Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dracula: The Books

Despite my reviews, Dracula had a life before cinema.

The book "Dracula" is one of the most influential in the English language.  While the book itself is long, and often slow in places, one cannot deny the effect it has had.  There were vampire tales before it, Varney the Vampire and The Vampyre come to mind, and there were even better vampire stories before it, Carmilla is prime example.  But none had the effect of Dracula, both the book and the character.

If you have never the book then you owe it to yourself to do so. You can get the book nearly anywhere, including for free at Project Guttenberg.   I am fond of the Leonard Wolf annotated version myself, but I would read the book without the annotations first.

Dracula in print, like his movie counterpart, has also had a number of sequels published over the years.  Some were good, most though were not.  Here is a round-up of a few.

WARNING, there are spoilers here if you have not read these books.

The Holmes-Dracula File by Fred Saberhagen
I read this so many years ago that my recollection of it is fuzzy at best.  I remember not liking it that much at the time, which I think had more to do with how Saberhagen choose to portray Dracula as a misunderstood hero. And the wood thing. And the amnesia thing too.  I should re-read it to be sure.
Funny though, I am watching "Count Dracula" from the BBC now, and the cover art on this book reminds me of Louis Jourdan. The timing is right for it too.

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
These books are just goofy fun.  There is a good story here, one about Jack the Ripper and the changes happening to England now that Dracula sits on the throne next to Queen Victoria.  All sorts of name dropping in this one (oh look there's Lestat, hey that's Prince Mamuwalde!) and nods to old vampire movies and books.  I have not read all of his books, but the first one was quite fun.  I remember at the time thinking that if Vampire the Masqurade was as fun as this book then I'd play it more.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Oh I LIKED this one. A secret book bearing the symbol from the Order of the Dragon shows up ever so often to historians throughout the 20th century.  Each of them begins a quest that leads them to...what? Dracula? That is too insane, but as each one investigates further and further that is the conclusion they reach.  The Historian spans three generations of historians as they search for the burial place of the infamous Prince only to find he is not there.  Sweeping in scope and attention paid to the smallest detail you can almost smell the old books and taste the blood as you read this one.
It is a sequel in the loose sense.  All the characters have read the Stoker novel and use it as a basis.  It is never made clear whether or not Stoker was one of their kind as well or just happened to be lucky.
This one is long and you should have a love of history, old books or libraries to get the full satisfaction of reading it.
The narrator of the tale, who is 17 in the book, but in her 50s as she is retelling it, is a descendant of Vlad Dracula and would make for a great Van Helsing like character in a modern game.

Fangland by John Marks 
This is a modern re-telling of Dracula rather than an out-right sequel. The main character Evangeline Harker fills the John Harker role, while Ion Torgu is our vampire (of sorts). It starts off really good and I like the gender reversal and the modern setting. Plus I could always imagine that Evangeline was the decedent of Johnathan and Mina Harker.
But the book fell apart on me for a lot of reasons.  First, Ion has none of Dracula's charm or grace.  I also found I didn't care much for the characters in the book and the author kept giving me more.  Telling it from the point of view of Trotter, a character I didn't like, also didn't help.
What bugged me the most was the part where Evangeline meets up with this other woman Clementine Spence after she (Harker) had been tortured at "Dracula's" home. Harker and Spence have a brief physical relationship while in Romania and Harker describes herself as "changing" which we learn means becoming a killer. One night she rapes and kills Spence and then drinks her blood.
Unlike the book (or movies) Harker does not "get better" but has become a vampire. The book makes it clear that Harker only had sex with Spence in order to close enough to kill her.  This is another case of the Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché and frankly it is getting quite old.  The rest of the book was really just mush after that.
If I kept Evangeline Harker it would only be as a name drop and saying she had been killed under strange circumstances in Romania.  Dracula getting his revenge.

Dracula the Un-dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt
I am of mixed feelings about this one.  On one hand we have an interesting story about the events of our heroes 25 years after Dracula.  We have the great, grand-nephew of Bram Stoker penning the tale.  We have a cool mystery involving Elizabeth Bathory.
Then is all goes bad.
The stories never quite jell, the book makes claims that "Dracula" by Stoker got it all wrong and even makes mistakes.  In truth it is like the authors never actually read the book and instead wrote a sequel to the 1990's "Bram Stoker's Dracula" movie.  Of course there are more cliches here as well.  Tying Bathory to the Jack the Ripper murders (which also got some details wrong about that, and didn't do it a well as in Anno Dracula), more evil/dead lesbians in the form of Bathory (God would not allow her to be a lesbian so she rebelled against God and men, but kills women), Mina still pinning over her "Prince" and using a katana to fight of one of Bathory's brides. I could go and on, but I won't.
I liked the more explicit tie-in with Dracula and Bathory.  I like that Dracula, even though is back up and running, is still not 100%, I like Mina not aging (shades of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and the way her and Johnathan's relationship turned sour. I like Seward's morphine addicted vampire hunter.  So like I said a lot of good ideas strung together rather poorly.  In the end the book just made me mad because how bad the ending was.  This book was so derivative of other ideas that it is wonder it got published.
From this I use most of the background and chuck the narrative.

Special Mention

Grave Peril: The Dresden Files, Book 3
I picked this up after a long pause with the series and I have to say this was the best book in series (so far).  I mention here because after nearly throwing Fangland out the window after reading Dracula the Un-Dead this was so good it restored my faith in the vampire story.  Grave Peril is a vampire story and how Chicago's very own Harry Dresden manages to single handedly piss off 2/3rds of all the world vampires.
Dracula is mentioned in the book and Harry also states that Stoker penned the "big guide on how to destroy vampires".  So I'd rather go that direction in my games.  Sure I'll take the idea from DtU-D and say one of the vampire hunters told Stoker their tale and 10 years after that he publishes the book in hopes of building a stage career out of it, but in reality the effect was that vampire hunters all over the world now know how to kill vampires better.
In any case this book was very good and the best one I have read this month.  I am on book 4 now and it is so far just as good.


Unknown said...

I recently reread Dracula and it is still one of my favorite books of all time. I remember reading in 9th grade English and thinking "wow, you can read cool books in English class?" And I absolutely adored The Historian.

Peter Regan said...

I first read Dracula about 20 years ago and would also still put it high up on my list of favourites. I'm particularly glad that I read it before Bram Stoker's awful film version came out.

Anonymous said...

I always loved Dracula but have had problems with it since reading un-dead