Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rant or Rave: Dracula

In my continuing quest to catch up on "classic literature" that I should've read in high school or college, but didn't, I listened to Dracula last month. It was quite good, though if it weren't the first vampire novel, I doubt it would have lasted this long and generated so much follow-up literature. Parts of it are terribly melodramatic, in the 19th century tradition of idealized romance and British propriety, while a few parts make you roll your eyes at the obtuseness of the main characters.

Obtuse until you remind yourself that the characters aren't steeped in vampire lore, the way much of the western world is. The concept that Count Dracula could form from fog, or transform into a bat, or command wolves was brand new to everyone when Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897. So, you can forgive the main characters most of their complete blockheadedness in regards to the Count's activities.

Three interesting tidbits from Dracula that I had no idea about before reading it:
  • It is written entirely in the form of diary entries, newspaper articles and personal narratives. There is no "omniscient author". It gives the novel a very different feel than we are used to today, and also provides a fascinating glimpse into turn-of-the-century British mores and customs.
  • In addition to introducing the concept of vampires into popular culture, as well as the singularly evil Count Dracula, the novel also introduced the world to the stereotypical insane asylum resident, often caricatured in cartoons. In the novel, the patient Renfield plays a significant role, and Stoker's depiction of his psychosis and reaction to the proximity of the Count are clearly the inspiration for many portrayals of a "typical" madman on stage and screen.
  • Dracula also introduced the character of Van Helsing to the world. A dutch doctor who also happens to be familiar with the legends and myths of the eastern European lands. Van Helsing, though physically vibrant for his age, is far more intellectual and philosophical in Dracula than he is often portrayed as in later movies. Certainly NOT like the ripped, action-figuresque Hugh Jackman from the 2004 film.
The ending to Dracula is a bit abrupt, and far too conveniently coincidental for my tastes, but overall it is quite a fun read. In addition to the main storyline, the novel also provides some interesting insight into the culture, beliefs and science of its time. A fascinating century-plus long look backwards. So-- a fairly enthusiastic Rave for Dracula.

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