During all my travels, I had a chance to do some reading. Last year, I decided I should read a spooky classic in October, and I decided to continue that as a tradition. This year’s book was the original Dracula, by Bram Stoker. No, I hadn’t read it before. I’ve never been a big fan of horror or of vampires.
I must say that the book was nothing like what I expected. Has there ever been a movie version that was all that faithful to the book? Because the book is nothing like most of the popular culture depictions I’ve seen of that story.
For one thing, it plays out to some extent more like a detective story or mystery, with the various letters and journal entries giving us pieces of the puzzle as all the characters see parts of what’s going on. We, the readers, have to read between the lines to figure out what’s happening. Then when they put their heads together and sort out all those pieces, it’s about finding and tracking down the villain and figuring out what to do about it. Almost all the “horror” is totally offstage, and Dracula himself affects everyone but is seldom actually present. So I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. I love books that aren’t written in straight narrative but that are put together from letters and other sources. In this case, compiling all this information into a coherent narrative is actually part of the plot, because it’s only when the information is put together in the proper order that they figure it out. The book itself is essentially the compilation the characters put together. It’s an interesting structure for a novel.
But the main thing I love is the character of Mina. She’s a wonderful example to look to for people who want to write strong female characters in a historical setting. She’s totally appropriate to her time (given that the novel was contemporary when it was written) and doesn’t feel like a 21st century character plunked into that setting, but at the same time she’s dynamic and active in a way that modern audiences can relate to. She’s not out physically kicking ass and taking down much larger men, but she’s the one who has a lot to do with bringing down Dracula, using her knowledge of stenography, typewriting and organizing, and she keeps a clear enough head to use the psychic connection Dracula forces on her to track his movements. The men recognize her abilities, even as they act like men of their time — and that even figures into the plot when keeping her safe by keeping her out of the action turns out to work against them because that leaves her vulnerable.
I may even end up reading this one again to analyze the structure and characterization, now that I know how the story comes out.