Born To Be Vlad

Reading & Writing, The Arts

He married Oscar Wilde’s old bird, he never went to Eastern Europe, he was the author of ‘Miss Betty’, he managed the Lyceum Theatre and he wrote ‘Dracula’ (which I always couple with ‘Frankenstein’ as the readable half of the pair). In 10 days’ time it’s the anniversary of Bram Stoker’s death, and in that time we’ve switched from Bela Lugosi to Christopher Lee to RPatz, all valid versions, (although the last is more tepid than valid) and one hopes we’ll continue to see more startling innovations like ‘Let The Right One In’ and fewer like that dreadful film series with Kate Beckinsale that I can’t even recall the name of.

Dracula’s undead career has, appropriately, outlived his life. At the time, ‘Dracula’ was outsold in it’s first year by Richard Marsh’s ‘The Beetle’, which is now all but forgotten (although it’s rather wonderful). The number of books that appear on the subject are astonishing. Dacre Stoker, the author’s great-grand-nephew, has co-edited ‘The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker’ with Elizabeth Miller, based on a notebook discovered in his attic, whose entries offer new insights into the author’s mind. Even I once wrote ‘Dracula’s Library’, purporting to be a missing chapter of the Stoker book, for an anthology.

But why Dracula over, say, the fascinating premise of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’? Both have the same mixture of sensuality and cruelty but Dracula adds the extra appeal of aristocracy into the mix. The Wolfman story, even with its heady mixture of bestial sexuality and primness, never seems to work very well. Perhaps its because the Dracula mythology is easier to absorb; there are clear rules to follow, and much of it is about resistance, fighting the desire to give in to primitive urges.

When I wrote ‘Hell Train’ I sought to create four new monsters, ranging from the cadaverous, blue-blooded ‘Biter’ to the Red Countess, based in no small part on Pushkin’s Queen of Spades, but creating an entirely new monster mythology is a tricky business. I’d love Hammer to remake ‘The Reptile’ and bring back a cold, snakelike female creature – but didn’t Stoker’s ‘Lair of the White Worm’ already do that?

6 comments on “Born To Be Vlad”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    According to the current Daily Beast, Prince Harry spent Easter break in the village that’s at the foot of Prince Vlad’s castle. He claims distant family ties with the Prince. Just asking, but the prince is known for keeping late nights, isn’t he?
    Paul Doherty wrote two novelizations of Vlad III’s life, combined in the ’80’s into a single book, entitled Prince Drakula, which I found very interesting and enjoyable. Bad, bad Vlad was a defender of Europe against the invasion of the Turks. He knew them well having lived with them, and having been educated by them, for many years. I suspect if anyone asked him; “Prince, what’s your point?” He probably had them escorted around to the back of his castle and showed them.
    The Prince liked to dine on his balcony above the painfully seated, which is a bit more painful than a fly-by-night neck bite. According to Doherty’s book, dinner guests who complained that the ambiance was off-putting risked Vlad having them taken down and reseated.

  2. Gretta says:

    I think you’ll find, cinematically speaking, that Dracula offered a better opportunity to show gentlemen in sharp suits and pretty young ladies in flimsy negligees in the same scene. That was probably the clincher. And the Twilight mob don’t follow any of the vampire rules, do they? I don’t think they count. I can’t believe you neglected to mention Count Duckula, however.

    BTW, I can’t see the name ‘Vlad’ now without thinking of Joanne Harris’ neighbour’s cat.

  3. Gretta says:

    Also, have just seen a poll in the Radio Times asking ‘Which is the best vampire film of all time?’…

    http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2012-04-10/which-is-the-best-vampire-film-of-all-time

  4. M.E. Hydra says:

    Creating a new monster mythology isn’t the hard part, it’s getting buggers to show any interest in it. It’s all vamps in love and the zillionth guide to surviving the zombie apocalypse now.

    As for cold, snakelike creatures:
    “My tongue and tail aren’t the only features I share with a snake, luv,” Amanda said. “You know how snakes can open their mouths really wide to swallow their prey…”

    Can’t see Hammer filming that one somehow (it’s not her mouth…)

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I have just finished Neil Gaiman’s “Graveyard Book” and didn’t realize that one of the main characters is a vampire, even though there are lots of clues. I haven’t read any of the vampire series so I was as blissfully ignorant as anyone could be. There is also a werewolf and a mummy in the book and the werewolf is merely a slightly odd woman with an eastern European name and accent who makes beet soup and beet salad. If you want monsters they’re there but if you want to ignore them they’re just characters in the story. Of course all of the characters, other than the ‘monsters’ are ghosts and it does take place in a graveyard but it is so unscary as to be laughable. It was very good, by the way, even if the Macabray is very confusing.

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    A while back a topic of discussion was ghost stories and I was time-wasted and couldn’t really delve up all the titles I liked.
    So, here is just one that’s old, but nice: A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle, read it, please. It takes place in a graveyard and has a living boy as the narrator. I consider it one of Beagle’s best books and it was his first, far better than the so popular The Last Unicorn, for me. One of the characters is The Raven, who opens the novel by stealing a whole salami from a deli and flying it – with effort – to an old man who lives with the ghosts in a cemetery. The Raven has a nice wry New Yorkish attitude. Enjoy.

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