Taking the plunge . . .

Count Dracula in his castle.

If you are on my blog, you see a new background theme and a web badge for 2010 NaNoWriMo Participant.  Yes, I’m going to grit my teeth, swallow my self-inflicted fear, bite the bullet, take the plunge (and, hopefully, avoid clichés) by participating in a 30-day writing free-for-all.  At the end of the month of November, I hope to have a viable draft for my first novel.  It may never see the light of day, but I plan on owning the title of “writer” thereafter.  It certainly sounds a lot better than under-employed, even though the pay is potentially the same.

In the meantime, a quick note on the 1992 movie version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that I watched a couple of nights ago.  It has been many years since I saw this movie. I vaguely recall that I saw it when it was in the theaters, but that very well could be a false memory.  Although I have flashes of remembered scenes and impressions from the movie (such as thinking “Where the heck did the hairdo in the picture above come from?”), I was able to look at the movie with relatively fresh eyes.  I am always amazed at the liberties that screen writers and directors take with the content of a book.

The movie opens with a young Count heading off to defeat the Turks in battle, his weeping love Elizabet begging him not to go and eventually flinging herself off the castle tower because she believe the Count to have died in battle.  The victorious Count returns and is devastated by her death, renounces the church, and somehow becomes a vampire . . . the specifics are unclear except that he drinks blood that pours forth from a stone crucifix that he ran through with his sword.  Fast forward a few hundred years, and Miss Mina Murray looks exactly like the old Count’s love creating the basis for his move to England and pursuit of Jonathan Harker‘s fiance.  Considering that this love story is, in large part, the basis for the movie and the genesis of the vampire’s curse, it is completely without foundation in Bram Stoker‘s classic novel.  In the book, Dracula has no knowledge of Mina until after he has come to England and killed Miss Lucy and the band of gentlemen set out for his destruction. 

Much of the rest of the story follows the book, although large portions were left out due to the manufactured love story and the constraints of a two-hour film.  I wasn’t so much opposed to the love story being inserted into the plot, but it did bother me that the final death-blow to Dracula was delivered by Mina in the movie, rather than her husband Jonathan.

By the way, have I mentioned what a horrible actor Keanu Reeves is?  Ugh!  Beyond Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures and The Matrix movies, there is no excuse for him to speak on film.  But that’s just my opinion.

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Vampires and Werewolves and Monsters, oh my!

Gary Oldham as Count Dracula in 1992's movie "Bram Stoker's Dracula"

The next selection on my road to 101 of the greatest novels of all time is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the archetype for the modern vampire myth.   I chose this novel in honor of the upcoming holiday Halloween and have completed it with enough time to watch the 1992 movie version Bram Stoker’s Dracula this coming Saturday with a friend and the 1922 German silent film version Nosferatu which sits on my DVR waiting for me to make time for it.  These are just two of the multitude of film and television adaptations of the vampire myth.

Thanks to some quick Wikipedia research, I found that legends of what we now identify as vampires have been around for centuries if not millennia in many different forms, but they mythology exploded in the 18th century, particularly in Eastern Europe.  The hysteria surrounding this swelling mythology during this period led to the recording and publication of the folklore that became the modern vampire.

Stoker’s novel, though eventually the most popular and influential, was not the first fictional work published about vampires.  Early poems were written by notable literary figures including Samuel Coleridge, Lord Byron and Goethe.  Varney the Vampire was a popular serialized version of the story that was published in pamphlets referred to as penny dreadfuls, referring to the cost and content.  One of the first complete novels on the topic was Carmilla, a lesbian vampire story written by Sheridan Le Fanu in 1871.   Before Stoker published his work in 1897, he spent seven years researching European folklore, and it was not until the 1922 unauthorized film adaptation of his work as Nosferatu that Bram Stoker’s character gained mass popularity.  Unfortunately for Stoker, he did not follow proper copyright procedures for his novel, and in the United States and his work has been public domain since its publication.

Having read the book, I now realize how much the modern vampire differs even from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  It is interesting to imagine how much his version departed from the early folk tales and superstitions of the rural parts of Eastern Europe.  Our idea of a “sparkly”, teenage vampire would probably be unrecognizable to those that originated the stories, and not just because of the setting. 

Movie poster from 2008's "Twilight"

Throughout much of my vampire education, I thought that vampires could not be exposed to light at all, but then Dracula goes walking down the street in broad daylight in Stoker’s novel.  I knew that vampires could become bats and fly away, but I didn’t know that they were supposed to be able to become a swarm of insects or the fog or take a number of other forms at will.   And I think that the fact that Dracula had red eyes in Stoker’s novel would be too much of a giveaway for him to be able to pass among the living nowadays.

Two other items in the novel struck me as worth noting.  The first was the prevailing attitude about women, which I imagine is a reflection of the Victorian norms of the author’s time.  Impaired breathing due to restrictive corsets aside, women were seen as dramatically inferior to men in mental as well as physical capacities.  The praise heaped upon Mina Murray Harker because of her analytical abilities was almost backhanded because it was always coupled with a comparison of how like a man her mind functioned and how exceptional it was that a woman was capable of such intellect.  I know this depiction is a product of the times, but it’s a pet peeve of mine nonetheless.

The second is the narrative device that Stoker used to tell the story.  He presents the novel as a series of verifiable records:  journal and diary entries, personal correspondence, doctor’s records, and official communications all strung together to create a continuous account of a five month period in the lives of a small group of people.  Undoubtedly, this is meant to give the impression of legitimacy and truth to the tale, and is a clever device that allows the reader to see the same action from several different perspectives without confusion.

After War and Peace, I feel like I positively flew through Dracula, although I found some of the Victorian era dialect used by the characters more stilted and formal than the translation of Tolstoy’s work.  It is an exciting plot that draws you in and remains at least a partial mystery, even if you have familiarity with the idea of vampires (and really, who reading a blog doesn’t?)  Being a tremendous fan of Halloween, scary movies, and all that includes, I am completely satisfied to have finally read this book and have no hesitation recommending it to anybody that has even the slightest interest in this genre.  As a matter of fact, I would probably consider it mandatory reading.