My goal is to eventually make my way through all of these must-read titles. These books have been around for so long and read by so many that another generic review from your average reader seems unnecessary. Instead, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of the experts have to say about the stories that paved the way for their own success… and how their perspective compares to my own reading experience. Today, I’m looking at Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
During a business visit to Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, a young English solicitor finds himself at the center of a series of horrifying incidents. Jonathan Harker is attacked by three phantom women, observes the Count’s transformation from human to bat form, and discovers puncture wounds on his own neck that seem to have been made by teeth. Harker returns home upon his escape from Dracula’s grim fortress, but a friend’s strange malady – involving sleepwalking, inexplicable blood loss, and mysterious throat wounds – initiates a frantic vampire hunt.
Carole Nelson Douglas compares Dracula to other iconic books that came out of the late 19th century. “The 1890’s… introduced an astounding number of founding tales for the genre categories that came to dominate twentieth-century fiction: thriller, horror, adventure, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy.” Many of these stories, by recognizable names like H.G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, have endured for over a hundred years… and while Stoker’s book wasn’t all that popular at the time, “Dracula can still grab the modern reader by the throat.”
Can it, though? Told through the journals and letters from a handful of characters, the novel itself left me feeling disappointed, as if I were watching the suspense from a distance. I’ve always been a bit put off by epistolary style, and while some books can overcome that personal distaste, it isn’t easy, and I wouldn’t have expected a Victorian novel to have much luck.
In fact, I’d say the only parts of the novel that were really thrilling were those that directly involved the title character. “Take away Dracula’s supernatural powers, and the character would still terrify us, becoming the thriller world’s first major serial killer.”
He’s been reimagined time and time again. And after having seen and read several versions of vampires over the years, it was interesting to go back to the classic and see where all of the legends come from… although that isn’t really accurate. Stoker didn’t invent vampires, after all, but he did help them become a part of contemporary culture.
Now that I’m done, I can say that I enjoyed the book, but while I was reading it, I was never really excited about picking it up. Still, it belongs on this list, if only for the influence it continues to have all these years later… a literary immortality. And as Douglas says, “How beautifully ironic the old count would find that.”
Thirty-three down, sixty-seven to go…
Next month I’ll be discussing Evelyn Anthony’s The Rendezvous.