Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dracula: the Undead [book review]

So I'm wandering through the Wheaton Public Library, top 10 of its kind in the nation, and see that a sequel has been made to Dracula by Bram Stoker's great-grand nephew Dacre Stoker.

Co-written by Ian Holt, an authority on all things Dracula, I picked it up to give it a few pages to convice me I should read it and, with a preface of Mina Harker warning her son about Dracula and desiring God's protection on him, I was hooked!

Count Dracula is a fascinating villain -even more so is Vlad the Impaler, the Wallachian Prince whom he is based upon. A mixture of cruelty and nobility, of regality and bloodthirstiness that makes him immortal -in our imaginations at least!

I myself have been talking about writing a novel on a young man who is esnared by Dracula and becomes a half-vampire, escaping his control only by the power of God in Christ. [To wit, holy communion satiates his bloodlust.] So I was very interested to see what take Stoker's descendant had done.

Firstly, we find that Dracula is not the MAIN villain, but a Countess Bathory - a woman who bathed herself in the blood of young women to keep herself young. [Illustration on right by Chow] Her crimes were unconscionable. While one may see Dracula as a ruthless man of his times [i.e. geeks will understand this: his alignment being 'Lawful Evil'] she is simply E-V-I-L and horrifically vile in all she does. We slowly learn she hates Dracula and is responsible for his demise, more than all the old crew was: Jonathan Harker, Quincey Morris, Dr. John Seward, Dr. Abram Van Helsing, and Arthur Holmwood.

In fact, we find each of these heroic Vampire-hunters has slowly descended into darkness after their victory over Count Dracula. Dr. Seward has become a heroin addict, Johnathan and Mina's marriage is disintegrating because she no longer ages, and Arther Holmwood, now Lord Godalming, has killed three men in duels - duels instigated by him to force an end to his life in a "noble fashion."

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT - I MEAN IT!
O.K. Here comes the ultimate spoilers and I am angry enough at the writer's ending to this otherwise well-written page turner to reveal them.

Ready?

You see, by the end of the novel, everyone we thought was a hero ends up dead. Murdered by the Countess, in most cases. She and Dracula have a final showdown and he wins, so we are briefly satisfied, but then we end up with a zero sum game - villain kills villain but all heroes die. It is a pyrrhic victory at best.

Except Dracula's son. That's right - Jonathan and Mina Harker's son is really - hang on - Dracula's child. So much for the happy ending of Dracula! Seems the un-dead CAN procreate after all, kids.

He and 'dad' survive and head to America in the end - aboard the H.M.S. Titanic. Heh - THAT's sort of fitting actually - a great work and a magnificent vehicle that ends in being sunk due to its own hubris. ;)

I don't mind revisions that 'tighten up' an origin story. I don't mind sequels that spring off to the left in a "what if..." scenario. If you can do it well, I will join everyone in applauding you.

But Dracula: the Undead does two things that are utterly inimical to Bram's original work: one, it makes the power of faith in Christ of ZERO effect. Two, it makes the reasoning of the heroes completely false - Dracula is a misunderstood god by the time Dacre is finished with him. [I see the pernicious influence of Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula here; there is a flashback in the novel that shamelessly echoes Dracula's death scene in that film.]

What we are left with is a near-total deconstruction of the original novel, and folks, that's either arrogant or downright foolish.

To show the full damage, here's a list of who dies by the end of this novel:

Dr. John Seward
Jonathan Harker
Hon. Arthur Holmwood/Lord Godalming
Inspector Cotford [think of a British Columbo but wrong]
Dr. Abram Van Helsing
Mina Harker
Countess Bathory


And here's who gets to live:
Dracula
His son, Quincey Harker

Now kids, that tells me that the title of this book should be changed to Dracula Victorious: Sympathy for the Devil. Call the publisher, willya?

It was indeed well-written; I read the entire book in two days, hoping that the body count would end with perhaps a repentant Dracula destroying Bathory in a Return of the Jedi "The Emperor vs. Darth Vader" death duel.

Almost got it. But its as if Vader rose from the ashes, took Luke's hand and left the Rebel Alliance behind to rule another galaxy.

In other words, it was an ethically and morally wrong ending, calling the first work a LIE. Even though perhaps literarily valid on some levels, it betrayed my trust. I wanted to read a sequel to a classic tale of heroism in the face of horror. I was betrayed.

I did not read a sequel; I read a long and masterfully crafted piece of propaganda that sought to re-cast the villain as a real hero.

Ah well. Even the damned have hopes.

As vain as hose hopes may be, they still have them.

It is a great novel for the damned.

It is not of course for the saved.

If you read the first novel and then read the second, you will see EXACTLY what I mean.

Dracula is not the villain in the sequel. Bram Stoker is. And Dacre therefore spits on the the very progenitor of his work.

God have mercy on his soul.

Amen.