Confession: Up until now, I had never read a full-length vampire novel. I do, however, love a good vampire story. This summer, when I went to Europe, I was even going to make a trip out to Čachtice, Slovakia, where the ruins of the alleged real Dracula’s castle remain (FYI: Dracula was actually a sadistic woman/serial killer of noble blood who brutally tortured her servants before killing them). Unfortunately, my sprained ankles killed my plans for that hike, but I’ve remained in a Dracula mood ever since. Rather than read Bram Stoker’s classic in print, I listened to it all throughout October. There’s a full-cast production of the novel on Audible featuring Tim Curry(!) and Alan Cumming(!).
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect going into this. My primary experience with pop-culture Dracula is the whole, “I vant to suck your blood,” thing. Stoker’s Dracula isn’t quite so open about it; nowhere in the book does that line appear. Instead, the book is told from different characters’ documents, letters, and diary entries (my heart sank over this at first — y’all know how I feel about epistolary novels — but it gets good fast, so I stopped caring). It begins with Jonathan Harker, a solicitor, who is sent to Transylvania to finalize the purchase of a home in London for a mysterious elderly man named Count Dracula. Despite all of the red flags of the townspeople who try to warn him away from going anywhere near Dracula’s castle, Jonathan proceeds as scheduled and soon finds himself a prisoner on the terrifying property.
Meanwhile, Jonathan’s fiancee, Mina, awaits his return and is worried sick as weeks pass with no word from him. She passes the time with her dear friend, Lucy, who is carefree and mostly concerned with narrowing down her list of suitors. Then weird things start happening around town. A crew-less ship mysteriously arrives in the harbor; the only sign of former life is a dead man, whose hands were tied to the ships wheel. Soon after, Lucy begins experiencing terrifying sleepwalking episodes that seem to be getting worse and worse. Just as suddenly, Mina receives word about Jonathan and goes to him at once; a deteriorating Lucy is left in the hands of her mother and fiance. One of Lucy’s suitors, who works at an insane asylum, calls his former mentor for help determining the cause of Lucy’s deterioration. And as soon as Dr. Van Helsing arrives, it’s clear to him that something terrible is brewing.
I loved the book, epistolary format and all, though I’ll admit I rolled my eyes so. hard. at the characterizations of women. Lucy is flighty and oh so innocent; she tries to be brave — for a woman — in the face of her mysterious illness, but the men all know what’s best and interact with her as such. Mina has a sturdier resolve; she’s resolute about needing to know everything, even the scariest of details, so the men are in awe of how strong she is…for a woman. She’s a paragon of virtue and grace, although she’s prone to going white with horror or fear when everything proves too much to bear. The men all get teary when they think of how cruel God is to bestow such horrors on one of His most perfect creations. Or whatever.
And yet it’s such a wonderfully spooky book. Like the fog that allows Dracula to seep into whichever room he pleases, the book has an unnerving psychological quality that creeped me out many a time (particularly late at night, when Dracula’s fog rolled into Lucy’s and Mina’s dark bedrooms and gave them terrifying nightmares). It’s not that scary by today’s standards, but it’s a book that has stood the test of time and worked its way into pop culture for a reason.
Dracula by Bram Stoker was originally released in 1897. I listened to the full-cast Audible production released in 2012.
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Length: 15 hours, 28 minutes
Narrated by: Tim Curry, Alan Cumming, Simon Vance, Katherine Kellgren, Susan Duerden, John Lee, Graeme Malcolm, Steven Crossley, Simon Prebble, James Adams, Nicola Barber, Victor Villar-Hauser, and Marc Vietor