Dracula, by Bram Stoker
It’s not an overstatement when I say that I hate modern vampire fiction. (It’s like what would happen if a tacky horror movie had a child with a cheesy romance novel.) Even if ‘Twilight’ isn’t just a badly written fantasy, but a Mormon “allegory” constructed using time-proven literary scaffolding (as argued by John Granger at Hogwarts Professor), I still think the only good thing about it is how easy it is to make fun of.
And as I had heard Dracula described as the novel that defined the popular form of the vampire, it wasn’t on my list of “classics I want to read.” The popular form of the vampire is this hot bad boy who has an unfortunate desire to suck human blood, but don’t worry because that’s not a real obstacle to true “love”…right? Yuck.
But that is not the story of Dracula.
Count Dracula is an evil, creepy, blood-thirsty creature that no one, no one ever ever ever, would fall in love with. (Unless you’re a psychopath.) Count Dracula is a long dead human who is possessed by the devil. Although he can control wolves and rats, shape shift into a wolf or bat, and control the weather, this is not “cool” like it would be presented as today. Count Dracula is clearly, unquestioningly, and refreshingly evil. And in a world that consistently blurs the lines between good and evil, Dracula is a breath of fresh air.
The book opens with excerpts from the journal of Jonathan Harker, a, English solicitor sent to consult with a client in Transylvania about the property he has bought in England. As he stays in the Count’s castle, Jonathan quickly begins to notice a myriad of concerning details about the Count’s habits and appearance. The man has red eyes, sharp canine teeth, seems to be nocturnal, never eats, keeps Jonathan locked in one part of the castle, and has no reflection in Jonathan’s shaving mirror. As Jonathan grows more suspicious and starts trying to find answers, the Count grows more menacing, and all the horrifying dangers of Dracula's castle close in. Jonathan finally chooses to tempt death in a perilous escape attempt rather than face even worse at the Count’s hands.
The book is continued with excerpts from several people’s journals and diaries, as well as an occasional newspaper clipping. Count Dracula makes his move, taking a ship to England, and there, in the darkness of the night, preying upon young women. Only six people know what he is and what he is doing. It will take all their combined strength and cunning to thwart him. Using the strategies and tools found in tradition, they risk their lives and souls to fight the powers of darkness.
Dracula is a clear cut “good versus evil” story. The cross and the bread of Communion are the best weapons the protagonists have, and although Count Dracula must be destroyed, it is the devil possessing him who is the real enemy. In fact, Jonathan’s fiancée Mina points out that the men fighting the Count should do so with a feeling of mercy, knowing that they are freeing what was once a man from the horrible fate he has been bound to after his death. Not many stories have a character who is fully evil and yet still finds a measure of redemption.
With clear, Christian, old fashioned values, brave, smart, feminine women, strong, courageous, manly men, and a story that manages to be deliciously creepy without feeling spiritually oppressive, Dracula is what I wish every horror story would be.