Vlad the Impaler; also known as Vlad Dracula.
As clichéd as it seems to go directly from reading “Frankenstein” to “Dracula” for readers and writers, it’s still worth the time. For non-monster-classic readers, Mary Shelley’s classic came out in the early 1800’s, and Bram Stoker’s eternal bad boy was published closer to 1900. As much as we Dark Fantasy readers table pound over LOTR, the inspiration of the pre-Tolkien horrors span centuries, continuing with books, TV series, and of course, films.
I know I first read “Dracula” as a teenager but not sure exactly when. I like it better than “Frankenstein.” Overall, it’s more entertaining, but the journal-style writing gets a bit tiresome, the hero-fellas seem to overlap, and as I recall before, it should not have taken Lucy around three hundred pages to die (I know, insensitive!). Our new-and-improved vampires of today don’t mess around; victims usually are dead by the end of the scene.
What happens in “Dracula” is that an English lawyer travels to meet the Count in Transylvania to complete a real estate transaction. The vampire apparently wants to move his business around, and his human neighbors are getting weary of him. While the young lawyer corresponds with his lovely finance, the Count intercepts and reads his mail. (How rude!). The lawyer returns to England after realizing his client is a horrific monster, but finds not only that he’s made himself several cozy nests throughout London, he’s moved next door. The death of his fiancée’s friend Lucy sets of the chain of events leading to a great chase and bittersweet ending of this tale of good and evil.
First, the clichés: If there is a horror story more clichéd than this one, I’m happy to stand corrected. But in the original “Dracula” to me, it doesn’t read like clichés. The garlic, crosses, holy water, wafers, coffins, wolves, and bats work with the story as extensions of the creature’s power and methods to limit it. These definitions give the reader the unnatural feeling needed for the horror jolt. What’s old-fashioned today is what made it great in the first place.
Second, the protagonist: While the knee-jerk reaction when this story is mentioned is the title character, I suspect ace protagonist vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing inspired more writers than Hugh Jackman’s hair stylist (couldn’t resist that one). Being intelligent, prepared, mature, and incorruptible, he stands strong against the very powerful antagonist. He’s an easy favorite good guy.
Third, the antagonist: Dracula, the ultimate vampire, sets the standard for the toothy night stalkers of today. He’s at least three centuries old, can change shape, move weather, super-strong, manipulative, and can create attractive female vampires to keep him company and spread his evil. But his ill deeds catch up with him, and though his demise is anti-climatic by today’s standards, considering the times, it still works.
Elements of “Dracula” follow us as we write horror, dark fantasy, or paranormal romance. Whether we remember the details of this prototype novel or not, we use them as we weave our own stories. My recommendation for vampire-fans is to reel in the clichés and visit the Count. Just don’t sell him any land, and don’t share your mail.