Friday, October 16, 2009

Bite-Sized Blogging: Dracula (Chapter 13)

16 October

It's hard to build up suspense when your novel turns into a series of vignettes--encounters, really, and their aftermaths, with Count Dracula. There's a marked lack of commonality, so far, and everyone is segregated into their own worlds. There's some truth to this, in that (as I said yesterday) everyone sounds the same despite their unique experiences, or to put it another way, that we are united by our resistance to evil incarnate, but it's frustrating.

I don't mind that this isn't a classic case of good versus evil (that is, we get the neat digressions from the newspapers, and the random cameos from comic older men with silly accents, like the graveyard guy in Chapter 6 and the zookeeper in Chapter 12). I get, too, that Stoker introduces stuff so he can come back to it later. However, in Infinite Jest, Wallace's use of this technique paid off; Dracula's doesn't. For instance, Quincey Morris's return: who cares? You can't just have the man conveniently show up in the nick of time to complete a "blood wedding" (the transfusion) and chalk it all up to the man being a "moral Viking" (whatever that means). And you can't just keep flinging Renfield at the walls (or at Seward's veins) without giving us *some* understanding of how the patient came to be there. Dracula is a classic novel because so many have borrowed from it, but I fear that one of the nasty habits writers were infected with here was the sacrifice of character to plot, a trait of hasty horror novels worldwide.

But let's mention things I liked, too:
  • Arthur to Helsing: "I shall not trouble you with questions till the time comes." A hundred years from now, this is the common convention upon which shows like Lost cling to. If we were to simply explain things from the get-go, or to ask the necessary questions, there would be no suspense. However, it's frustrating here in that Helsing has all the answers, and just refuses to explain them--especially since if he weren't so damned arrogant and had actually managed to impress the severity of the situation upon Lucy and company, he probably would have saved them.

  • There are fewer asides now that the plot has taken over so many sections, but Helsing's monologue on "King Laugh" is terrific: "Ah, we men and women are like ropes drawn tight with strain that pull us different ways. Then tears come; and , like the rain on the ropes, they brace us up, until perhaps the strain become too great, and we break. But King Laugh he come like the sunshine, and he ease off the strain again; and we bear to go on with our labour, what it may be." So with the pacing of Dracula, which every so often has a comic digression (or accent like this), all the better to break us again later.

  • As in 28 Days Later, it's revealed, ultimately, that the real monsters aren't actually the supernatural forces, but rather our own base actions. They have many chances to save Lucy's life, and yet each time, she is undone by human weakness: the mother's mistaken compassion, the friend's fixation on other business, the telegraph carrier's laziness, the thief's stealing of the gold crucifix, and even friendship itself, which here has prevented anyone from sparing Arthur--who already suffers at his father's sickbed--from having to worry about Lucy, too, when in truth, he would spend every night with her if he could. This is established right from the get-go, when Harker and Hawkins, trying to earn money, set up this mysterious stranger--Count Dracula--with a place in London (and who cares where his money comes from, nor what his intentions are?); our desires are what enable evil to walk amongst us. How deliciously religious.


Robert said...

The King Laugh section was really good, and I wish I had mentioned it. Yet my image of kind laugh, as painted by Van Helsing is something very near to Death. Is that what you get from it too?

Also, I did question "Moral Viking," too. I mean, shouldn't the British think Viking morals are pretty terrible considering all the pillaging of Britain they did? That certainl left me confused.

Infinite said...

"A hundred years from now, this is the common convention upon which shows like Lost cling to. If we were to simply explain things from the get-go, or to ask the necessary questions, there would be no suspense."

Dude -- I was thinking the exact same thing! I ditched Lost after the first season for precisely that reason.