Deja Vu Dracula

For Halloween a couple years ago I put up this post on Dracula. Reading the book now, it is remarkable how that cartoonist is true to the novel’s description of the super bad guy. Dracula is described as

 a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot.

Compare that description to the images we recognize as Dracula from film:

Why the aversion to facial hair, man? Sure, the Coppola version gives the Count a little stache once he hits London, but the Dracula described by Bram Stoker, which is spooky enough, is ignored by all film incarnations. For my money, the best film Dracula is Gary Oldman’s devil in a red dress.

But enough about the movies; what about the book? The epistolary (read: diaries and letters) form that Stoker chooses to use for writing Dracula is, at first, a little unnerving. I found myself thinking during the first few chapters “How is he going to keep up this for the whole story?” I mean, really, when you consider what kind of narrative Dracula is (undead demon praying on British ladies) it is hard to imagine a bystander thinking, “Oh I best take a few moments out from the action to jot all this down in the old diary!”

And yet at least so far as the death of Lucy, where the shit really hits the fan, the style works better than I could have imagined. Why? Because Stoker hits on a genius device that has served thrillers well from the Third Man to Jaws: hide the bad guy.

In the film versions of the Dracula story there is no guesswork regarding the count. We see him sucking blood. Wowzers, he’s a vampire. But through the epistolary device, the count remains completely unseen for hundreds of pages. The words “Dracula” and “vampire” themselves go unsaid for most of the novel. This sort of character lacuna is Stoker’s greatest triumph. Who or what is this thing tormenting our poor British friends? By not giving it a name, by ignoring the later vampire genre’s fixation on a sort of biological vampire study, Stoker makes Dracula something he’s never been for me. He makes him frightening.

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