Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dracula (Bram Stoker)

Bram Stoker
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Fantasy/Horror
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Englishman Jonathan Harker traveled to Transylvania to meet a client, who had recently purchased property in London. It was a prestigious opportunity for a young solicitor like himself, an auspicious sign for his career and his impending marriage to the lovely Mina. But, deep in the Carpathian mountains, he instead discovers a terror beyond any Christian imagination... a terror bound for his own homeland, against which he stands powerless.

REVIEW: Considered the seminal vampire novel, Dracula creates one of the most terrifying and powerful agents of evil in English literature... and almost smothers him it a stifling, plodding plot that can't advance one step without numerous speeches and brooding internal monologues. Not a single character in this book can do anything without weaving a web of words to explain themselves, often repeating information that was just relayed in the previous chapter. Despite being educated and intelligent people (even the women), they take a long time figuring out that evil is afoot... not helped by Professor Van Helsing, the expert, who deliberately withholds information even as he demands assistance in seemingly insane tasks. (When he asks a man to help him desecrate the corpse of a woman he once proposed marriage to, and still won't explain himself, I actually groaned out loud.) Even when everyone's up to speed on vampires, they continue to ignore obvious signs of diabolical influences within their circle. These people are too smart to be this stupid, even to further the plot.
Through the haze of words and repetition, Stoker creates some memorable mental images amid an evocative, gloomy atmosphere. Dracula makes a particularly scary monster, elusive and cunning and resourceful, yet capable of a disarming charisma that lulls victims into his power. I was surprised to find some vampiric traits that I'd taken to be more modern - the sensuality, for instance - already present in this 1897 book. Other abilities and limitations seemed more nebulous, if partially explained by Dracula's own ignorance; one of the more terrifying aspects of the character was how he was still learning and adapting after centuries of undeath. It made him all the more dangerous and unpredictable, even to supposed experts like Van Helsing. If Mina was ultimately more of a symbol of divine perfection than a character, and if the superiority of white Christians grew nauseating by the end, well, I suppose those are just signs of the times in which the story was written.
In the end, I managed to come out with an Okay rating. While Dracula is an iconic monster, the wordy repetition and slow, jerky storyline held it back.

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