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Today would be Bram Stoker’s 165th birthday. Born in Ireland in 1847, Stoker wrote Dracula, arguably one of the greatest gothic horror novels ever written, and was responsible for popularizing vampires in the West and defining the public’s perception thereof. From reflection-less mirrors and entranced victims to stakes through the heart and crosses, holy water, and garlic, most of the traditional things that come immediately to mind when one thinks of vampires are because of Stoker’s novel. I’ve often mentioned my love of all things horror-related, and when I was younger and in full horror-hound mode, vampires were hands down my favorite things that went bump in the night, and Dracula was hands down my favorite vampiric figure and story.
Now, I realize that these days, if they think of vampires, most people probably think of pouting young men who, even in vamp mode, look more like models than monsters. But I assure you that when I was growing up vampires were still scary. It was the age of Monster Squad and The Lost Boys, and the only vampire-related books I remember being available for younger readers when I was a kid (Bunnicula excluded) were guides to vampire lore and abridgements of Dracula. Why is Dracula so fang-tastically awesome (yes, I went there)? Well, aside from kick-starting an entire sub-genre of horror fiction, Dracula is an incredible book in and of itself. On the surface it is a simple (albeit brilliantly written) tale of a scary monster terrorizing his hapless victims and the brave souls who set out to stop him. Moreover, the epistolary format of Dracula greatly adds to the feel of the novel, increasing both the dread and the sense that the story could be true.
But Dracula is much more than just another well-written story of good versus evil. It’s also an invaluable window into the changing political landscape of the latter half of the 19th century, easily deserving of a place in any history curriculum. Count Dracula is an aristocrat who literally survives by sucking the blood from the peasants that surround his estate. To drive home the Ancien Régime analogy, Dracula is ostensibly immortal and has been alive since the middle ages. When the count is finally destroyed, it is through the efforts of Jonathan Harker, Abraham Van Helsing, and Quincey Morris—a lawyer, a doctor, and a nouveau riche American who are representative of the middle class. A few hundred years of European political history told in a few hundred pages of gothic horror fiction? What could be more awesome than that?! There’s so much more to be found in the pages of Dracula—I’ve even known one person to describe Dracula’s obsession with Mina Harker as “the greatest love story ever told.” Maybe, maybe not, but it’s certainly one of the more interesting—and scary—ones.
November 8, 2012