I’ve been sick as a dog all week, with some kind of cold which plugs up my head and leaves me unable to think very clearly. However, I can’t leave Stories and Stuff without some kind of post on Friday, can I? So I’ll just note that yesterday was Bram Stoker’s 165th birthday, and Bram Stoker is, of course, the author of Dracula. Google celebrated this appropriately with a Google Doodle. And Slate even wrote an article about him.
It’s thanks to Bram Stoker that we have Twi-hards running around, and the whole recent vampire craze (which thankfully seems to be dying away somewhat). However, I’d like to point out some commonly believed facts about Dracula which never actually occur in the book Dracula at all. Since I picked Dracula as one of my summer reading books, I can actually weigh in on this subject. For instance, Slate describes Dracula as “a very sexy novel.” Many people have described it that way, but it’s only possible if you read a LOT of subtext into it. Because Dracula is emphatically described as unappealing and unattractive, and old on top of all that. According to Wikipedia, several other vampire novels written at the time read a lot more into the vampire method of sucking blood than Dracula did, and that may’ve been where the idea of “sexy novel” came from, but in my opinion it seems like this reputation was retroactively applied to Dracula rather than it being obvious in Dracula itself. Because you really have to stretch to read any of Dracula’s scenes in a sexy way.
Another thing which surprised me and many other readers of Dracula is how much of the accepted vampire legend is not actually present in the book – not being able to walk around in the sunshine, having to be killed with a silver stake, etc. While the book may’ve started the whole vampire literature craze (which has continued to the present day, apparently), it can’t really be read as a definitive description of vampire lore. You can’t really go back to it to see what the ‘original’ says. Or you can, but you’ll get people telling you it’s lame that a vampire can just be killed with a regular knife, like anything else.
Lastly – well, this doesn’t really have anything to do with commonly believed myths about Dracula, but I really love the theory about Lucy Westenra’s death that says Dracula didn’t kill her and Van Helsing did. As a former nursing student, I was highly interested to read about blood transfusions in a novel written before blood transfusions were done often. For the characters, it’s a simple matter of seizing the nearest willing volunteer and pumping his blood into Lucy to replace the blood Dracula stole. While reading this, I keep having flashbacks to my hospital days where I had to double-check over and over that the blood I was pumping into the patient matched their blood type, that the patient was not reacting to the blood, that nothing had been mixed up… and here Van Helsing is blithely ignoring all of these safe-guards. To me, it just makes sense that maybe Lucy died from having four blood transfusions from four different people! I mean, not all of them could’ve had Type O-negative blood, right?
Anyway, in conclusion, I’d say Dracula was an entertaining enough novel that was important to literature because of its widely-copied approach to vampire stories (not to mention kicking off a whole series of vampire movies). However, if you’re looking for a novel that will make you think deeply, Dracula probably isn’t it. As a Protestant Christian, I found it highly interesting how the Protestant characters cheerfully mixed Catholic and Protestant beliefs to wield off ‘the undead’ – I’d personally like to see a book that wrestles with this sort of issue (if you don’t believe in ‘holy water,’ how can holy water ward off a vampire?), in addition to whether the concept of vampires can actually exist along with Christian theology at all – but that might be asking a little much. In the end, Dracula is exactly what Bram Stoker wrote it to be – a diverting pot-boiler.
On an unrelated note… isn’t Google Doodles one of Google’s smartest ideas? It actually gives you a reason to visit Google’s homepage, even if you don’t have to search something. Some of them are amazing. And then news outlets get to report on them, driving even more traffic Google’s way.