Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bite-Sized Blogging: Dracula (Chapter 7)

8 October. (My birthday.)

And I thought House of Leaves was involved! Here, Stoker writes Mina's journal (and lends her credibility by backing up with records from Lucy and Harker, the realities of both of which are also supported by still other sources), and within Mina's journal places the clipping of a newspaper writer, within which is the log of the Demeter--which is itself translated from Russian. It's a clever trick: provide citations and ordinary forms of narrative to make us forget that the story itself is fictional. I don't think Stoker has the chops to differentiate enough between styles to make us forget his own authorial voice and presence, but it's still fascinating. (Furthermore, Infinite Detox has a great post--as always--on the way this particular section manages to evoke the "sublime.")

To an extent, however, it does work. Horror only works when it is rooted in fact, and Stoker makes the wise choice not to trust blindly in mythology alone. It's like a wedding of styles, so he's got something old (legend), something new (his updating/editing of those myths), something borrowed (the narrative styles), something blue (the overall mood).

He's also got this: "Rough weather last three days, and all hands busy with sails, no time to be frightened." (Emphasis mine.) By taking his sweet time, Stoker correctly manages to scare us more than if he were simply to start with blood and guts and continue throughout. This is one of the many reasons why Alien and Predator are good franchises on their own, but terrible when set against one another. You need those hauntingly quiet moments in which the adrenaline fades long enough for us to worry. Ironically, he manages to get himself more time by condensing time itself into little chunks--it occurs to me that what is here just a mere snippet aboard the Demeter could have been a novel all on its own (like, say, Dan Simmons's Terror). He also scares us more: if this section is not frightening enough to merit further details, what greater evil lurks in wait for us?

To be fair, though, as The Valve neatly points out, that's not really a compelling enough reason for me to keep reading. What is all of this in the service of? At least with the aforementioned House of Leaves, there's a real sense of character, but so far, I'm just not getting enough out of the characters--though some of that may be a matter of historical perspective. (In fact, there was a whole discussion in the Infinite Summer comments about whether or not Harker was a sissy, or if modern society has just inappropriately grown to label polite--yet secretively strong--people like him as "girlie men.") I can't go on, I'll go on.

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