Dracula sucks but the book doesn’t.
I go through phases of reading classics or otherwise tackling books with reputations of being difficult. Sometimes it’s easy to see why books are classics – they’re timeless and engrossing. A Tale of Two Cities is that way for me. So is Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Other times the classics feel like archaeological work. The reader is excavating and extrapolating. Dracula felt like work to me, but the reader can definitely appreciate the book’s influence on future work. In particular, the book contains real stakes (STAKES!) and real horror, in the sense that things we would never want to happen…happen. It’s great at dread. Two or three scenes in particular stuck with me. One involves a cemetery and one involves a ghost ship. If you like cemeteries and ghost ships, maybe this book is for you!
I will admit that most of what I know about Dracula comes from the movie starring Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder (my two spirit animals). In the movie, Mr Harker (Keanu) is a young attorney sent on assignment to Transylvania where he is to meet an enigmatic Count Dracula, ostensibly about purchasing some land in England. It turns into an Airbnb trip for hell, though, as poor Keanu has to deal with all kinds of antisocial behavior from his host and the host’s trio of lady friends. Also, there are wolves!
The book starts in the same fashion. It’s a collection of journal entries and letters to and from Mr Harker as he journeys from England to spend time at the Count’s house. The Count knows nothing of England and is willing to pay a pretty pence to have a young solicitor visit him and advise him on acquiring property in England. Where should he buy? How can he make sure to get a good deal? What’s the culture like? It all makes sense on the sruface. The old man is friendly enough, even charming, but something is…terribly off. Locals won’t interact with him, except for occasional nomads. Why?
Eventually Mr Harker leaves Transylvania and heads home to England. He is unsure of what, exactly, happened with Count Dracula, but he knows he is glad to be home with Mina, his fiancé. Unfortunately, trouble finds the young couple and their friends, and Hugh Jackman (Professor Van Helsing) has to visit England to figure out why the friend group is acting so weird and why people keep getting beheaded. What a buzzkill!
That’s pretty much the plot, but the main attraction is the atmosphere. There’s a lot of sensational, creepy goings on. A lot of it is spiritual and religious in nature, and in this area I think the Mina of the book is the real hero. If you’ve watched Penny Dreadful, she’s very similar to Eva Green’s character of Vanessa Ives – haunted but resolute in fighting off the darkness in favor of the light. I don’t recall Winona Ryder’s character being so central in the movie, but it’s been a few years.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to casual readers, but you completionist nerds out there should consider giving it a go.