Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Thoughts on Dracula

Sometime in the last month, I finished reading Dracula by Bram Stoker. In short, the beginning was better than the end, and the end was better than the middle.

I really was quite intrigued at the beginning. Wow, he's in Transylvania! Dracula might be a vampire! Jonathan Harker climbed a wall!

Then Stoker introduced more characters, and it started to go downhill. Why? Because they are all the same character, though with slightly different occupations and histories. Dr. Seward, Quincey Morris, and Lord Godalming are all courageous Christian men, ready to sacrifice their own time/money/blood/life for the sake of the better good. They are all three in love with the same woman, and are also so gentlemanly as to have deep and stirring emotions.

Jonathan and Van Helsing are the same too, though Van Helsing is of the philosophical sort, so he gets some actual thoughts in between the self-sacrificing and bold declarations of truth and justice. The women also share the same high ideals and virtues.

Come to think of it, Dracula's not all that exciting either, and only menacing insofar as you realize that he can turn you into a vampire.

The method of killing the vampires was disappointing (when it didn't involve driving a stake through the heart or beheading). The vampires could be completely overcome by placing a holy communion wafer in the earth in their box. And that's it. No fighting, no creepy sneaking-up-on-you attacks, no hand-to-hand combat. I wondered what would happen if the wafer fell out or someone opened the box and ate it or something, but I don't think you're supposed to consider those options.

Here is an excerpt that I thought captured well the essence of the writing:

... 'What will each of you give? Your lives, I know,' she went on quickly; 'that is easy for brave men. Your lives are God's and you can give them back to Him; but what will you give me?' She looked again questioningly, but this time avoided her husband's face. Quincey seemed to understand; he nodded, and her face lit up. 'Then I shall tell you plainly what I want, for there must be no doubtful matter in this connection between us now. You must promise me, one and all--even you, my beloved husband
[All the lovers throughout the book address each other using these sentimental phrases, by the way.]--that, should the time come, you will kill me.'

'What is that time?' The voice was Quincey's but it was low and strained.

'When you shall be convinced that I am so changed that it is better that I die that I may live. When I am thus dead in the flesh, then you will, without a moment's delay, drive a stake through me and cut off my head; or do whatever else may be wanting to give me rest!'

Quincey was the first to rise after the pause. He knelt down before her and taking her hand in his said solemnly: 'I'm only a rough fellow, who hasn't, perhaps, lived as a man should to win such a distinction, but I swear to you by all that I hold sacred and dear that, should the time ever come, I shall not flinch from the duty that you have set us. And I promise you, too, that I shall make all certain, for if I am only doubtful I shall take it that the time has come!'

'My true friend!' was all she could say amid her fast-falling tears, as, bending over, she kissed his hand.

[I think Olive would say here that the author was manipulating our emotions. I certainly did not feel moved to tears reading the previous two paragraphs, but maybe they did back in 1897.]

'I swear the same, my dear Madam Mina!' said Van Helsing.

'And I!' said Lord Godalming, each of them in turn kneeling to her to take the oath. I followed, myself. Then her husband turned to her, wan-eyed and with a greenish pallor which subdued the snowy whiteness of his hair, and asked: 'And must I, too, make such a promise, oh, my wife?'

'You too, my dearest,' she said, with infinite yearning of pity in her voice and eyes. 'You must not shrink. You are nearest and dearest and all the world to me; our souls are knit into one, for all life and all time. Think, dear, that there have been times when brave men have killed their wives and their womenkind, to keep from falling into the hands of the enemy. Their hands did not falter any the more because those that they loved implored them to slay them. It is men's duty towards those whom they love, in such times of sore trial! And oh, my dear, if it is to be that I must meet death at any hand, let it be at the hand of him that loves me best. Dr. Van Helsing, I have not forgotten your mercy in poor Lucy's case to him who loved'--she stopped with a flying blush, and changed her phrase--'to him who had best right to give her peace. If that time shall come again, I look to you to make it a happy memory of my husband's life that it was his loving hand which set me free from the awful thrall upon me.'

'Again I swear!' came the professor's resonant voice.

Ack. Gag. 517 pages of the same was a bit too much for me. At least now I can say I read it.

We watched the 1931 movie as well, which was not any better. About halfway through I began adding my own MST3K-type dialogue and soundtrack, and that helped, but only marginally.


ol' Bob said...

You don't love melodrama?

By the way, it's Bram Stoker, not Brahm -- a minor typo.

Betty Edit said...

By jingle, you're right. I guess I'm just so used to seeing Brahms it came out automatically. Thanks!

J said...

I read this twice...