Saturday, October 15, 2011

All Hallow's Read #1 The Original Bad Vampire

"But at that instant, another sensation swept through me as quick as lightning. I was conscious of the presence of the Count, and of his being as if lapped in a storm of fury. As my eyes opened involuntarily I saw his strong hand grasp the slender neck of the fair woman and with giant's power draw it back, the blue eyes transformed with fury, the white teeth champing with rage, and the fair cheeks ablaze with passion. But the Count! Never did I imagine such wrath and fury, even to the devils of the pit."

The Journal of Jonathan Harker
Bram Stoker's Dracula

Frank Langella
Though not exactly my favorite Gothic novel, Bram Stoker's Dracula was the story that started it all for me. Well, almost. Actually an almost unhealthy devotion to the life works of Gary Oldman was the cause of my love for Dracula. I love Dracula, and all things Dracula--except the Playstation games; those spun the Dracula story in the direction of Radu, and that just ain't right. My first adventure into the story of Dracula began when I watched the movie adaptation of the novel directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It was amazing to watch Dracula come to life on the screen in the form of my most beloved actor. Some of the best names in film were part of that movie: Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant, Winona Ryder...okay, Keanu Reeves, but only because of the first Matrix. In fact Keanu was very distracting throughout the entire film. Seeing the film inspired me to read the novel, which was in fact so close to the movie that when I saw other film adaptations of the novel, I was very confused. Many of the films I saw did not adhere to the novel at all. Coppola remarked in the documentary explaining his Dracula that he made each of the main characters read the novel, and if they found any discrepancies, they should point them out, and if they felt it necessary, request to have them added to the script. I gave up my search for the perfect Dracula almost immediately--except for Frank Langella; he was an amazing Dracula.

Gary Oldman
Coppola's film departed entirely from the cliches of Dracula. Gone were the cheap tuxes and shabby old lines. When Gary Oldman said, "I have already dined, and I never," the line subtly exploded with new meaning the likes of which had not been seen since Frank Langella, who could so naturally back-pedal. When Gary Oldman greeted Keanu Reeves at the gates of Castle Dracula, he did it in the red silk robes designed by Eiko Ishioka. In Coppola's film, Lucy was the one that died and Mina was the one who nearly became Dracula's bride, not the other way around. But Coppola's film went way above the demand that the movie adhere to the novel: Coppola's film married historical Dracula, Vlad Dracula, to the fictional character, reminding the world that Vlad Dracula III, or Vlad Tsepes (pronounced Tzepesh) had existed and ruled the Wallachian throne from his puppet-placement by the Turks at the age of 19--followed by imprisonment to Prince Matthias Corvinus--and again until his death in 1476 at the age of 45. Dracula, the man who became a household name, impaled thousands of his own people and enemy Turks to prove that his rule and his country would not be intimidated or controlled by Turkish occupiers or puppet princes hoping to profit by selling their young children to the Turks and giving away their land and money in exchange for protection. Dracula is considered the King of Monsters the world over, except in his native Romania, where he is not a vampire monster, but a hero and a patriot. Vlad Dracula may very well have done terrible things to many people, but he preserved the right of his people to be free, and his legend, his terrible legend, has been the inspiration behind the geniuses of Bram Stoker, Fred Saberhagen, Elizabeth Kostova, Francis Ford Coppola--and dare I say it--myself. 

Fred Saberhagen was one of the first to marry the historical Dracula with the fictional character in his Dracula series, beginning with The Dracula Tape. In this novel, Dracula himself attempts to justify his actions those months in the Borgo Pass and London. Lucid, amiable, and completely rational, Dracula sits down with the direct descendants of Jonathan Harker in the late 1970s, hoping to set the record straight. In this novel, Van Helsing is the hideous monster, who in fact caused Lucy's death by repeatedly experimenting with different blood types until her body gave up. The vampire hunters were persistent, but heinous, denying Dracula every attempt to unite with his beloved Mina, who indeed, was engaged to be married to Harker, but fell in love with the vampire lord and became his bride as well. The novel ends as it had before, but the story of Dracula had been altered forever, especially in my eyes. Dracula would go on to do a great many things. He worked with Sherlock Holmes himself to solve a hideous mystery in The Holmes-Dracula File, told from the perspectives of Dracula and Dr. Watson. In the early 1990s, Dracula saved the life of a man named Radcliffe, a supposed descendant of one of Ben Franklin's bastard children, who nearly died in the French Revolution, had it not been for Dracula. Though not all of Saberhagen's Dracula novels were as wonderfully wrought as these three, this version of Dracula has been my companion and constant source of inspiration since my high-school years. Saberhagen is now deceased, and the Dracula novels out of print.

Old Dracula, vinyl
and acrylic 2011.
Dracula has become many things to me: patriot, father-figure, inspiration. My love for the Dracula legend, my respect for Dracula the man, and my devotion to the character led me to get my first tattoo in 2005, the red 'D' in running blood from the Coppola font. I spent the last two months painting a vinyl model of Dracula that I purchased in pieces from a comic book shop in 2001. I don't know of many people have a Dracula Corner, but I do. I very much doubt the real Dracula would appreciate so much devotion, and the fictional character even less, but I maintain that I owe some of the most crucial parts of my craft to all of the authors and actors who have ever endeavored to give Dracula a voice. 

So one could imagine my elation and excitement to discover that my husband is descended from Dracula down the female line from Dracula's second marriage to the Hungarian daughter of Matthias Corvinus. A cousin of my mother-in-law's traveled to Hungary and Romania to track down their lineage, and uncovered the truth. I was lucky enough to marry the man of my just also seems to be fated that I am at last united with Dracula, a very far removed great-granddaughter by marriage. My children may be very far down the family tree, but they will have the faintest traces of Dracula blood in them. I am very proud of this knowledge.

In kicking off my new All Hallow's Read Tradition, begun only this year by Neil Gaiman and, hopefully, perpetuated throughout the country, I felt it only right and proper that I begin with my favorite horror character, the villain to end all villians, who can be both rational man and cruel monster. I know its crazy, but I share the hope that, while there are no such things as vampires, Dracula is still out there somewhere, watching over his people, ready to return whenever they need him most. Long may he live.
Dracula: 1431-1476


  1. Ahem! Lord Ruthven (John Polidori, 'The Vampyre', 1819), Francis Varney (James Malcolm Rymer, 'Varney the Vampire', 1847) and the Countess Carmilla (Sheridan LeFanu, 1872) take umbrage with Dracula (Stoker, 1897) being 'the original bad vampire', though he's undoubtedly more famous than the three of them put together (and the novel's a damn sight better written than Polidori's or Rymer's, too!).

    Nice analysis of the films, though - if you want to know more about the filming of the Coppola version, there's a chapter on it in Richard E. Grant's autobiography 'With Nails' that makes for quite fun reading - and some very nice work on the historical Dracula and yes, his status as Romanian patriot. The revelation of your connection with the man is... well, I haven't a word for it, but it undoubtedly IS.

  2. It's awesome to know I'm not alone on the vampire thing. I suppose that if I had not been a spewing fan-girl at the time I would have remembered the other three. I also tend to subscribe to Raymond McNally's view point that Dracula was the best of them. Hellsing did an upstanding job referencing Carmilla in the original OVS (Ultimate we don't speak about).

    I did not know Richard E. Grant had written an autobiography. I will have to look into that.