Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Dracula



“I am Dracula. And I bid you welcome.”

Hello everyone, as we all know it is October,and the witching hour is drawing near. So to celebrate (even though as Celt of Irish heritage I find this commercialisation and Americanisation of an old part of my culture deeply offensive) I decided to go the extra mile by finding my old word document notes on some of the books I read a while back for horror appropriate material and then edit them a bit to make them more coherent and less embarrassing for public consumption.

I'll try and up one of these each week perhaps more, (but almost certainly less) in addition to my regular stuff so I hope you enjoy.

Dracula while not the first novel about Vampires is unquestionably the most popular and long lasting story about the Un-dead. How many 19th century novels can you say inspired both a Deaf and Gay version? The novel is set out as a series of journals from the perspective of multiple members of the band of soon to be vampire hunters with a few newspaper cuttings thrown in to flesh out the scenes. The novel starts off with Solicitor Jonathan Harkers personal travelogue on his way to Count Dracula’s estate on the Transylvania/Wallachia border. Harker is a solicitor who has been sent to the Count to help him purchase a property in London. London is a place that seems to hold the Count's imagination as his Library is full of books maps tour guides and even fashionable weekly journals from the city.

While initially mistaking the Count's odd behaviour for a mix of Eastern European etiquette and awkwardness from being alone Harker notices that there are few servants in this fortress the Count resides in. He does however quickly catch on to the strange goings on of the Count and after nearly been sucked to death (tee hee) by the Count's three beautiful concubines he is kept prisoner while the count gets some local gypsies to move his furniture and a number of boxes of dirt (plot point)
to London with him inside one of the boxes.

Then the tale starts again at Whitby where the ship Dracula boards crashes (due to him killing its crew) were it just so happens Jonathan Harkers dearly beloved fiancée Mina is staying with her friend Lucy. Dracula begins feeding on dear Lucy which thanks to her circle of admirers proves to ultimately be his undoing as one of her suitors is a Doctor who happens to have a friend and Colleague in the Netherlands called you guessed Van Helsing. After Van Helsing confirms the diagnosis of Vampire attack its not long before a team of ghoul hunters is assembled from Lucy's potential lovers, Nina and Jonathan who was able to escape from the Castle while the count was away and convalesce for a while before Mina went to collect him. They even get married at his hospital bed (aww).

The team based at the local asylum that borders one of Dracula's properties begin tracking down the Counts other properties where hes been stashing those boxes of dirt, this is important since for some reason Vampires can't cross bodies of running water, though they can fly and control the weather so how and why that works escapes me. Anyway to counter this the Count has to be connected with the soil of his birth so if they an destroy all the boxes and purify the dirt with holy water he'll be trapped though still incredibly strong and very pissed off.

Despite the counts interference by feeding on Mina a few times necessitating a few very naive blood transfusions (this was before blood types were identified but still it is a bit odd to see two Doctors with extensive Medicinal backgrounds just tap into a mans veins because his young and full of energy) they succeed or so they think, it turns out the count had one box left and uses that to escape back across Europe to his stronghold in modern day Romania. Since Van and the gang are all men of science they know that leaving a powerful Vampire to gather his strength when he has a personal vendetta against you and no moral constraints isn't best thing to leave to sort itself out give chase.

They manage to beat the Count, which is quite a feet given that he can control the weather and frequently manipulates storms in order to cut his travel time down. He can even push a boat up river this way. After killing his three concubines who were sleeping at the time they decide to ambush the Count as he and his gypsy followers come up the trail as it is almost sunset. They succeed but the Texan gets stabbed in the side by the Gypsy. Oh did I mention one of Lucy's suitors was a Texan cowboy? thats kind of important as that is all the characterisation he gets. Anyway thats the plot though I did miss out a bit I think that'll do for a synopsis.


Anyway since Dracula is the archetypal Vampire how does he hold up? well The Count himself is heavily hinted to be the actual Prince Vlad Tepes (the Impaler) of Wallachia and defender of Europe against the Turks who raised him and his brother, his rule was so brutal that many Ottoman armies who were much larger refused to fight or march on Wallachia, he practically invented psychological warfare. His subjects in addition to nicknaming him Impaler after his favourite hobby also called him Dracula (Devil in the Wallachia language). The Count has numerous abilities many of which were original to him and went on to become key tenants of the Vampire Myths. These abilities include the pretty standard bloodsucking, aversion to sunlight (though recent drinking and a hat appear to provide some protection) the ability to transform into a wolf and mist and of course a bat. His strength is reckoned to be that of twenty men, and he can control many animals though his favourite is the wolf. He also has a hypnotic link with his victims and can control their actions and read their minds, though that last part works both ways and comes back to bite him (pun intended) in the end as its through hypnotising Mina that Van Helsing is able to find out what the Count's plans are.

However he also has some severe limitations, the Count can’t stand garlic or the crucifix and theres the aforementioned sunlight aversion. The Count also cannot as previously established travel over running water unless at high tide or at its slack which only applies to rivers so for sea travel he has to spend most of his time in the dirt. The Count is also unable to change his form in the day and can only regenerate in soil specially prepared I.e. from his homeland.

Themes of the book include friction between science and faith as despite the hunters being scientists (a psychiatrist and biologist respectively) and successfully tracking the Count down through scientific and official means (trawling through the chartered housing deeds and shipping logs) much of their information in regards to fighting the Count comes from accounts of old eastern European folklore that Van Helsing has come across, then of course there the holy water and the crucifix, tough its implied that its the faith behind such symbols which is actually hurting him. The book also touches briefly and to me quite humorously and I'm fairly sure accidently on gender roles, both female characters Mina and Lucy are archetypal period women servile and sweet and leave the physical work up to the men. Of the two both are victims of Dracula’s “disease” in Lucy ‘s case fatally so, and the main contributions Mina makes to the team is make type written copies of the mens journals for the sake of posterity. Yes she effectively does the filing, and although Mina is the conduit to which Helsing and the boys ultimately track down and defeat the vile one, she is a passive recipient to Van Helsing's hypnosis and is only help to give him the opportunity because of her earlier vulnerability. Though this was the 19th century values dissonance and all that.

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