Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bite-Sized Blogging: Dracula (Chapter 1)


1 October. Manhattan.

Having joined Infinite Summer's next e-read, I started perusing Greybean's PDF version of Bram Stoker's Dracula at 1:45 P.M., marking the margins with little "Mem.," notations.

Stoker isn't great with description--he's passive, and twice-removed (first vicariously lived by the author through the tales of his acquaintances, then "relived" by the author's journal-keeping hero, Jonathan Harker). But Harker's voice--his unintentionally cruel observations ("The women looked pretty, except when you got near them")--is rich with character, and that's what is called for here. We need an atmosphere that can gradually break down our stubborn "reality" and allow us transport into the supernatural.

So Harker literally travels from mundane London ("I had to sit in the carriage for more than an hour before we began to move") to the "beauty of the scene" of Berlitz (fraying around the edges with "straggling ends of pine woods...[that] ran down the hillsides like tongues of flame" and "green grass...spangled with fallen petals"). How appropriate that we glimpse Isten szek (God's seat) as the sun goes down, just before Harker plunges into the darkness of the road to Dracula's castle: "Soon we were hemmed in with trees, which in places arched right over the roadway till we passed as though through a tunnel."

Dracula and vampires have been greatly corrupted in films today, but there are two things that are as true about horror then as they are about horror now:
  1. The "hero" ignores all rational, common sense--and the veiled warnings of the townsfolk (who, bound by these same conventions of horror, can't just come out and stop him from going). It's true, though: we can't enter into the supernatural without agreeing to let certain things go.
  2. For all that we may be terrified, we are always equally fascinated and curious. Sick, perhaps, but see how the villagers en route to Bukovina "peered eagerly into the darkness" with a "state of excitement" that "kept on for some little time."
Consider me both transported and curious. And excited by Stoker's promise: "It is only when a man feels himself face to face with such horrors that he can understand their true import." Truth, in a classic horror novel? I'm in.

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