“…and while Scary is Exciting, Nice is different than Good.”
-Red Riding Hood, from “I Know Things Now,” Into the Woods
And so we end in a warm living room, all gathered together, knocking back rack punch and talking about that freaky time back just after we got married where Mina got totes possessed and we ran all over Eastern Europe chasing a Vampire. Vampire, pleeease.
So is Dracula a Good book? Meh. I think it has probably been more of a Nice book for me … a creepy tale of the supernatural mixed with no small amount of “Law & Order”-like proceduralism to keep the pace going. But for me, all of the compelling bits ended up falling short of their early promise:
Mina as the “New Woman” – why couldn’t her Baptism by Blood have proven to be the small impetus needed to turn her from an apologist for women who wanted more out of Victorian life to a rabid champion for what womanhood could have been. Lucy might have been the hot one, but Mina had all the makings of that kind-of-wierd-but-sort-of-hot girl in your Psych 201 class, with all the threat and promise of the same.
Renfield as the Spurned Apostle – poor most-likely-bipolar Renfield. Never have we seen a more plain case of hero worship/man crush gone horribly wrong. Imagine what his diary might have been like … secreted away under his stool, pages sticky with melted sugar and the cover painstakingly adorned with the pearlescent sheen of a thousand blowfly wings.
Van Helsing as the (Un)witting Impetus — Abraham, with your so halting speech and knowledge of the wampyr that seems almost uncanny in its thoroughness. Surely Stoker must have thought you had a little bit more in you. In your so-strong drive for knowledge, a drive that drove your poor wife Sarah mad with fear and grief, you saw something one night, didn’t you? Peering up over a rock lip onto the unholy convocation of the scholars at Scholomance you witnessed something so thrillingly wrong, so completely, compellingly depraved that the rest of your life would be spent trying to scrub that so-not-of-Gott image from your mind, hoping against hope that you’d fail. Abe, you are a sick little monkey.
Jonathan “I Was Cuckolded by The Undead and All I Got Was this Lousy Head of White Hair” Harker: You never could get those three women out of your minds, could you, Johnny? How could Mina ever be enough after the freaky bloodthrill of getting three-wayed in the Eastern European equivalent of the Bunny Ranch. ANd tell me you didn’t go into explicit detail the minute you and the boys were out of earshot of the women. Dude, you had three undead, bi-curious, possibly related wraith women fighting over who would be your first? How do you not turn that into the best campfire story ever?
Of course, the slash fic possibilities are endless. And maybe in the end, it’s that malleability that makes Dracula a classic. You can hang sex, mystery, nationalism, criminality, class warfare and so many other Big Ideas from the hooks Stoker leaves festooned around the story that Dracula can’t help but be retold and reread time and time again. It brushes up against enough of humanity’s Naughty Bits that it ends up being the perfect framework into which we can all cast our own hopes and fears about Life, Death, Sex, Money, Class and Technology and more and watch what happens.
So is Dracula a good book? Maybe not. But is Dracula the book we need and deserve? Mien Gott, yes.
The yoga mat, that is. Because I have to tell you, it’s taking pretty much full yogic mindfulness to not let this book make me batty. As I sat quietly in a recent yoga class and listened to my teacher talk about the importance of accepting where you are at this very moment and surrendering to that acceptance it felt like Bram Stoker was next to me giving me a little tap on the head. Maybe what I need to do is to simply read and accept, be open to the style and conventions of a book written over 100 years ago. Is it possible to let go of our 21st Century minds and accept that in this world the characters would behave very differently? Can we just accept and enjoy? In the words of Van Helsing (Chapter 17) can we “Read all, I pray you, with the open mind…”?
When I first started writing notes for a post about letting my yoga mind help me enjoy Dracula I was somewhat ahead of schedule and adding some additional reading. Since then I’ve read J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, a lovely little novella with a female vampire published in 1872, and H.G. Well’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, published in 1896. They helped me to get more into the style and rhythm of fiction at the end of the 19th Century, and were wonderful side reads. For a little while I was doing ok, relaxing into it, accepting the characters seeming obliviousness and Van Helsing’s ridiculous phrasing. I was thinking that life for these folks was simply more dramatic, what with all the sinking to the knees and wailing and pledges of undying loyalty. I was enjoying it, really I was.
Now? I won’t go beyond the spoiler point here, but since we’re supposed to be finished with Chapter 21 today, I have to admit that the scribbled notations of WTF followed by exclamation points are piling up in the margins of my copy. As Claire wrote in her main page post for Oct. 21, damn them! The whole dismissal of Mina after they couldn’t praise her enough and then their complete miss of the fact that she was suffering the same fate as Lucy was just about too much for me. Now that the boy’s club is all together it’s all about planning and getting our toys, um, I mean weapons, ready and preparing and all the fun boy club things. Gee, Mina looks pale, she should go to bed. By herself. In the lunatic asylum next to the lair of Dracula. Much safer that way. Do the boys redeem themselves by finally figuring out what’s going on with Mina? Nope, Renfield has to tell them as he’s dying.
As we move into the rest of the book, I’m going to be trying to just relax and accept. I’m going to try to keep my yoga mind about this, but I have to say it’s getting harder and harder to do!