Halloween is fast approaching. For many it is their favourite time of the year, myself included. Walking over crunchy leaves, wrapping up with scarves, and picking the perfect pumpkin. The only thing some might not be too fond of is the darkness and how quickly the sun sets in October. When you think about it, what can be lurking in the shadows? What comes out only after dark? Well, we’ve all heard about vampires…
To celebrate this Halloween with Horror Lounge, I am re-visiting my favourite (and the most famous) vampire, living in an old castle far away. So join me this eerie evening and let’s fly to Transylvania to meet the Count. That is, if you dare?
The first time the word “vampire” (or “vampyre”) appeared in the English language in its printed form was in 1732, in the 11 March issue of the London Journal. An article entitled “Medreyga in Hungary, Jan. 7, 1732” discussed a detailed occurrence of vampirism; the “undead” were believed to be rising from their graves and feeding on the blood of innocent people in a small Serbian town. Although tales emerged during the 18th century, these bloodsucking creatures really took root in the Victorian era. Bored with debunked spiritualists and their fake ghosts, Victorians more or less invented the modern vampire – a creature that didn’t cast a reflection in mirrors but did reflect their fears and anxieties about immigrants, sex, and degeneration. There was one writer who perfectly captured those concerns…
Abraham (Bram) Stoker was born on 8 November 1847 in Dublin, but spent most of his adult life in London. He was employed as an Acting Manager at the Lyceum Theatre and wrote several novels, but is most known for penning “Dracula” and bringing the notorious nosferatu into the deadly daylight in 1897.
“Dracula” follows a young English solicitor, Jonathan Harker, who travels to meet with the Count in Transylvania and help him to buy a property in London. During the novel, readers visit London (busy and crowded – very much like today), outlandish Transylvania with its forests, mountains and the castle, and Whitby in Yorkshire. Whitby served as a great inspiration to Stoker, and is now a destination for fans and real-life vampires!
“Dracula” is an epistolary novel, which makes it different from other famous vampire stories. There are diary entries (written by different characters), letters, and newspaper clippings. The reader experiences different points of view and gets to know the characters through their correspondence; their feelings and thoughts are on the show, and it is interesting to see how their perceptions of life change when they discover the mysterious Count is, in fact, a bloodsucking ghoul. Similarly, the reader observes that to some this revelation was not so obvious!
What I like the most about “Dracula” is its Gothic setting: the Count’s castle with its many doors and secrets. With Stoker’s writing you can visualise the bright full moon shining outside, and hear the howling of the wolves: “Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!”. There are superstitious villagers (ready to put a wreath of garlic around your neck for protection); complex and strong female characters (Mina and Lucy); The Crew of Light (four vampire-hunting Englishmen) joined by Professor Van Helsing with his knowledge (and logic) on hand… and a crucifix, too. It is a compelling read; you can feel the blood pulsing through the novel as you scan its pages.
To quote Dracula himself,
“Once again...welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.”
I was first exposed to vampires at a young age and I have always loved to dress up as one for Halloween. I read “Dracula” as a teenager and was mesmerised (vampires themselves often possess hypnotic powers) by a creature that lives at night, feeds on human blood, and can live forever. You might say my interest in vampires is as undying as they are! I have not only read Stoker’s novel many times, but I also studied it in secondary school, at university, and recently have returned to the Count once more during my MA studies to write an essay on “Dracula” in the Victorian context.
Today there is scarcely a person alive who doesn’t know what a vampire is. From the aristocratic and mysterious Lestat de Lioncourt to the sparkly Edward Cullen, vampires have long been favourites of film and TV. I personally always come back to the eerie silent film Nosferatu from 1922 and the 1931 Universal horror Dracula, with the iconic Bela Lugosi in the titular role. There are countless vampire films, with more released each year: dramas, horrors, comedies and even kids’ animations. It seems we long for vampires like they long for our blood.
These bloodsuckers have attracted readers and writers alike. We have probably all read at least one vampire novel, and there are plenty more! We all remember the huge commercial success of the “Twilight” series, and “The Vampire Chronicles” by Anne Rice. The latter has recently been revived (brought back from the dead if you like?) with “Prince Lestat” published in 2014 and “Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis” last year. A couple of months ago it was announced that Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew, is writing “Dracul”, the first authorised prequel to the original “Dracula”. It seems, vampires are not really dead yet…
If you like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and want to read a few more vampire stories this Halloween, these are some of my recommendations:
If you want to be really scared… “NOS4R2” by Joe Hill
‘There’s always something horror-related or –themed in the zeitgeist – serial killers or sexy vampires or just plain old zombie rampages - even if it doesn’t always get the specific ‘horror’ label.’ Meet author Bartholomew Bennett