Saturday 10 March 2012

Garlic, crucifix, and Count Dracula

I have put a crucifix on my chest. I have surrounded myself with garlic (I have even eaten some as I love it and I put it on every dish despite my best friend's reaction to this) and I am safe and ready to write about Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. I look several times behind my back to be reassured he is not going to come and suck my blood. I was told, though, that vampires exist. See Twilight.

Seriously now, I have heard a lot about Dracula, the mythical figure of the vampire from Transylvania. I also new about the garlic and the crucifix as means of protection and I was more or less aware of the fact that vampires are active before sunrise and after sunset. Strictly speaking, I was acceptably ignorant and since I am not that much into fantastical stories, I was satisfied with that. Still, knowing that Bram Stoker's Dracula is a classic I knew that one day I have to read it. This day has come. I was pleasantly surprised since Dracula is an entertaining, captivating, and exciting adventurous novel that follows the attempt of the vampire Count Dracula to relocate in London and to threaten the security of the British Empire. Count Dracula is a centuries-old vampire, sorcerer, and Transylvanian nobleman, who claims to be descended from Attila the Hun. He inhabits a decaying castle in the Carpathian Mountains near the Borgo Pass. Unlike the vampires of Eastern European folklore, which are portrayed as repulsive, corpse-like creatures, Dracula exudes a veneer of aristocratic charm. Dracula "works" only during the night, he controls the wolfs, and he can easily transform into mist, dust, and bat. By sucking people's blood he slowly takes their life away, making them look anemic. However, if they ever suck his blood, they are doomed to become vampires after their death.

A group of 6 brave people, led by Dutch professor Abraham van Helsing decide to stop him and to kill him once and for all. All of them have been affected in one way or another by Dracula's thirst for blood. Jonathan Harker, a young solicitor, is sent to Dracula's castle in Transylvania in order to help him buy a property in London. Harker finds himself trapped there with only one possible end - victim of the vampire and his followers. After his successful escape, Jonathan is mentally unstable for a while but still marries the beautiful and clever Mina. She, unfortunately, becomes another of the victims of Dracula and starts showing the characteristics of a vampire. Quincey Morris, Lord Godalming, and Dr. John Seward have all made a proposal to Lucy, Mina's best friend. However, Lucy's destiny is also tragically connected to the vampire. These five people are lead by professor Helsing, a prominent Dutch professor with extensive knowledge about Transylvania's folklore, culture, traditions, and superstitions. The party decides to use all means to drive away the Count from the British Empire and to put an end to his thirst for blood that has lasted for centuries.

Even though the novel is told in epistolary format, as a series of letters, diary entries, newspapers listings, etc, it never becomes boring or monotonous. In fact, this format allows the reader to see the story through the eyes of all of the main protagonists and to feel their inner struggle, worries, and fear. At the end we are given as much a story about Count Dracula, as about the character of the typical Victorian age man. Topics such as sexual conventions, the role of women, colonialism, and immigration emerge, but Stoker's main contribution to world literature is the manifestation of the theme of invasion. H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. G. Wells were subsequently influenced by Stoker, who set the formula for a successful invasion and adventurous novel. Indeed, in the Victorian age Dracula was seen as a very entertaining mysterious novels. Today, however, Dracula is praised as one of the best examples of Gothic literature and as a novel-manifestation of the power of reason.

I was personally never disappointed by Stoker. He didn't invent the figure of Count Dracula, as it was a living man, the Romanian ruler Vlad III, who later turns into vampire (according to the folklore of Transylvania. However, Stoker managed to make him famous. Stoker gave him a disastrous appearance, a witty mind, and extreme malice. He also showed that all evil has its weak points and can be defeated through the power of reasoning and the means of consistency and perseverance. Overall, a very good read that one shouldn't miss, especially if you are into vampire literature, horror fiction, and bloody stories. Please, not to be confused with Twilight, which is just a sugar-coated love story with sharper teeth and lots of gentle sucking on the neck. If after this you are looking for a similar reading, I would recommend Shelley's Frankenstein, which in fact preceded Dracula.

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