Well, here’s my first book review! I’m not into paranormal or monster fiction, but I figured going with a classic wouldn’t be too bad. Plus, I was curious about the origin of the vampire legend (I realize Bram Stoker didn’t invent vampires, but Dracula is the quintessential vampire).
With the dark, moody atmosphere and spiritual symbolism, Stoker’s Dracula is in many ways comparable to the tales of Nathanael Hawthorne (who is one of my favorite classic authors). Count Dracula, the antagonist, is a powerful, malevolent vampire that symbolizes the Devil. In the end (spoiler alert!), Dracula is destroyed by the forces of good that find their root in Christianity. I was pleasantly surprised at the deep level of spiritual imagery and believe that Dracula belongs alongside such works as The Scarlet Letter and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These books have endured not only because of their literary merit, but because they deal with the nature of mankind and the forces of good and evil—themes that transcend culture and time periods. It is unfortunate that Hollywood has extracted the mere plot of these stories to neglect their deeper themes.
The plot: a group of friends become vampire hunters after discovering the existence of Count Dracula and his evil mission to take over England. They must race against time before even more lives are lost–and before Dracula performs his revenge! The novel is written in first person, told by the main characters through their compiled journals and letters. I’ve never been a big fan of this perspective in literature for several reasons.* 1) First person point of view is more immersive and doesn’t require as much effort from the author to pull the reader into the story, making it easy for the author to slack on descriptive language. 2) It’s tempting for the author to tell, instead of show, when using first person perspective. 3) Unless each and every character has a particularly strong voice, it’s easy for them to blend together with the author’s own narrative voice. 4) Most importantly, there’s unreliable narrators. There is a Agatha Christie novel that remains seared into my memory where the narrator turned out to be the murderer! I’ve never been able to completely trust a narrator after reading that book! Given my distaste for first person narrative, that’s probably why Stoker didn’t blow me away with his writing. The characters seemed flat in places and several times I found myself mixing up the multiple narrators. Still, it was an excellently crafted story with a wonderfully spooky, Gothic atmosphere, an area in which Stoker excels.
The particular edition that I read was a Barnes and Noble hardback edition. I liked the cover art, which I felt was worthy of the classic that it enclosed. The inside had a nice typeface and helpful, concise notes scattered throughout the text and at the end of the book. The construction, unfortunately, was poor: the binding was loose and the pages were very thin (I accidentally tore a couple of them in just turning the pages). The best thing about this edition was the excellent introduction by Brooke Allen, a contemporary book critic. warning: I’m now climbing on my soapbox! NEVER eVER read the introduction before you read the book! Why? Because 1) it will most likely give away the major spoilers, ruining any chance of suspense in reading the book. And 2) it will critique the book, telling you how to think about the author/characters/themes, etc. There’s nothing wrong with critique whatsoever, but it should take place after you’ve read the book yourself. Then you can form your own opinions and compare them with the “official” critique. Therefore, I only read introductions after I read the book. steps off soapbox I appreciated Allen’s introduction as it gave a brief history of the author (an essential in any introduction) and offered a balanced critique of the various themes in the novel. Here’s my favorite quote from the introduction:
As the twentieth century progressed, the religious elements of the vampire myth became less interesting to the public, and the vampire figure began to take on different attributes. The strangest and most perverse has been the transformation of the vampire from a figure of terror to a romantic outsider, a sexy, Byronic hero (xxviii).
100% agree! How an undead, blood drinking monster can be romantically desirable is beyond me, but I digress . . .
The final rating:
For age appropriateness, I rate Dracula PG-13 for violence and thematic elements. By thematic elements I mean the dark, Gothic atmosphere plus the sexual undertones. I personally wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under high school age. However, please know that these concerns are only of a thematic nature. I wouldn’t recommend a book that contained explicit sexual descriptions. If you don’t have a problem with reading Shakespeare, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Wuthering Heights or The Picture of Dorian Grey, you shouldn’t have a problem with Dracula. The violence? Well duh, it’s a vampire book. You are going to have lots of bleeding and eventual deaths of live people and the Undead (it’s pretty gruesome to kill the Undead, so if you are sensitive to violence, avoid Dracula). Since I’m Protestant, I’ll just mention that the Christianity in Dracula is definitely Roman Catholic; the Crucifix and the Host (the holy bread used in Eucharist) are both considered powerful weapons against the vampires. Also, the theology is skewed. Any person that falls victim to a vampire is themselves turned into a vampire, which makes them unclean and condemned in the sight of God. I would say this is parallel to the belief that Christians can be possessed by demons (which I disagree with).
For my own personal rating, I give Dracula 4 stars, meaning it wasn’t my absolute favorite, but still a very enjoyable and thought-provoking read.
I recommend Dracula for fans of classic Gothic and horror literature and those who enjoy the likes of Nathanael Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Grey.
* although my favorite book (To Kill A Mockingbird) is written in first person. So I guess it depends on the author.