Jonathan Harker, a young lawyer, is sent to Transylvania to conduct business with Count Dracula, who is planning to move to London. Jonathan’s experience whilst at Castle Dracula is unnerving, to say the least…
Meanwhile, Jonathan’s fiancee Mina is staying in Whitby with her friend Lucy. A Russian boat runs aground, and, shortly afterwards, Lucy picks up her old habit of sleepwalking – to be found one night by Mina in the churchyard, where she appears to have had an unnerving experience of her own…
The action moves to London, where all the characters come together and realise that their individual experiences are interlinked – and Count Dracula may be the key. Under the guidance of new arrival Van Helsing, they embark on a strange and terrifying pursuit, with nothing less than the survival of the human race at stake… (Pardon the pun…)
Where did I get hold of the book?
I discovered a ‘Puffin Classics’ copy on my bookshelf, which must have arrived with my husband several years ago. It’s definitely a children’s edition, which I find quite odd as it is not a book I would go out of my way to recommend to children. However, it is a classic – even if the cover illustration is more Hammer Horror than Francis Ford Coppola…
- Find the book in a library near you.
- Support local independent bookshops by buying the book from Hive (UK).
What did I learn from it?
I’m quite a fan of vampire stories, whether in books, in film or on the television. Over the years, what is regarded as canon in vampire mythology has changed somewhat, each new storyteller putting their own twist on classic ‘facts’, whether that is visibility in mirrors, fear of holy relics, or inability to go out in the sun (the latter can result in some fabulous special effects in film and TV…).
With all these twists, it can be difficult to remember what has traditionally been held as canon and what is merely a 20th- or 21st-century imagining. So it was interesting to go back to one of the earlier vampire stories and find out what elements from that period have been generally understood to constitute vampire myth.
For one thing, Dracula doesn’t feature werewolves, which seem to be a common thread in many recent vampire outings! There are, however, regular wolves that Dracula seems able to control. He can also change into creatures such as a bat and a dog; he has no reflection; and he is affected to varying degrees by garlic and holy objects (the latter is seen less frequently in modern reimaginings, perhaps because of a general decline in formal religious faith).
One aspect of Dracula’s capabilities actually had me slightly confused. He is described as being able to shapeshift when in territory that contains his native earth, but if caught away from such a domain, his power to change is limited. I was not sure whether this meant that he was able to remain as a man abroad during daylight hours. Also, sunrise and sunset are described as times of particular power for him – so again, I’m uncertain whether standard daylight holds its traditional fear.
I may have to read the book again to become clearer… That won’t be a hardship.
How did it make me see the world differently?
Setting aside my above uncertainty, Dracula is clearly depicted as a creature of the night – and night is traditionally presented as the time of evil: darkness leads to dark deeds. Not only is this because the sun represents light and life, with darkness representing the opposite; from a very basic human perspective, it is also because, in the dark, it is difficult to see malevolent creatures creeping up on us.
As I read the book, I became aware that the inability to ‘see’ was regularly occurring in a less literal fashion. Throughout the story, characters keep secrets from each other, supposedly to protect them but, in reality, potentially placing them in even greater danger. For example, the decision to hide the truth about Lucy from Mrs Westenra leads to her opening the window at night, allowing Dracula in; and the decision of the men to exclude Mina from their exploits leads directly to her being isolated and attacked.
I wonder whether Stoker intended to convey that the concealment of truth is as big an evil as a flesh-and-blood monster; that, by misdirecting people and keeping secrets, we can wreak as much harm as a physical attack.
Note: I deliberately don’t read up on critical literature relating to the books I’m pursuing in this challenge, as I want to see what my own brain can come up with, so this may well be a topic covered in depth elsewhere. It’s certainly one I’ll be pondering for a while.
What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?
I’ve not spent a great deal of time recently on my own supernatural novel, mainly because I’ve been working on an overhaul of my website and other associated projects. However, reading Dracula has reminded me how much I enjoy getting stuck into a good paranormal story, and how I love poring over the different ways in which the mythologies of various undead creatures are presented.
So I will commit to reading up some more on vampires and their habits. If I do nothing else towards my novel in the next three months, I will work on and develop the character of the vampire, and become clear on my own version of the ‘canon’.
I should also admit that I did originally read Dracula two years ago. I remembered so little about it that, for the purposes of this book challenge, it was ‘as new’; however, one thing that I did decide to do as a direct result of reading it that first time was to book a holiday to Whitby.
Reader, I took that holiday. And it was fantastic.
Over to you…
Has this post inspired you to read the book for yourself?
If you’ve read it, do you agree with what I’ve said? Did you have insights that I’ve not mentioned?
Please share in the comments below!