When I was in high school they forced me to read some old, old novels by national authors and for the most part my experience with Venezuelan authors was that they had very limited ideas when it came to stories. They were all about farmers and the people in power and the struggle of classes. All of them, every single one of them the same crap. I hated every one of those novels, even if in the country they are timeless classics. Might be the reason I don’t usually go for novels tagged as “classics,” they give me bad memories. Then again, I have read some outstandingly bad books in my time, some of which were lauded as magnificent by established authors and critics alike.
Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to know about the first book I read for my pleasure. This was the book that turned me into a bibliophile, hunting for more stories to read and what would eventually drive me to write my own: Dracula by Bram Stoker. I’ve wanted to talk about this book for so long but never found the chance. But now with the Begorrathon I think it’s the perfect time to talk about it. In case you didn’t know Bram Stoker, the author, was Irish. Do note that this isn’t a review, this is pure fan-gushing!
I remember reading Dracula in Spanish first, then getting the urge of reading it in its original language, only to discover that the Spanish version I read had omitted entire pages from its translation.
Dracula opens with Johnathan Harker, a solicitor, travelling all the way to Dracula’s Castle (I’m always tempted to call it Casltevania, being the gamer I am), to finish the paperwork for the reclusive and eponymous Count’s purchase of Carfax Abbey. But things don’t go easily and Johnathan ends up trapped in the castle while the Count makes his way to London and begins targeting the young solicitor’s loved ones.
What first stuck me with Dracula was how Stoker tells the story. It’s point of view narrative but from diaries, journals, correspondence and even newspapers. Every chapter features one or more such mediums and through them you learn snippets of the story from the characters’ perspectives, while at the same time getting to know them quite well. Each of them has their own way of writing, of referring to things, of conveying information. Some are more emotional and other much more logical. Even when doing pure exposition, it’s disguised as part of a conversation or told in small bits in one of Mina or Dr. Seward’s letters.
I’ve always loved Count Dracula as a villain, especially in this novel, and it’s for one big reason: he’s a complete monster. Over the years many adaptations have tried to make him seem relatable, to change the personality as much as possible. And nowadays we often see such villains—those you know would be good guys if their lives had been different. Not Count Dracula in Stoker’s novel, this was a monster from start to finish, driven by his own lusts and desires, no humanity whatsoever and even now, I find that refreshing. I like those relatable villains as much as everyone but sometimes you just want a monster to fight, one that doesn’t give a flying toss (nor a walking or swimming one) about anything other than itself and who is as inhuman as possible. The Count fits that bill. He is completely evil and loves it.
Then there’s the rest of the cast. As I mentioned before, you get to know most of them through their writing, but they’re all wonderfully done, even those you only hear accounts of–Quincy Morris and Arthur Holmwood. Quincy in particular is a fan favourite, as is the astounding Professor Abraham Van Helsing. I loved them all, from bubblehead Lucy (she really is, not the best head on a set of shoulders) to the deranged yet somber Renfield. In my mind, they look like their actors from Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation, which means Van Helsing will forever be Anthony Hopkins in my mind. Not a bad thing!
I love the pacing of the plot, from the mysterious Count’s introduction to the strange ‘illness’ affecting Lucy, Van Helsing’s appearance and Johnathan’s Return before the hunt begins in earnest and ends with a desperate bid for the Count’s head before the sun goes down. Some people feel the ending lacks punch because there isn’t a fight with the Count at night, but I disagree. The book establishes very early on that the Count is too powerful, so the race is to kill him before he can rise for the evening. I loved it because it made sense.
The Count’s power level is another thing I always enjoy and one thing that’s made me look at the Vampires in modern stories with pity. Dracula walked in the sunlight, and during the day, when he was weaker, he could still summon storms, call animals to his side and even turn into them. He’s resilient and overcomes pretty much every barrier put in his way. At night, he was unstoppable. His only weaknesses were the dirt crates he rested in, established very early on and exploited to kill him; and his pride, his greatest flaw, overconfident that they couldn’t stop him. It’s what inevitably forces him to flee London.
Dracula will always hold a special place in my heart, and I still read it from time to time, even if just the opening pages, to remind myself of how everything starts. And during this year’s Begorrathon I’m raising my non-alcoholic glass to Bram Stoker and this novel that changed my life.