Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Recommendation: Dracula


     Really? You're recommending Dracula? The 'demonic' horror novel? The book that spawned so many horrifying and ridiculously seductive movies/t.v. shows?

     Yes - yes I am.

     Most people are familiar with Count Dracula, be it through movies, television, or Halloween specials, but most people, I find, have not read the book. I was with you, I hadn't read it, and didn't want to read it. For whatever reason vampires have scared the pants off me since I was a child. But, it was close to Halloween, I'd been listening to audio tapes on the drive to and from school, so I picked up the dreaded book. 'I'm an adult' I reasoned as I walked to the checkout counter. 'And really, at the very least it will just be like a cheap thrill novel - like the Goosebumps books I looked at but never actually dared to read'. So I got it, and I listened to it, and I loved it.

     It was absolutely nothing like what I thought it would be. All of those movies and things you've seen in the media - get that out of your head, because this book is nothing like that. Even the Keanau Reeves movie Bram Stoker's Dracula, which keeps almost all of the dialog from the book, manages to be nothing like it at all. The book was a little scary, but it was also Gothic Horror at its finest.

     The book is called Dracula, but actually the character of Dracula is barely in it. He's in the very first part of the novel, and then throughout the rest of the book, until more towards the end, he's mostly an implied presence - a shadow. You know what's going on, but none of the other characters really do. Instead the book follows the lives of his victims/ intended victims/ killers. It's mostly written in first person as a series of diary entries, letters, and recordings. I don't normally like first person point of view, but in this case it worked really well. The audience knew where this was all going, but the characters didn't. It served to heighten the suspense of the book to the point where you were like 'NO DON'T DO IT!!!11!1!!!! THERE'S A VAMPIRE TRYING TO EAT YOU DON'T YOU KNOW!!!!!!!!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH"

     Which was the really great thing about the book - no, they didn't know, why would they know? This was nearing the turn of the century England in the throes of the Enlightenment. The last place their minds would go was to the thought of a scary supernatural being. And that was the whole point of the book. The Gothic Horror genre is part of the Romantic movement in literature which was a reaction against the Enlightenment. (For those of you who may be a bit rusty on those terms, the Enlightenment was a period of thought stemming from the works of the philosopher Rene Descartes. It emphasized the ability of human reason, or human senses, to discover absolute truth. It was obsessed with creating a unified system of knowledge that eliminated the need for God and set man up as the center of everything... this is actually a really bad definition, but shhhhhhh just accept the words that I'm saying. Anyways, needless to say Enlightenment thought kind of reduced human beings to tools that could be used to achieve the goals of lofty intellectual utopias, and the Romantics sought to fight against this by instilling a sense of dignity back into humans and into nature. Did they tend to be a little pantheistic? Sure, but you know... they made pretty things?). Sorry about that ridiculous parenthetical aside. If blogger would let you do footnotes I'd be all over that. So yes, Dracula is a horror novel and part of the Romantic movement. The really neat thing about this book was that it very consciously condemned Enlightenment thought and its rejection of the supernatural. However, despite the icky grossness of the count and its participation in the Romantic movement the book is, in fact, a Christian book.

     I know right!?! I was surprised too. The count is a symbol of violent lust and a sort of Nietzschian will to power blown up to supernatural proportions.  He's absolutely evil (there's no ambiguity about this, unlike in almost all of the film versions), he's incredibly clever, and eternally hungry. Mere human beings cannot overcome him. So we all know the stereotypes, you kill a vampire through a stake to the heart, he's allergic to garlic, he can't be in the sun, and he hates churches, holy water, and crucifixes. Most of those come from this book. And yes, now they're kind of cliche, but in the original they're incredibly powerful. What I loved most about this book is, it wasn't human beings who defeated the count. God did. Sure it was humans who stabbed him and whatever, but the power came from God. When one character held out a crucifix against the Count, he described a sensation of power that shot through his arm that was not from him. Holy communion is presented as a powerful symbol, and characters are constantly commending themselves to the protection of God, etc. Normally this wouldn't impress me so much, but in a book like this it really must be implicitly Christian to work. And it is, and it's wonderful, and Dr. Van Helsing is the best.

     I would recommend this book to everyone without reservation. I really didn't find it that scary, and there were several times I was listening to it while driving home alone in the dark, and it was (mostly) fine. The heroes are really great characters, the villain is wonderful, and Dr. Van Helsing is one of my favorite characters ever. He's the only one who's willing to consider that there might be a supernatural explanation to all the bad things that are happening (besides Jonathan Harker, but that's a completely different set of circumstances). He's the only one, at first, who's willing to humble himself to the point of admitting that the enlightenment worldview isn't big enough to hold the entire world, that there are forces bigger, older, and more powerful than man. I will say this about the women. It is a Gothic horror novel. All of the heroines are sweet and beautiful, and innocent, and sweet and innocent and beautiful and beautiful and innocent. All of those. Their function is to be a moral center in he plot, and stand as paragons of virtue for everyone to rally around. I have no problem with this, but it might irritate some people. (and to be fair, Mina is incredibly clever and capable in her own right - she just isn't a 'modern' heroine).

     So yes, go forth into the night and sink your teeth into this fantastic book (do you see what I did there?).

Saturday, February 15, 2014

My (Real) Top 10 Favorite Fictional Couples

Ok, so yesterday was Valentines Day, and there were just so many things posted on facebook and tumblr and whatnot that were sappy and gross that I couldn't resist putting together a satirical list of my 'favorite' couples (because if Bella and Edward are every on this blog in an un-ironic way you will know I have lost my mind). It is true that I am, as a rule, not overly fond of romances and books that focus heavily on those sorts of relationships, but even I have my favorites. So, without further ado, and in celebration of the post valentines day season, here's my completely non-ironic list of favorite couples.

10.) Jonathan and Mina Harker
From the book Dracula (I couldn't find a suitable picture of the two of them) they're a married couple who work incredibly well together to defeat the monster. Both Jonathan and Mina are essential members of the anti-dracula team, and their love for each other and for God goes a long way toward saving everyone.

9.)Goliath and Elisa Maza
From the show Gargoyles these two at the very least had a strong friendship, with more than a little romantic tension. Unfortunately the show was cancelled in its third season, but I can only hope they would have resolved things between them a bit more. The two worked well together and cared about each other deeply. I don't think it would be too much to ask for a little magical resolution for everyone (it's not like magic wasn't a thing in this show).  

8.)Guido and Dora
From the Italian film Life is Beautiful, Guido and Dora love each other through the horrors of WW2, sacrificing everything for their love and family. 

7.)Belle and the Beast (Prince Adam)
 Sure the Beast had a lot to work through (you would too if a fairy had turned into a monster when you were 11), and sure he imprisons Belle, but in all seriousness, I've always had a soft spot for the Beast. He clearly is a kind person (deep down). His servants see it, and Belle learns to too. I also choose to believe that they read to each other all the time after they got married.

6.)Remus Lupin and Nymphadora (Tonks) Lupin
Gah, these were my favorites in the whole Harry Potter series. Lupin is just such an awesome person, and Tonks is so funny and nice, and he just didn't believe that she could love someone like him, but she did and it's super adorable.

5.)Sam Gamgee and Rose
I just don't feel like I should have to explain this. They're perfect. 

4.)Redcrosse Knight and Una
From Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. Because who better for the allegorical representation of England/ Holiness/ St. George to marry than the allegorical representation of Christian (protestant) Truth? Plus Una is a pretty awesome character in her own right.

3.)Haruhi and Tamaki
From Ouran Highschool Host Club. I know I mocked this in my satire post, but that's ok, because this show is itself a satire. It joyously mocks Shojo (girly romance) manga, while itself drawing you in to its own goofy love story. Tamaki is a bubbly idiot (albeit a rich and ridiculously good-looking, and strangely intelligent one), and Haruhi is an incredibly passive heroine, so needless to say their interactions are hilarious. But there's also a serious side to both characters that makes their budding relationship fun to watch.

2.)Shizuku and Seiji
Whisper of the Heart is probably one of my favorite movies, so it should be no surprise that these two are up here. I mostly love that, even though they're still really young, they encourage each other to grow to be the best people they can be (both form themselves and each other). In my opinion they have quite a future ahead of them. 

1.)Howl Jenkins and Sophie Hatter
From Howl's Moving Castle (The Book, not the movie). Howl and Sophie are my absolute favorites. Sophie is so feisty and practical, and Howl is an absolute drama queen. I love their characters in the book, and all the hilarious things they get into and how they help each other even when they argue. It's one of the best fairy stories I've ever read in terms of quality, and my personal favorite (ever). Love these two.

There you have it - my non-ironic favorite pairings!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Top 10 Fictional Couples (Satirical Edition)

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! Since most of the world (and by world I mean America) is busy receiving gifts and foodstuffs from their significant others, and I'm sitting at home by myself eating birthday cake oreos, I thought I'd compile my 'Forever Alone Top 10 (INCREDIBLY tongue in cheek) Fictional Couples' Take a look at all this love and the beautiful relationships that you will never have everyone.  

10.) Usagi and Mamoru (Sailor Moon)
I can't think of anything more beautiful than the love between a middle school girl and a college aged boy. 

9.) Narcissus and Himself
You can't really love other people until you love yourself right?

8.) Ron Weasley and Lavender Brown
J.K. Rowling recently revealed that her pairing of Ron and Hermione was a mistake - and I couldn't agree more. Clearly Won-Won and Lav-Lav were meant to be.

7.) Haruhi X Everyone (Ouran High school Host Club)
Because who doesn't love a reverse Harem?

 6.) Wesley and Buttercup
What's worth living for? True Love. What does true love look like? A beautiful but flat princess character and a male Mary Sue. 

5.) Belle and Gaston
Gaston was a sincerely misunderstood character, and if Belle hadn't been blind to the oppression suffered by the proletariat class then she wouldn't have fallen for the bourgeois beast. 

4.) Humbert Humbert and Lolita
It's not Humbert's fault that he fell in love with a minor. Everyone should just leave him the heck alone to love who he loves.

3.) John Watson and Sherlock Holmes
John: "In case any one cares, I'm not actually gay."
Oh John, methinks the lady doth protest too much.

2.) Edward Cullen and Bella Swan
One of the most beautiful couples in all of literary history, the forbidden love between Bella and her stalker Edward gives hope to the rest of us lonely souls out there.

1.) Heathcliff and Catherine 
And finally, in the number one spot, the couple that taught us that if you really love someone you will verbally and physically abuse them in an intense and passionate way.

The link to my non-ironic post can be found here