“I am Dracula. And I bid you welcome, Mr Harker, to my house.”
Dracula, both the character and the story, has been absorbed into our culture in such a way that, without ever even having picked up the book, I know this story like the back of my hand. I have seen countless adaptations, some wonderful, some awful and some so awful that they were wonderful, and the vampire myth has been diluted to such an extent that they have most recently been portrayed as sparkly pseudo-teenagers who love school (and under-age girls) a whole bunch and I just struggle to find that frightening. I wish that I could go back to 1897 and read Dracula as someone who hasn’t known that name forever but, unfortunately, I can only read it as someone living in the twenty-first century and that has definitely affected how much I could enjoy the story.
I don’t want to say that I didn’t like it, but I really didn’t. I can appreciate how novel it was, and it is a great and campy horror story, but Dracula and I just did not click. It took me two months, two torturous months, to read all 449 pages and by the end I was scheduling 50 pages into my day just to get it done. I think the format may have been one of the main reasons that I just couldn’t sink my teeth into Dracula, as the story unfolds through a series of diary entries, letters, telegrams and newspaper clippings, and I found that it made for a very dry read which lacked any sense of urgency. In fact this is the fourth time I have tried to read Dracula and each time I would find myself putting it down and lacking any desire to pick it up again. Van Helsing didn’t help matters either because that man can talk and good god is he dull; at one point my mind was drawing parallels between his lectures and that tortuous speech made by John Galt in Atlas Shrugged.
What I did enjoy was the unexpected reversal of traditional gender roles. While Mina, and to a lesser extent Lucy, have the strength of character to hold themselves and everyone else together rather stoically, the men are huddling together fretting, crying and fainting. At one point Mina literally holds Johnathan up and while she is keeping her shit together for the sake of the menfolk, Harker’s hair is turning white and Quincey is busy shooting in windows (where his friends are sitting) because he is now afraid of bats.
As for Dracula? Well, he is barely in the book and described as having a “child-brain” instead of a “man-brain”, so I found it difficult to be too afraid of him. Also he is not the sexy vampire that modern audiences have come to expect; I wanted Gary Oldman’s young Dracula but instead I got a hairy palmed old man with pointed ears and rank breath.
I do still think Dracula is worth reading, even if I feel that the story has been unfortunately overshadowed but it’s own adaptations, and I am glad that I have finally conquered it after having it sitting on my bookshelves for over a decade, but this is one of the very few occasions where I have enjoyed the film(s) much more than the original text.