Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Halloween happens to be one of my favorite holidays. It is a socially acceptable time for people to dress up as things that would normally be looked down on as terrifying, weird, or simply wrong during the rest of the year. Growing up in the twentieth century, I remember seeing popular monsters, like Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, and the Werewolf, invade storybooks and television programs. Their likenesses come out for Halloween in costume shops and grocery store aisles. Even Hollywood gets into the spirit of Halloween and has been doing so since long before I was born. Iconic figures have permeated the social conscious because of the acting talents of Béla Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr. The monsters they play have become the epitomes of fear of the marginalized outcast in the literary and Hollywood universes. For an evening, a person can experiment what it feels like to give in to the dark and evil side without having to become one permanently and suffering the consequences of being ostracized.

I have wondered where these creatures come from. The more stories I hear or read, the more discrepancies or oddities I see. The first story has vampires burning up under the light of the sunrise while another just shows them glitter at noonday. Vampires can control wolves in one story, but have to fight against them in yet another. Subcultures even follow a type of dogma of what a particular monster can or cannot do. I, however, like to go to the source or earliest incarnation and see how the creator or author of that monster imagines it. By doing so, I can notice what aspects are original and what details artists have later incorporated into the mythical figure.

As interesting as these details can be, I know when to stop and move on. But I feel uneasy when I see a person liking a thing just for the sake of liking it, as I will explain shortly. Lately, teenagers and young adults are swooning under the influence of Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight Series. No, I have not read the books, but I have read a couple of chapters, and a girl has read me another portion in front of her date and his roommate. (That situation, awkward it is to experience, is another story for another venue.) The prose is not the best in my opinion, but not the worst either. What bothers me is how young folks are taking this Twilight fad a little too far. They want to do what the vampires do, and not just on Halloween. They break themselves into teams for Edward and Jacob. They contend with each other like novice matchmakers. (Why should Bella pick either of them?) They even go so far as to embarrass themselves when they ogle over Edward or Jacob, fictitious and unworthy role models for today’s youth. It is one thing to enjoy a book or a movie, it is another thing to obsess over it to the point that it takes over your life and free time. Besides, I wonder what young people really understand about vampires, and I bet good money they have not read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, much less having seen Béla Lugosi’s cinematic version.

The edition I have read comes from the Barnes & Noble Classics series. Brooke Allen provides the introduction and the notes. Dracula reads like a case study. The text comes in the form of letters, journal entries, recordings, newspaper clippings, and reports all compiled together into a chronological folio. The protagonists are pitted against a powerful and supernatural foe that the world or scientific community does not believe exists. Nevertheless, they use the scientific method and their investigative skills to discover the count’s weaknesses as well as exercising their religious faith and moral fortitude to ultimately conquer the parasitic threat to humanity. There is nothing handsome, admirable, or redeemable in the character of Count Dracula. Nothing good comes from his bite.

Dracula has been critically seen as an example of repressed sexual desires and appetites during the Victorian era of the late nineteenth century. I agree. However, the portrayal of the sex act is not explicit and only credulous readers would not be able to read between the lines. I recommend Twilight fans to read this book because it shows a proper outlook of what sexual experience should entail. Brooke Allen gives an exceptional insight into why Lucy Westenra succumbs to Count Dracula’s devices and not Mina Harker. Lucy, a flirtatious and naïve fiancée, does not survive Count Dracula’s advances. On the other hand, Mina Harker, a married and brave woman, has enough sexual experience to resist the nemesis’s assaults and tricks. She even struggles through feelings of shame and spiritual or physical repulsion after having been violated and victimized by the antagonist. She prevails in the end despite what has been done to her because of the faith she has in her God, in her husband, and in her friends that help her to become whole again. A reader cannot find this moral lesson in The Twilight Series.

Yes, fans will argue Edward marries Bella before consummation, but I argue she goes the way of Lucy Westenra and not Mina Harker. After reading Dracula, Twilight fans should ask themselves what they really think about when it comes to the attraction to vampires. Is it something they can look back on years from now and not feel embarrassed at their behavior and attitude? Is it a fascination that should be kept to Halloween and movie premieres only? Is this what you want to become, even in your imagination and other than on Halloween? What are you really looking for in a brooding, young-looking vampire anyway?


In time, the fad of The Twilight Series will fade away, for which I am anxiously waiting. In the meantime, I wish there were a better discussion revolving around a vampire story that has already been told for at least a century. If you’re going to imitate any of the characters mentioned in this review, it better be Halloween.

Andrew


2 comments:

  1. I first read Bram Stoker's Dracula in the third grade - it scared the daylights out of me. I went to bed with a blanket wrapped around my neck for months.

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  2. The original title of the book review was "Bram Stoker's Dracula Beats Stephenie Meyer's Twilight." I changed the title in order to conform to other titles I have been giving my posts to this blog.

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