The third book I read in the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge falls under the category of a Gothic or Horror classic. Now before I go any further with this review I need to give you some background …
I do not like scary stories or being scared … at all. I have been known to partially cover my eyes with my hands during particularly intense or scary scenes when watching movies. I’ve even thrown a crocheted blanket over my head watching the scary parts through the holes!
I am the original Fraidy Cat!
When I saw that a Gothic or Horror classic was a category in this year’s Challenge I wasn’t too thrilled. I’d already read both Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde a number of years ago and wasn’t particularly drawn to Northanger Abbey, the three titles that first came to mind. And like I said, I don’t like scary stories.
One of my daughters suggested I read Dracula since it’s so iconic, so classic. You’ve got to be kidding! That might be scary. But, then again, one of the purposes for participating in the Classics Reading Challenges the past few years was to broaden my reading horizons.
So Dracula it was.
Bram (Abraham) Stoker’s vampire classic, Dracula, was published in 1897. And while he wasn’t the inventor of the vampire legend he was certainly the one who popularized it.
The story begins with Jonathan Harker, a solicitor, who travels to Transylvania to conduct a real estate transaction between Count Dracula and property owners in London. The Count wishes to move to England (for fresh blood, maybe?).
On the way to Transylvania to meet with the Count, Jonathan stays at a hotel overnight. When the landlady discovers his destination she is horrified and begs him to reconsider.
“It is the eve of St George’s Day. Do you know that tonight when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?” She was in such evident distress that I tried to comfort her, but without effect. Finally she went down on her knees and implored me not to go; at least wait a day or two before starting. It was all very ridiculous, but I did not feel comfortable. However, there was business to be done, and I could allow nothing to interfere with it. I therefore tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I must go. She then rose and dried her eyes, and taking a crucifix from her neck offered it to me. I did not know what to do, for, as an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous, and yet it seemed so ungracious to refuse an old lady meaning so well and in such a state of mind. She saw, I suppose, the doubt in my face, for she put the rosary round my neck, and said, “For your mother’s sake,” and went out of the room.
Upon Jonathan’s arrival he finds Count Dracula to be very courteous and accommodating. But it doesn’t take long before he realizes something just isn’t right. He never sees the Count eat, never sees him during daylight hours, observes his enormous strength, and he realizes soon after arriving at the castle that it appears there are only two people there … The Count and himself. To add to this he discovers to his horror that he is in reality the Count’s prisoner (all exits are locked) and he will not be leaving the castle until and unless Dracula allows it … if ever.
But fortunately the entire story is told in first person accounts, through journal and diary entries. I realized Jonathan would not be able to tell the story, always in the past tense, if something tragic happened to him. Oh, what a relief!
It’s not just Jonathan, however, who narrates the tale. There are others whose diaries and journals are included as well as newspaper accounts of several pertinent events. Between the various contributors the story unfolds. It’s really an ingenious method of storytelling, since no one person can give an account of their own demise.
But there are tragic deaths at the hand, or should I say mouth, of the vampire. And it’s then that we discover just what it means to be Undead … dead, but not really.
The main characters in the book have a relationship to each other; four of the men have proposed to one of the women, and when it appears something terrible is happening to her they elicit the help of Abraham Van Helsing from Holland. He brings with him the knowledge of how to fight against the assault of the vampire, which includes crucifixes and garlic, (lots of garlic), as well as other weapons.
This novel is a page turner! There is nothing slow or boring in the 400 plus pages. Where one account ends another picks up from a different perspective. The tension rises and falls, ebbs and flows, and always keeps you alert, wondering what will happen next.
I do not want to give anything away so there are no spoilers in this review. But I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. I couldn’t wait to get back to reading it each day, to see what would happen as these brave folks put their lives on the line in their noble quest of hunting down and finishing off Count Dracula for good. The last several chapters were especially riveting. I couldn’t read the adventure fast enough!
I was surprised by how many references were made to God, to prayer, to faith. This is NOT a theologically sound story … obviously … but the characters who fought the good fight did so with faith and an ever constant trust in the certainty that God would help them to prevail.
The book varies hugely from the one and only film adaptation of 1931 that I saw many years ago starring Bela Lugosi. According to the plot of the movie given on Wikipedia the names of the characters are all mixed up and out of order, their relationships are wrong and the plot barely resembles Stoker’s Dracula. Why do filmmakers do that? Isn’t the original story good enough? I do understand the need to abridge and condense a story for the sake of time but this filmmaker took so many liberties with the original story.
Even if you happen to be a Fraidy Cat like me, do not be put off by this book. It is well worth reading and deserves a place in your stack of books to be read.
And if you didn’t like garlic before reading Dracula it’s more than probable you will have a new found appreciation of it afterwards!