. (Ew.) When Mina and Jonathan assemble all of the diaries, letters, and telegrams and put them all in order, they realize there is a connection between Renfield’s fits and moods and the movements of Dracula. Therefore, he becomes kind of a “weathervane,” if you will, of what Dracula is up to.

They begin carefully planning, determining where Dracula has made “homes” in the London area and destroying them. The men have decided at this point that Mina is to be kept out of it, for the sake of her safety; a disastrous plan, as she is currently keeping residence at Dr. Seward’s home, which is also the insane asylum where he works. As such, Dracula gains access to Mina by being invited into the building by Renfield, and manages to not only take blood from Mina, but also forces her to drink some of his blood, thereby connecting the two of them. Renfield, having served his purpose, had been killed by Dracula, but now Dracula can use his connection with Mina to keep tabs on his enemies. Problem (for him) is that the connection can also work in reverse; Dr. Van Helsing hypnotizes Mina just before sunrise and sunset every day to keep tabs on where Dracula is. And the hunt is on.

I thought a lot of the charm in this book came from the fact that it was told from all angles; I think it would have lost quite a bit in the telling if it only came from one person’s perspective, and would have lost the sense of being present with the characters had Stoker taken on the omnipresent-narrator perspective. It was all pretty easy to read; the only time I had trouble was when they were writing about conversations with people phonetically, because a really thick “peasant” English accent is difficult for me to understand when I hear it; to understand it written phonetically was almost impossible.

It was also fun to see all of the nuances from “modern” vampire books reflected in this early, and arguably primary, “invention” of vampire mythology. For example, the scene where Mina is forced to consume some of Dracula’s blood is directly reflected in “Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King, when Father Callahan is forced by Barlow (the vampire) to do the same. The bond shared between Mina and Dracula as a result is reflected by Sookie and Eric’s bond in the Charlaine Harris book series. Both “Salem’s Lot” and the Sookie Stackhouse books require that a vampire be invited into a residence before he/she can physically enter, and without such invitation going in would be impossible. Sadly (but not unexpectedly), I didn’t really see an inkling of “Twilight” reflected in “Dracula”… but really, who would expect to? Edward Cullen attends high school and glitters if he is caught in the sunlight… not exactly Dracula-esque.

So, though I’m still glad to be through it so that I can move onto “Gone with the Wind,” I am very glad that I finally read this book, and think that I will definitely read it again in the future.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

I'll be happy just leaving this one be since your recap filled me in. Not my cup of tea, I guess.