Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula - Bram Stoker

I think I first read this for a class on Gothic Literature and Film, which was my first real film class back in undergrad and I enjoyed it immensely. Er, specifically reading the book and seeing the film, then comparing how the two differ. Dracula is one of those "seminal in the history of horror" type things that you sort of feel you should read to, you know, have an idea of the story everyone's riffing on. The trouble is not enough people are honest about the book because they're so busy discussing where the story went from there and what it influenced.


So let's be up front about Dracula. It's a slow, slow, really sloooow moving story. And that's from me, who's read oodles of other slow moving period books and enjoyed a good many. This is not an adventurous, thrill a minute, exciting read - or not by current standards anyway. Check out the wikipedia on Gothic lit if you want to get into the why's of what's going on with that. Short version: It was a trend. Not unlike the current trend for supernatural romance (with horror being taken out almost entirely in favor of sexytimes), in which even the very best of the genre isn't going to be praised as this generations War and Peace or Ulysses. Which might be a good thing if you think of it, because there's actually not a ton of people who've made it through either of those books and love love loooved them and insist you must read them. (Which isn't the same as those who swear you must read them to become a fully literate book reader. I'm never big on giving others a List of Books You Must Read Or Suffer Incompleteness. That always seems pretentious.) Gothic lit was fulfilling the same kinds of interest at the time as supernatural romance is now - such as otherworldly plot/characters and excitement. Though the excitement in Dracula only works if you live in a world that's not yet had television and modern day pacing in film. You can get an idea of what I'm talking about if you watch some very early film and very early television, especially comedy, and then notice the pacing - or how fast the jokes are setup and told. Not that understanding that will make Dracula suddenly interesting - it's still the same book, just reading it in context helps a lot in understanding it's slooooowness.


Another way to understand why people thought Dracula was interesting at the time is to read other period books like the Castle of Otranto or Varney the Vampire (which yep, I read for background, thanks to that class) and then you can say "Oh well yeah, next to those? I can see how this looked interesting." I think the best you can say of Dracula is that it's "atmospheric." And with wildly better writing than Varney. (There are better Gothic reading choices in that wikipedia page, but I was going for examples that I've actually read.) This is the kind of thing that was only fun for me as an English major because it was a great break from reading Very Serious Books With Social Commentary and Sad Endings. Next to those Dracula was a nice break. It was also great reading before bedtime as it was good will-make-me-drowsy material.

Oh and I'm not actually recommending anyone rush to read Otranto or Varney. Just those wikipedia links if anything. The only fun thing that happens in Otranto is someone is killed by a giant helmet falling from the sky and killing him - and that is NEVER explained. (I was hoping for the giant owner of the helmet to show up later, but no.) They were great fun to read and discuss in class though. (I momentary wondered if I should put a spoiler on the Otranto helmet bit, but seriously, it's something I feel people going into that thing should look out for or they can miss it. Or it could still be bothering me that it was one of the most interesting things that happened and the author just walks away from it.)

It was thanks to Raging Snarky Stormtrooper Pony's post about the book that made me decide to write this. Actually it made me realize I'd never written about the book online, just awarded it some stars.


This also reminds me that I did buy this particular Norton Critical Edition for the commentary to see if it gave any interesting context. And, being me and the way I always have too much to read, I read the introduction and some of the other notes and didn't do a full re-read, intending to do that later. Later still hasn't come - but I'll update this when it does. Usually the reminder happens around Halloween season (which for me starts in August), so we'll see if I get back to this around then.