Saturday, May 16, 2020

BACK FROM THE DEAD! (Both Me and Dracula)

“I vant du suck yur blud…”

Dracula! Everybody knows the story—but mainly through the movies (Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Frank Langella’s turn on Broadway for New Yorkers of a certain age) or through comic books (I was a regular reader of the Gene Colan-illustrated Marvel publication The Tomb of Dracula), but how many of you have actually read Bram Stoker’s tome? Not many, right? Well, that’s fine, because, lemme tell ya, as a read, the book Dracula is, for the most part, a snooze—everything is explained and detailed to the Nth degree: “I placed upon my foot a leather covering with laces used to tighten the processed cowhide around said foot called a shoe…” That type of thing—Yawnsville with a capital “Y.”

Inspired by the legends of Vlad the Impaler, Irish theater manager Bram Stoker scribbled up an epistolary novel in 1897 that was a BIG HIT—probably because it combined the right amounts of “naughty” and “ghoulish” fun with a reinforcement of the upright and uptight Victorians’ fear of the filthy Eastern European horde: A suave and sexy, but parasitical fucker who wheedles his way into your virgin-pure land to drink its blood.

Usually, I ditch a book after a certain point if it’s boring me, but I forced myself to finish Stoker’s novel because his character Mina Harker is also Wihelmina Murray, the adventuring always-wearing-a-red-scarf protagonist of most of Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill’s fabulous comic book series The League of ExtraordinaryGentlemen (1999-2019; several recommended volumes)—
Winona Ryder as Mina, in
the 1992 film
Since LXG’s Mina Murray is such a great character, I wanted to see what characteristics Moore borrowed, adapted and extrapolated on—and in the book, she is a resourceful and brave character, very much the seed Moore & O’Neill would grow into a classic comic book character. But in Stoker’s tome, despite her excellent qualities, Mina Harker is a bit of a pawn, the object of two teams’ concentration. (And why does the Count pick her to be his next victim after Lucy? Lucy is Dracula’s first English victim, and Mina is her best friend. In a city of millions, why chose her? Oh right, for plot contrivances…)

However, the book starts off great, super-Goth weirdness set in the Count’s castle, with the creepy sexy vampire babes
This section is the real deal: pure unnerving terror. The reader is Harker, and you’re a stranger in a straaaaaaaaange land, with lizard-like Transylvanian royalty, gorgeous ghoul girls and hungry wolves all after your blood.

But when it gets to England: Zzzzzzz…. And Van Helsing is the total Mary Sue: so perfect, so knowledgeable! He’s not only a surgeon, but an expert on the supernatural AND a lawyer! And when the plot has back itself into a corner, all of a sudden Van Helsing is now a master of hypnosis!
Oh Lord, Van Helsing is SO boring! And annoying. Stoker brings in Van Helsing and it’s as if Superman has shown up to solve a simple burglary. He’s overcompensated. He has too much smarts. He’s a dullard. Van Helsing is the worst thing about Dracula; he suffers from logorrhea; the dude CAN’T shut up! And he’s overflowing with Victorian sanctimoniousness.

Meanwhile, there’s too many characters: Lucy (who’s too fucking perfect to live) has all these suitors—and they all stick around throughout. Sure, each one is a contributor, but it really feels like lazy writing.
When Jonathan Harker is alone in Castle Dracula, it’s good. But in the second part, back in London, characters keep repeating themselves, or discuss something (like illegally breaking into one of Dracula’s house) ad nauseum—mulling over the legalities of it (“And your police, will they interfere?”).
Dreadfully florid language, the utter antithesis of Frank Norris’ descriptions and dialogue from his exemplary McTeague—a novel I’d read more than once, and am tempted to read again, and a novel I use as a comparison because it is a contemporary of Dracula’s, written in 1899, compared to Stoker’s novel, published in 1897. (And while Charles Dickens’ prose often goes into the florid stratosphere, the fact that Dickens was writing social protest material forgives however much his writing style has aged—and aged poorly it has, IMHO—but Dickens wasn’t about supporting the power structure and the hypocritical moralities forced on the folk, he was fighting it.)

And Dracula is full of—heck, overflowing—with useless and repetitive exposition. Was Stoker paid per word? It really feels like that sometimes. It’s exhausting how…. piss-poor the book becomes after such a great start. Aside from my LXG research, I only stuck with it because I was hoping that when the cast travelled back to Transylvania, the novel would pick up again. But I should not have counted my vampires before they crawled out of their crypts…

This novel has not aged well—and it could be said to be full of contradictions: Did Stoker (or anyone) reread the manuscript before publishing/printing? I mean, they talk ad infinitum about to kill a vampire (wooden stake, etc.) and at the very end, it’s a basic hunting knife that does the Count in!
Sloppy, piecemeal book, with some shocking racism and anti-Semitism (a Jewish character is described as having “a nose like a sheep,” and being quite avaricious), that feels thrown together in an almost haphazard fashion.

And after the first part, the one in Transylvania (which, by the way, translates as “The Land Beyond the Forest”—which is pretty cool, if you ask me), the Count himself, Vlad Dracula, essentially disappears—only turning up in brief cameos to ravish either Lucy or Mina—and those scenes are paltry and short. We’ve got reams of pages where the boring, stiff, stuck-up, “prim and proper” Victorian gentlemen wring their hands, fret about propriety and clutch their pearls, but hardly any of “the good stuff.”

It was either Susan Sontag or William Burroughs who said, “Great books make mediocre films, but mediocre books often make great films.” Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a case in point. However, speaking of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the 1992 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, we have a different animal. And it’s funny that they put Stoker’s name in the title, when FFC’s version strays far from the source material—and makes it better. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a very romantic flick, and the love story between leads Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman is moving. It’s a flick MUCH better than its source material.

Sorry there’s been such a long delay since the last posting of LERNER INTERNATIONAL. Life will do that to you, sometimes. I intend to keep a better schedule again.
And becoming a teacher certainly requires a certain level of attention, brainpower and energy. So that’s where I’ve been, although I’m not sure it has been completely successful. I’m actually glad the New Plague sweeping the land has given me some time, and relief, away from the constraints of being a teacher-for-hire at a for-profit school. Love the students, hate the administration!
Anyhoot, it’s nice to be back…

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