Reading Dracula Again for the Very First Time.

From the first time we burble “Again, again” after Daddy reads us The Snowy Day to the last time the mourners utter a pre-Eucharistic “Thanks be to God” at our funeral, we meatsacks are borne swiftly through life on the backs of familiar stories, repeated again and again and again until the words scarcely have meaning any more.

Throughout December and regardless of faith leaning, we hear the story of Christ’s birth. The Night Before Christmas gets endlessly repeated and re-written to fit the most mundane of applications, the office Christmas Party (Twas the night before Christmas/and all through Accounting,/the billing was late, the tensions were mounting).

Star Wars retold The Seven Samuari which retold every Western ever. Stories of the underdog’s triumph unwind endlessly back into history. Even the Creation stories our varied faith ascribe to have the ring of the familiar (Hey Noah.  Gilgamesh called.  He wants his flood back)

We’re comforted by their repetition.

And it’s that very familiarity I have to work to overcome when reading Dracula. Sure, Dracula is the vampire story that sired them all. But the fact that it’s the source, the ur-Dracula, means that while the plot elements can change from telling to telling, the tropes themselves never will.  And, for that matter, they never can.

So we have Harker en route to the castle, with every person he meets along the way telling him not to go.  We have a coachman pick him up at the Borgo Pass who we know to be Dracula.  The teeth,  the pallor, the inhuman strength.  The thrall he holds over the canine and lupine.

Has there ever been a book more deserving of having its reader yell, rude-in-the-movie-theater style, “Dude.  Do NOT get into that caleche.  DUDE!  DON’T.  Awwww maaaaan!”

We must have the willing victim.  We must have darkness and dogs.  We must have repressed heroes, helpless women (on which more, later) and the deus ex machina of a wizard/shaman/doctor/Van Helsing.

We welcome them, cheering as they enter on stage.  “Hey y’all it’s Jonathan Harker!  Hey Jonathan!  When you here a slap-slapping at the window, don’t open it dude!”

And yet.  As we read, no matter how familiar we are with how the story will play out, we KNOW that we’ll continue to read.  In fact, because we know the play and players so well already, we can spend more time peering into the text for subtleties.

Here’s some of what I’ll be looking for.

  • Does the Count have a sense of humor?
  • Is he playing with his food as he welcomes Harker to the castle?
  • Precisely how far up his own ass, careerally speaking, is Jonathan Harker’s head to miss out on the many disturbing signs he sees along the way because he’s so focused doing the job he was sent to do?
  • Are the women any weaker or stronger than the men in how they deal with Dracula?
  • Is the real evil in the book the Seward/Renfield relationship?
  • Is Dracula, for that matter, evil?  Or is he merely animal?
  • How does Dracula feel about his immortality?  Wouldn’t someone who could never die eventually wish he or she could if for no other reason than to try something truly new?

Too, like the story of the Nativity, every vampire tale brings a new element of the overall Dracula universe to light (so to speak).

So that’s my challenge to me.

What will you hope to find in this reading?

If this is your first ride through the Carpathians, what presuppositions will you have challenged?  If you’re an old pro, what will surprise you this time around?

3 thoughts on “Reading Dracula Again for the Very First Time.

  1. Pierre Lourens October 3, 2009 / 10:39 pm

    This is my first time reading Dracula. I have never seen the play or movies, either. I don’t know whether it is because I generally missed the vampire boat or am part of the MTV generation, but the only exposure I’ve had to the Count is “I vant to suck your blood.”

    So, I hope to have fun and be scared. 🙂

  2. Daryl L. L. Houston October 4, 2009 / 9:02 pm

    Great intro post. Like Pierre, this is my first time through, and I’m largely ignorant of the real lore of Dracula, short of what’s come out in recent movies, which I tend to distrust.

    One of the things I’ll be looking for in the book is style vs. story. I’m more about how a story is told than about what gets told, and so far, I’m feeling like this book is more about story than about style. This is fine and well, of course, but it makes it less engaging to me than much of what I read. But I’m a little nervous that I may be projecting this lack of style onto the work, that for whatever reason — perhaps precisely because the underlying story has been taken up and diluted in popular culture — I’m not giving it a fair shake stylistically, that it may have greatness in it that I’m not acknowledging.

    The head-up-the-ass question I also sort of hit on in one of my recent posts, and a couple of people commented I think rightly that I wasn’t removing myself enough from the fact that I knew more or less what was going on and that my failure to do that may have contributed to my sense that Harker was being a dumbass.

    The evil/animal question interests me a lot, though I hadn’t really thought of it (so thanks), as does the question of immortality (Tithonus comes to mind). And at last, the question of religion comes to mind. I don’t have a very solid understanding of the religious questions of the day (ok, I have no understanding whatsoever of them), but the whole idolatrous Catholics vs. sterile, righteous Protestants question, especially as it relates to the letting and consumption of blood, seems like a possible goldmine.

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