So, there are several things that jump out about reading the OG Dracula novel.
One is that it would be really, really cool to see a movie adaptation of this book that is actually an adaptation of this book. It’s somewhat famously been stated that most adaptations are of the stage play, and now most are just straight-up based on previous movie adaptations, what’s a stage play?
Jonathan, Seward, and especially Mina are the main narrators of this novel, and they’re quite interesting protagonists in their own right: Jonathan is intelligent but naive, and develops into a man of absolute will and iron nerve, fired by the need to protect his beloved wife and avenge his own hurts. Seward is cool and analytical, but not nearly as much as he wants to be or thinks he is, and struggles with things outside of the settled science that he understands. And Mina is very much the unsung heroine who glues the plot together…and provides much-needed brainpower at times.
It would also be cool for said faithful adaptation to focus on the horror of vampirism, rather than the OMG DID YOU KNOW VAMPIRISM IS A CODE FOR THE SEX? TEE HEE angle that every. single. movie. and the thrice-damned urban fantasy genre in general ever has gone in necks-deep for. Yes, there is a definite aspect of addictive pleasure to vampirism: Jonathan has a moment of temptation with the Brides, Lucy has a personality shift post-death. But it’s played for more of the addiction angle: it’s something that subjugates the real personality to another’s thoughts and will, something that enthralls rather than bewitches, something that’s not titillating at all when its soulless eyes are leering into yours and offering you a fix. The Count’s predation on Lucy slowly destroys her physically, kills her mother, turns her into a monster that preys on children, and forces her to tempt the man she loves into a similar fate, even though she’s absolutely horrified by this in her lucid moments. The Count is not portrayed as a mysterious, tormented lover: he’s a stalkery thug who picks random women who catch his eye and physically injures them just because he can and wants to.
Being a vampire is nothing desirable. It’s terrifying to the victim, who can feel their will being overridden and the pain of their body being physically attacked and weakened, drained of blood. It’s horrifying from the outside, to the people who may not even know why their friend or child–or lover–is in such pain. And then it’s horrifying because now the person you loved is going to do the same thing to someone else, and is going to laugh about it.
Back to that hypothetical very cool movie adaptation: there’s a lot of scary, atmospheric, horror-type scenes, too, that never make it into the movies. The apocalyptic voyage of the Demeter, with crew disappearing one by one and the captain finally lashing himself to the wheel for the final trip through shoal and storm could be it’s own movie all by itself (has there been?) Then, there’s the Count’s final attack on Lucy–beginning with a howling wild wolf smashing through the window while she is too weak to call for help, her mother dying in her arms, leaving her trapped in the same bed as the corpse. Or the invasion of Carfax Abbey, when the hunters are suddenly swarmed by a horde of rats (to be rescued by a reserve team of terriers….) Those scenes are scary! And cool! They deserve to be seen on film!
[Complete sidenote: there is a very low-budgeted indie horror-Western movie called Shroud….which, well, we’ll discuss it some other time, but it’s almost worth watching the negative-budget stunt fights for the twist at the end. The twist at the end makes you just want to pat this movie on the head and tell it nice things because, awwww, it has ambitions, lookat d’cute li’l dumb thing.]
There’s also some pretty darned thrilling action scenes that I don’t think have ever been adapted, either: the hunters confronting the Count in his London lair–Jonathan lunging at him with a kukri and then following him through a broken window–or even or Quincy Morris shooting at an eavesdropping bat. There’s the tension of the race to Europe after the Czarina Catherine and then, afterwards, tracing the Count’s river journey back towards his castle.
In fact, most of what I consider the strongest part of the novel–the point-by-point investigative work, tracing the Count to Carfax Abbey and then back again outwards from it, finding where he’s hidden his other spare coffins and systematically destroying them–just seems to get completely left out. Which leads to my second point:
The second point about this book is that there is a really taut, thrilling, action horror pulp novel in there. Problem is, it’s covered up with generous. nay, heaping dollops of melodrama that really don’t play as well to the modern eye as perhaps it did to the pre-modern. There’s a lot of weeping, hugging, emotionally swearing brotherhood, eternal trust, holy vengeance, more weeping, eternal brotherhood, emotional hugging, weeping, promising of trust….et cetera. The problem isn’t that any of this stuff is there, because some of it is a vital part of character progression and development. The problem is that there’s oodles too much of it and it gets in the way of the interesting stuff that happens.
There’s also the fact that roughly half of the characters aren’t really paying attention to what’s going on in the rest of the book, and as such, are prone to making the stupid and repeated mistakes of deliberately excluding Mina from the war council after Mina has provided crucial intelligence for the cause, ignoring Mina when she’s obviously suddenly anemic, ignoring random bats outside the war-council-room window, ignoring your canary in the coal mine when he warns you that Mina is in danger RIGHT NOW, and then, after finding out that (GASP) Mina has been preyed upon and vampirized by the Count….then and only then deciding that you are going to trust her utterly and include her in all councils hereafter. (Mina herself has to be the one to tell them not to do this.) Van Helsing has the paper-thin excuse that he thinks Mina might be pregnant and needs to stay out of it, but Seward knows how vital, useful, and well-informed Mina is, and Jonathan has zero excuses to make.
So, this book is a deeply uneven read. When I first read (listened via librivox, which is a great resource if you didn’t know about it) this book, I loved it for what was actually quite a small portion of the book: the investigation parts, where Jonathan, and Arthur Holmwood are at their very best, tracing the Count’s movements and and lairs (with some baksheesh), and then using social engineering to outright freaking burglarize a vampire’s legally-purchased house and destroy his earth box coffin lairs in
broad daylight plain sight. I also loved the three-part chase: the Count fleeing by boat up-river, and the hunter’s company trailing him by river, horseback, and by carriage, each group armed with rifles of the same caliber so the ammunition is interchangeable, and the horseback group including a saddle with a removable horn that can be adapted for Mina. I mean, logistics! What more can you ask for?
But these verisimiltudinous touches keep getting interrupted, and worse, spread out by the aforementioned oozing emotional melodrama, taking up way too much page time, telling and not showing, removing the focus from the laconically thrilling medical mystery-slash-detective vampire hunter story, and padding the wordcount (probably.) Oh, and speaking of verisimilitude, the epistolary format allows for the inclusion (via Mina collecting and pasting them into her journal, dont’cha know) random POV snippets such as the random reporter who interviews the zookeeper about a missing wolf, or the invoice receipts from shipping companies. It’s all about logistics, I’m telling you.
Well, logistics….and ignoring Mina. However! I have an elegant and simple solution for this particular problem, and it is thus: have Mina not be there. When the action moves to Carfax and the asylum, have Mina remain in London–and move into Lucy’s former home, to help administrate the estate while the trustee (Arthur Holmwood) is out of town. Thus, Mina is living in the house that the Count has the ability to enter; it keeps her at a remove from the men who should recognize instantly that anemia, pallor, and lethargy = vampire; and it could allow the timeline to be tightened up a bit.
Honestly, though, my only other main criticism is that the main characters’ voices are all fairly similar, with Jonathan’s being the most distinct only inasmuch that he tends to downplay his emotions (while Seward denies that he’s actually wallowing in them…whilst in the midst of wallowing in them, and Mina just straight-up either cries or makes everyone else in the room cry.)
All that being said, this is a good book and it’s a shame no one ever made a movie of it.
Rated: I stand with him. To close you out.