Friday, July 29, 2011


Book Review

"Dracula" by Bram Stoker.  Yes, the classic.  I don't know if it is the first vampire novel, but it certainly seems to be the original vampire novel.

I've never read it before now.  I've never been interested in vampires in the slightest.  This might be due to the fact that I associate them with horror.  Horror films to be precise.

I don't like horror films.

When I was growing up, there seemed to be a plethora of what became iconic horror films.  I don't think I watched any of them.  Or maybe I did when I was with friends, "watching" with them, but with my eyes closed most of the time.  Or maybe I was hiding in the kitchen during that particularly fearsome scene.

I'm a bona fide wimp when it comes to horror flicks.

So, I was never, in the slightest, interested in vampires. Not watching them in films. Not reading about them in novels.

And then my daughter got older and had friends.

Yep, it's her fault.  Actually, its her friends' fault.  They started reading the Twilight series.  Again, I had no interest in reading about vampires.  But I also had made it important to educate myself in what my kids were interested in.  I also did this with Harry Potter, and later with The City of Ember and The Hunger Games series.

So, I told my daughter I would read the Twilight series and let her know what I thought about it before she started reading it.  This, actually, was my first dose of vampires.  And it wasn't too bad.  Okay, it was almost good.  It certainly wasn't ever going to be categorized as "horror".

But it made clear to me that I knew nothing of the superstitions and beliefs revolving around vampires.  I was uninformed.

Classic in every sense of the word

In mission to educate myself about literature, I make sure to find time to read THE CLASSICS.  Yes, these deserve all caps.  Because that is what they really are.  Classics.  To be read and savored and reread.

"Dracula" is a classic in every sense of the word.  This is a novel about a vampire, but it also happens to be a beautifully written novel.  Content is only one aspect of a novel.  I want a well-crafted story, with a great plot, great characters, and great writing.

"Dracula" has it all.

It is a classic.

Originally written 1897, I was ready for slow and deliberate reading.  I've often read 100+ year old novels that take more effort and time to get through due to their prose.  This is not what I found in "Dracula".  It was smooth and fluid, a pleasure to read.  The only exception to this was one particular character, The Professor, was written in dialect.  This slowed the reading, but gave the character a stronger identity.

This vampire novel turned out to be much of what I didn't expect to find here.  I guess I was expecting a horror film in words.  I didn't find that, thankfully.  Instead, I found virtually no gore and minimal mention blood. Most of the novel is spent with our main characters trying to determine what is happening and then devising ways to stop it from happening.  Most of this is presented to us through diary entries of our main characters.

Stoker gives us characters who were of his time, and yet not quite so.  We get a female character being sheltered repeatedly by the male characters, yet she is strong and purposeful and intelligent.  This feels like a character born of the sexual revolution, but clearly she is not.  The long battle of women's suffrage had been ongoing for more than 50 years at the time Dracula was published.  Maybe this reveals something about the author's feelings towards giving women the right to vote.

Of course, we get a strong plot with a villain and the heroes.  The pacing is well done, not too slow and not too rushed.  We also get enough narrative description of the area around Dracula's home to paint a rather complete picture.  Unfortunately, I felt like I missed out on getting much description of London, but that is only because I have never been there.  His intended readers were very likely to be familiar with London.

We are also given a bit of the folklore surrounding vampires, but not a lot.  I would have liked a bit more.  Mentions of crucifixes, garlic, the Eucharistic host and the evil eye are all present, but only the first three get significant mention.  What other things are used to ward off vampires?  We are given descriptions of a vampire's incredible strength and quickness, but what other characteristics permeate the folklore?  I was expecting to see more of the folklore included, but it was only slightly mentioned and alluded to.

I was astounded to find "... if looks could kill..." in Dracula.  This appears to be the original use of this phrase.  Our victim has been bitten by the villain and is now looking upon her friends with corrupted eyes.  It amazes me to think of how many times I've heard and used this phrase, never having known where it originated. This is one of the reasons I love to fill in my knowledge gaps of literature.  I'm always finding tidbits of popular culture and common sayings in their original form and context.

In spite of my lack of real interest in vampires, my desire to read the classics won.  And rightly so.  "Dracula" is a fabulous read and well worth the time.  I highly recommend it.

Despite the vampire.  Or because of it, depending on your own perspective.

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