Early exposure to Hammer Horrors will either turn you into a whimpering mess or into a lifelong horror fan. Luckily, seeing Christopher Lee’s Dracula caused less fear and more awestruck in my case. But not many people are aware that even though I love all things vampire, I have never been the biggest fan of Dracula, the novel by Bram Stoker that began it all. I read it once when I was fifteen or sixteen and then again a few years later. But alas, I just did not enjoy it. I must admit that this is something that has weighed on me. How can I, lover of all things vampiric, not love the grand-daddy of all vampire stories? Furthermore I love vampires in a Victorian gothic setting, so this dislike just never made sense especially as I cannot tell you exactly what I do not like. Well, recently I had the opportunity to re-visit not just Dracula, but also Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula and these are my findings.
Why Dracula Now?
I was aware that there was a new television series about Bram Stoker’s legendary vampire, but as I do not watch television, due to time and energy constraints, I had not seen it. Also, I must say I am not a fan of Jonathan Rhys Meyers. But I do listen to a lot of audio books (even though I prefer reading) and one of my favourite characters in the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost is Vlad Tepes (although he hates being referred to by the ‘D’ word). Then I saw the trailer for the upcoming Dracula Untold and that is a movie I would like to watch. So I dug through my collection of audio books and found one that had been given to me as a gift, but that I had never listened to. It is Bram Stoker’s Dracula read by an impressive cast, including Alan Cumming and Tim Curry. I also discovered I had Anno Dracula which is a book I have wanted to read for a long time, but have just not had the chance to.
Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’
I enjoyed this audio book so much, and not even for the great actors, but for the story itself and I was stunned that I had never enjoyed it before. But I soon realised what the issue had been. Even though I have been an avid reader almost my whole life, I did not like historical stories up until a few years ago and I think the epistolary format of the story may have, quite simply gone over my head the first couple of times. But on this reading I found myself loving the telling of the tale through the various diary entries, logs and newspaper articles as it actually works so well. I prefer my vampires to be dangerous and scary, and many modern vampire stories have such tame ‘vampires’ that they are vampire in name alone. Count Dracula makes for a great menacing and manipulative force of evil in this story even though most of the time, we do not even read about him directly, but only see the results of his actions. I’ve now discovered there is an audio book version with Christopher Lee as the narrator and that has definitely gone on my wish list!
’Anno Dracula’ by Kim Newman
I remember the reason I wanted to read this book – the first part of the synopsis! I read ‘It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. Peppered with familiar characters from Victorian history and fiction…’ and I was sold! Fun, fun, fun! But I must confess, I did not know any more about the story than that. As I began reading I loved the fact that this first book in the Anno Dracula series gives a great alternative ending to the Dracula story, where the Count never flees from London and was not defeated. Instead, he becomes the Prince Consort and vampires are a part of Victorian society with more and more people choosing to take the ‘dark kiss’ and leave behind their ‘warm’ lives forever. I was totally unprepared for the second brilliant surprise that was in store for me! The story actually revolves around the White Chapel Murders and the hunt for Jack the Ripper.
Like so many people, I am intrigued by the mystery of the White Chapel murders. Kim Newman interweaves the real details of the Jack the Ripper killings with an alternative Victorian history, and an alternative version of Bram Stoker’s finest. As if that is not enough fun and mayhem, Anno Dracula is liberally sprinkled with real and fictional characters from the Victorian era. I loved this book! It was such a romping good read, and was such an immense treat! A literary gateau for the soul! Dracula only appears right at the end of the book, but what an appearance he makes! He is brutal and frightening and every bit the monster he truly is.
Dracula Never Dies, Don’t You Know?
I am looking forward to the release of Dracula Untold but I fear they may nancy him out. After the above double bill, I caught a re-run of Francis Ford Coppola’s version. Awful accents aside, I do love Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins, but in this movie, the ruthless Drac is turned into a lovesick puppy. I did not make it very far into the movie.
However, whether we agree with the different interpretations of Dracula, the vampire or the story, there is a reason this most famous vampire of all time is still going strong over a century later. We just cannot get enough of him.