Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Dracula remains a bloody good read
I'm currently listening to the audio book of Dracula, written by Bram Stoker and narrated by Robert Whitfield. It's a great book, now and likely always the definitive vampire story.
I'll plan on writing a full review once I'm finished, but for now here are some of my favorite scenes:
When Jonathan Harker leaves the west and enters the east en route to the Carpathian mountains and Transylvania, the trains no longer seem to run on time. This foreshadows the weakening of rationality and science in that part of Europe, and the increasing sway of superstition and the occult. This breeds an atmosphere of fear that allows the Count to hold the terrified countryside in his undead grip.
The count leaving his castle and returning with a child stuffed in a bag, which he proceeds to feed to his three vampiric mistresses. When the child's mother comes to the castle to plead for her child's release, Dracula calls a pack of wolves upon her. This is evil, folks--the antithesis of Twilight.
The arrival in Whitby of the ship Demeter. This whole scene is terrific--black stormclouds and a raging gale as the ship rushes toward land, "steered" by its dead captain lashed to the wheel; a large black dog that leaps off the prow once the ship touches shore; a hold full of coffins. Stoker wrote Dracula using a series of journal entries and letters from various narrators, and his use of the captain's log to tell the tale of the crew's strange disappearance, and the thin, ghostly-pale, red-eyed man hunting them one by one during the long voyage at sea, works very effectively.
Renfield. The lunatic asylum resident is a fun, memorable character. I've always enjoyed Dr. Seward's clinical observations of Renfield's carnivorous obsessions--he starts by attracting flies with sugar, which he then feeds to spiders, which he then proceeds to feed to captured sparrows. Renfield then asks for a kitten. Seward refuses the request, but it's chilling to think what would have become of the creature--and what would have been the next step in the food chain.
Dracula's early appearances in England, which include a trip to the zoo in which he frees a wolf. The zookeeper's description of the count to the authorities is suitably sinister--tall and thin, with a hook nose and pointed, mostly black beard, a hard, cold look and red eyes, white kid gloves, and a mouth full of white, sharp teeth. His sardonic, playful conversation with the dim-witted zookeeper reminded me of Hannibal Lecter's conversations with Agent Starling--humor mixed with a sinister undercurrent of murder.
Van Helsing. Along with the Count, the old, brilliant professor from Amsterdam is probably the most memorable character in Dracula. Some of my favorite scenes occur when Van Helsing realizes that a vampire is preying on Lucy Westenra, but is reluctant to tell the others, knowing that no one will believe him. This makes for some morbidly humorous moments, as when he tells Dr. Seward that Lucy will need to be "disposed of" after her death:
Tomorrow I want you to bring me, before night, a set of post-mortem knives.
Must we make an autopsy? I asked.
Yes, and no. I want to operate, but not as you think. Let me tell you now, but not a word to another. I want to cut off her head and take out her heart. Ah! you a surgeon, and so shocked!
The "Bloofer Lady." When Lucy rises from the dead and leaves her crypt to feed, the Westminster Gazette begins to report cases of young children returning home late. One child reports meeting a mysterious woman who asked him to come for a walk. The child refers to her as the 'bloofer lady.' The name becomes a funny catch phrase among the children until one of them goes missing, and is later found weak and emaciated with a wound to its throat. The device of a childish nickname for something monstrous would later be used by Stephen King.