Horror Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Oh god.

It took me so long to finish this book. I’ve probably tried to read this thing at least a dozen times in my (not-so) short life, and I always made it to the end of Jonathan Harker’s journal and then BLAM! I’d hit the wall of drivel that is Mina and Lucy’s journals and letters to one another. Instant boredom.

Well this time, I pushed through. Mainly, because I started reading it as a free-download on my iPhone when we were motorcycle camping this summer and I had no other choice. Phil fell asleep within 10 minutes of my reading aloud, without fail. Even in the scary bits. But, low and behold, things do get interesting again! And I got far enough into it that I had to finish, even when it bogs down again innumerable times throughout.

I don’t know, maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood to read Stoker. Sometimes I can breeze through the classics without trouble—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein didn’t last a day in my hands, nor did the Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights—and sometimes they make me want to bang my head against the wall until I pass out. Dracula has moments of genuine brilliance, it really does. There are subtle scenes in this book that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck the way modern horror never can with its tell-all style. Stoker had a gift for horror. Unfortunately he drowns it in tedium.

In part, I think, I take issue with his structural choice—the letters, journals, telegrams, and newspaper clippings—which, although it is an intriguing idea, didn’t really pan out the way I’d hoped. This style, I believe, was used to add “credibility” to his story. The Victorian gothic was all about making readers believe in the stories of horror they read so avidly (similar to the travel fiction that was popular before and after), and I can see how this stylistic approach would achieve this for Stoker’s readers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate for modern readers. What we have instead is a text that dissociates the reader from the narrative, by putting us at an arm’s-length of the action, rather than immersing us in it. This, combined with the necessarily repetitive nature of multi-faceted POV’s really bogs down the pace of the story.

The story, I should point out, was excellent. I think Dracula would not have suffered had it been pared down by 200 or so pages. But the real meat of the tale is great. Stoker drew from a lot of vampire mythology to create a text that has defined the genre for more than a century afterwards. Having just finished I am Legend I can see a lot of Matheson’s choices as a reflection of the myth that Stoker built (indeed, Matheson’s protagonist initially uses Dracula as a kind of how-to manual for killing vampires). Until Anne Rice picked up the torch in the ‘90’s, redefining the genre for a new generation, I would argue that no one has had such an influence on vampire literature as Stoker has.

So. Was it a slow go? Yes. Was it worth it? Definitely. I think anyone with an interest in mythology and folklore should read this book; it’s full of interesting tidbits and really makes you think about how stories evolve and are passed down through the ages. Also, anyone with an interest in modern vamp-lit should give it a try, to see what the original blood-sucking fiend was all about. Unless your reading level has stagnated at Stephanie Meyer’s slush bucket of sparkle vamps and angst-ridden puppy-lovers, you don’t want to hurt yourself. Was Stoker the first to pick up the vampire myth and bring it to a new audience? No. But no one can deny that he popularized the genre, and I believe there was a reason for that. It might have taken me two months to get through (an unheard-of marathon for me), but I’d do it again!