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?).