Cleolinda Jones (cleolinda) wrote,
Cleolinda Jones

More thoughts on Dracula

I don't know if Dracula seems so different to me now because I'm older, or because I'm a different reader, or because I'm a different writer than I used to be, but... it was a (say it with me) different experience this time around. (Of course, this is also what happened when I reread Jane Eyre, formerly my favorite book, for the first time in many years--it was a completely new experience.) Also, I had the Klinger footnotes sitting on my shoulder pointing a lot of things out, which cannot be disregarded.

(I will say one more thing about the footnotes: for the Sherlock set, Klinger explained in depth these very convoluted theories Holmesians have about various plot points--my favorite being that Holmes wasn't a witness to Irene Adler's marriage; he was the groom, and that subsequent remarks or events or absences in the stories refer to their relationship. Which... no. I mean, obviously this is as much my opinion as that theory is theirs, but to say that Holmes ever had any further dealings with Adler is to miss what I feel is the point of the character, which is precisely The Antagonist Who Got Away. And, you know, marrying her kind of negates the "got away" part. You know. JUST A LITTLE BIT. Anyway. My point is, Klinger explains various theories to the extent of their hilarity, and it's great. In the Dracula annotations, he mentions the theories of various scholars who believe that 1) Quincey Morris was actually on Dracula's side, or that 2) Mina betrayed the gang, or that 3) Dracula himself did not actually die but "convinced" Stoker to write the story as if he did to cover up his continuing existence. And he keeps alluding to these theories, and I kept thinking, MAN, when we get to the last chapter and he really gets going on "This is the part I was talking about, let me tell you all about it," it's going to be AWESOME. But you get there, and it's like, "Remember how I was telling you back in chapter 12 about that theory? Yeah. That was it." That's all? Well... okay? And maybe that's because the theories themselves are... kind of cracked-out, and there might not really be any way to make them sound reasonable,* so it's just, "Well, there's a theory, there it is." I don't know. The Holmesian theories are WAY more cracked-out, though, and rest on even less evidence, and we got plenty about them, so... I don't know.)

* There's actually a really good theory that Dracula isn't the one who kills the crew of the Demeter--he doesn't have to kill in order to feed, and why would he want to put himself in danger by wrecking his own ship? The theory is that it is, rather, the superstitious, excitable Romanian first mate who realizes that there's a vampire on board and starts killing all the sailors "tainted" by Dracula before they could potentially turn into vampires themselves. In fact, Klinger notes that the captain's vision of "He--It!" "could have been... a genuine observation of a very nervous... Dracula, pacing the deck with worry that his transport was about to founder." Klinger also points out that the crew of the Czarina Catherine gets Dracula back to Transylvania without incident.

ANYWAY. A few things I would like to touch upon:

1) I would love to see another movie adaptation, because I believe there is still a ton of imagery and material that no movie, to my knowledge, has made effective use of. One of the things I loved on this reread was Mina's dreamlike struggle to climb the hundred or so steps to the churchyard--she can see Lucy at the top of the hill, but she can't reach her:

There was a bright full moon, with heavy black, driving clouds, which threw the whole scene into a fleeting diorama of light and shade as they sailed across. For a moment or two I could see nothing, as the shadow of a cloud obscured St. Mary's Church and all around it. Then as the cloud passed I could see the ruins of the abbey coming into view, and as the edge of a narrow band of light as sharp as a sword-cut moved along, the church and churchyard became gradually visible. Whatever my expectation was, it was not disappointed, for there, on our favourite seat, the silver light of the moon struck a half-reclining figure, snowy white. The coming of the cloud was too quick for me to see much, for shadow shut down on light almost immediately, but it seemed to me as though something dark stood behind the seat where the white figure shone, and bent over it. What it was, whether man or beast, I could not tell.

The time and distance seemed endless, and my knees trembled and my breath came laboured as I toiled up the endless steps to the abbey. I must have gone fast, and yet it seemed to me as if my feet were weighted with lead, and as though every joint in my body were rusty.

And then--I guess the steps curve around the hill?--she reaches the gate and the church itself blocks her view; by the time she can see Lucy again, "Lucy [lay] half reclining with her head lying over the back of the seat. She was quite alone, and there was not a sign of any living thing about." I mean, you can see it happening in your head like a movie, it's fantastic. By the way? Their "favorite seat" is a large gravestone. All this is happening in a seaside cemetery. Why does no one ever want to use this? And then, there's the first time Dracula "visits" Mina, which is actually way before the more famous scene, and Mina waves off as being merely a dream. Tonight, when you're in bed, in the dark, trying to fall asleep, imagine this going on at the foot of your bed:

I thought that I was asleep [...] and I was powerless to act, my feet, and my hands, and my brain were weighted, so that nothing could proceed at the usual pace.... Then it began to dawn upon me that the air was heavy, and dank, and cold. I put back the [covers] from my face, and found, to my surprise, that all was dim around. The gaslight which I had left lit for Jonathan, but turned down, came only like a tiny red spark through the fog, which had evidently grown thicker and poured into the room. Then it occurred to me that I had shut the window before I had come to bed. I would have got out to make certain on the point, but some leaden lethargy seemed to chain my limbs and even my will. [...] The mist grew thicker and thicker and I could see now how it came in, for I could see it like smoke, or with the white energy of boiling water, pouring in, not through the window, but through the joinings of the door. It got thicker and thicker, till it seemed as if it became concentrated into a sort of pillar of cloud in the room, through the top of which I could see the light of the gas shining like a red eye. [...] But the pillar was composed of both the day and the night guiding, for the fire was in the red eye, which at the thought got a new fascination for me, till, as I looked, the fire divided, and seemed to shine on me through the fog like two red eyes.... The last conscious effort which imagination made was to show me a livid white face bending over me out of the mist.

I would actually love to be the screenwriter on a hypothetical (umpteenth) remake, or a co-writer, or at least a creative consultant. I understand that you can't film a book page by page, and that there's a certain amount of compressing and rearranging and conflating that has to happen. Believe me, I know that. (In fact, I'm usually the fan who defends changes and omissions in movies-made-from-books.) But there's a lot of imagery that people just don't use, and I think it would be really interesting to bring back the sentimental elements of these men swearing to protect Mina to the death. I think you could actually bring in the Twilight crowd if you touch on the more emotional points, and believe me, there is a whole lot of weepin' and prayin', as my Sentimental Literature professor once put it, in the original book. You wouldn't want to use too much of it, not for a modern audience, but it's available there on your filmmaking palette. I submit that the same girls who love Edward Cullen would fall for Jonathan Harker if you emphasized his tortured love for his brave, suffering wife. And they're both young, in their mid or early twenties. (I found myself struck on this go-round by how Jonathan starts out as this very naive solicitor's clerk, but by the end, Seward's talking about his vengeful knife-whetting calm and his "cold, stern hand.") And you can show a book-accurate Mina who isn't all anachronistic Girl Power, but is uncommonly intelligent and stalwart and resourceful in a period-appropriate way, which is a HELL of a lot better than Bella. (For one, Mina has CAREER GOALS. You just got pwned by a demure Victorian, Swan.) But it could touch the same emotional nerves, if you see what I'm saying. And yet, you have the wonderfully awful horror aspect as well, if you take Dracula back to his original, non-romantic villain personality--take it back to a character who is alluring because he is horrible and terrifying, and you find yourself drawn in spite of yourself; take it back to that perversity, because I think people are going to be ready to go back to that in the next few years. I have yet to see a movie that did full justice to the Mina/Dracula scene, with that combination of "yet I did not want to hinder him" and her bloodcurdling scream afterwards. Seriously. You do this right, you can pull in the audience that wants the emotional romance and the audience that wants to go back to vampire horror. They're both already there. We can make this happen. Call me. \nm/

2) Everyone in this book is an idiot, and I have figured out why. (Well, not Mina, because Mina is awesome.) We keep having this problem in the book where our So Fearless Vampire Hunters are complete morons. For example, Van Helsing keeps insisting that Dracula's trapped in his box or his coffin or whatever during the day, even though he personally confronted him in daylight a few chapters back. And we're all the way at the end of Lucy's illness--on our fourth blood transfusion--when Quincey finally says, LOOK, OKAY, WHERE IS ALL THIS BLOOD GOING? It takes this long for someone who is not even a doctor to say out loud, SOMETHING IS TAKING HER BLOOD, OKAY, because Seward sure as hell hasn't figured this out, and if Van Helsing has--and what he privately knows about vampires seems to lessen or increase depending on the needs of the plot--he's not telling anyone. And there's your key: depending on the needs of the plot. Stoker's writing from the perspective of what he wants the reader to know or what he wants to happen at any given time, rather than what a character would logically be able to figure out or what would possibly make sense. If Stoker wants Dracula to confront the gang at his hideout in Piccadilly so that Van Helsing can realize that "he fear time," sunlight is not an inhibitor. If he wants the three vampire women to sit tight in their coffins while Van Helsing hammers away at them, or for Dracula to not leap out of his crate and defend himself, well, then, by God, vampires can't move around during the day, and Van Helsing will tell you so. (Note, however, that the trope of sunlight killing vampires does not enter popular culture until the 1922 film Nosferatu.) I can't tell if Stoker's not keeping up with his own set of vampire rules or he just doesn't care.

(I also love the part where Van Helsing goes all the way to Amsterdam for supplies, and when he comes back, Lucy's all like, "Oh hey! Common garlic! We totes have that here!")

3) As such, the writing is amazingly sloppy in a way that a modern audience would not stand for. Dates persistently do not match up, Mina's illness progresses in an entirely different way from Lucy's, the castle and routes Van Helsing describes aren't anything like what Jonathan wrote about, there's like two or three full moons in a given month--when it's all pointed out to you by footnotes, it's astounding. Maybe it's just because reading is such a communal experience now, where we all jump online afterwards and compare notes, and with so much discussion, people just aren't going to overlook mistakes and inconsistencies anymore. We're more likely to spot them as a group, and we're more likely to complain about them. All I know is, the kind of mistakes that Stoker blithely leaves in are exactly the kind of thing that keep me awake in a writerly cold sweat at night, because I wouldn't be able to get away with them now.

4) Van Helsing talks like a lolcat.

I am serious. He does. An extremely educated doctor-of-all-sciences lolcat who suddenly can has law degree about two-thirds of the way into the story. (Klinger, however, is extremely skeptical of his actual doctorly skillz. And I laughed out loud when I got Van Helsing's line, "It would at once frighten him and enjealous him, too," and there's Klinger's footnote over at the side: "Well, yes, definitely 'enjealous.'") Supposedly he's Dutch--or at least two different characters say that he is--but the only language he ever speaks other than English is German. And I still don't know if that explains any of this:

"Now take down our brave young lover, give him of the port wine, and let him lie down a while.... I may take it, sir, that you are anxious of result. Then bring it with you that in all ways the operation is successful."

"Notwithstanding his brave words, he fears us; he fear time, he fear want! If not, why he hurry so? His very tone betray him, or my ears deceive."

"Oh, Madam Mina," he said, "how can I say what I owe to you? This paper is as sunshine. It opens the gate to me. I am daze, I am dazzle, with so much light, and yet clouds roll in behind the light every time. But that you do not, cannot comprehend. Oh, but I am grateful to you, you so clever woman."



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Tags: book discussion, books, dracula, movies, sherlock holmes, vampires
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