Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blood Will Tell

It was on this date, back in 1897, that the horror novel Dracula first saw publication. It was written, of course, by Bram Stoker, the business manager at London’s famed Lyceum Theatre and the personal assistant to actor Henry Irving, who apparently served as the model for Stoker’s nocturnal Transylvanian count. In that epistolary novel, explains The Writer’s Almanac, Stoker “added several chilling details to the age-old vampire tale: that the undead show no reflection in a mirror, that they shun garlic, and that they can be killed only by a stake through the heart.”

Reviewing Dracula on August 23, 1897, The Times of London noted--with what now seems like remarkable understatement--that it finds “a young solicitor sent for on business by a client in Transylvania [going] through some unusual experiences.” Indeed, over the course of Stoker’s thrilling tale, that lawyer, Jonathan Harker, is spellbound by a trio of lubricious female vampires, sees his fiancée’s friend succumb to Dracula’s attentions (and, ultimately, be killed by a stake to her heart and beheading), and tries to head off a vampiric invasion of Britain.

Explained The Times:
The only chance of stopping [the spread of vampires] was to kill the Count before any of his victims died, and this was a difficult job, for, though several centuries old, he was very young and strong, and could become a dog or a bat at pleasure. However, it is undertaken by four resolute and highly-principled persons, and how it is managed forms the subject of the story, of which nobody can complain that it is deficient in dramatic situations.

We would not, however, recommend it to nervous persons for evening reading.
You can enjoy all of that 1897 book review here.

And if you’re in the mood for an extension of Stoker’s blood-and-garlic-scented yarn, look for the publication of Dracula: The Undead. It was written by his great grand-nephew (with help from Dracula historian Ian Holt) and is being touted as “the first Dracula story to be fully authorized by the Stoker family since the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi.” As The Guardian explained last year,
Dacre Stoker delved into his ancestor’s handwritten notes on the original Dracula novel to pen his sequel, Dracula: The Un-Dead--the original name for Dracula before an editor changed the title. The novel, out next October, draws on excised characters, existing character back-stories and plot threads that were cut from Stoker’s original novel, first published 111 years ago.

The new book is set in London in 1912, a quarter of a century after the Count apparently “crumbled into dust.” Vampire-hunter [Abraham] Van Helsing’s protégé Dr. [John] Seward is now a disgraced morphine addict, and Quincey, the son of Stoker’s hero Jonathan, has become involved in a troubled theatre production of Dracula, directed and produced by Bram Stoker himself. The play plunges Quincey into the world of his parents’ terrible secrets, but before he can confront them his father is found murdered, impaled in Piccadilly Circus.
I understand that vampire novels are all the rage nowadays, but do we really need a sequel to Stoker’s classic work? I’m almost afraid to witness its fate. Can it possibly live up to its renowned predecessor? More than likely, critics will say it sucks by comparison.

READ MORE:The Literary World of Bram Stoker,” by Jennifer Dorn (Historic Traveler); Dracula The Undead: The Official Blog.

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