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Friday, August 23, 2013

Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are?

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Dracula is a story about love, bravery, madness, and the demons within us. Jonathan Harker, a young lawyer from London, travels to the land of Transylvania to help the mysterious Count Dracula prepare to move into an estate in London.  During his brief tenure at the Count's castle, however, Harker realizes that there is more to the count than meets the eye, and Harker narrowly escapes with his life. Back in London, the Count makes his presence known and turns at least one innocent soul astray with his vampiring wily ways.  We meet the rest of our rag-tag band here - Lucy Westenra, a beautiful debutante with marriage proposals out the wazoo (sp? I don't think I've ever tried to write out wazoo before. Thoughts?) and her bosom friend Mina Murray (who just Happens to be Jonathan Harker's fiancée - funny how these things always include such an intimate interconnected circle...), Renfield, a sometime zoophagous lunatic under psychiatrist Dr. Seward's care, Lucy's amours - Quincey Morris, Dr. Seward, and Arthur Holmwood, a.k.a. Lord Godalming - and the fabulous and eccentric Dr. Abraham Van Helsing. Together, the unlikely group of protagonists wage battle against an epic would-be immortal. I won't spill all the beans, but let's just say the story doesn't end with any more baby Draculas. ;)
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I really enjoyed reading Dracula. I read some of it aloud with my mother and my sister, and I loved following the various storylines and getting to experience the 'original source', so to speak, of the vampire oeuvre that has permeated our present society. Oddly enough, I had never read it, never seen the movie, and didn't know the story at all. Which made it a delightful ride! If you haven't read it, I suggest you grab it. It's great for a late night scare or a suspenseful rainy day companion.

- Journals and memos
The whole book is written from the viewpoints of each of the protagonists, and we experience their thoughts through letters, journals, memorandums, etc. I thought this was a great technique and well used in this case. It can feel a little gimmicky, but here it elevated the suspense and gave the reader a chance to get to know each of the characters and their view of the events.

- Note from Dracula  -"D."
When Jonathan Harker stays at Castle Dracula in Transylvania, Dracula is oddly absent during the day (hm... I wonder why...) and he leaves notes for Jonathan Harker. It just seemed hilarious to me that Dracula would sign his notes, "D." Dracula, the epic vampire of history, "Out running an errand. -D". heheheeheh. My local Starbucks keeps varying the spelling of my name (some of my favorites -- "Mendeth", "Merideth", and "Mouth"). I love the idea of Dracula picking up his latté and saying, oh, you can just write D! haghaghagh. Also, my sister referenced this book as "Draaakoolaah" which would be an Awesome thing to see written on your Starbucks cup. I can just see the barista searching the crowd and mumbling, "Drah-koo-lah? Dra-coo-luh? D?" and Dracula sidling up in his cape and going, "Yes, Dat is me. Dere are many of de pronunciations."

- Dracula, to Jonathan Harker - Clearly he doesn't understand how the brain works:
"You may go anywhere you wish in the castle, except where the doors are locked, where of course you will not wish to go." have you met me, D? tell me not to go somewhere and going there is All I can think about.

- on Carfax - the name of Dracula's estate in England - beFore the obnoxious (yet I'm sure fairly helpful) eponymous company was formed...
"I seek not gaiety nor mirth, not the bright voluptuousness of much sunshine and sparkling waters which please the young and gay." none of that silly Happiness! give me a nice, musty dungeon...
"The walls of my castle are broken; the shadows are many, and the wind breathes cold through the broken battlements and casements. I love the shade and the shadow, and would be alone with my thoughts when I may."

- Names
The names in this book are great. They have a great ring to them, and feel almost comic-book-y in quality:
  • Lucy Westenra
  • Mina Murray
  • Jonathan Harker
  • Dr. Abraham Van Helsing
- Renfield, Dr. Seward's bizarre patient
Dr. Seward, on Renfield: "He disgusted me much while with him, for when a horrid blow-fly, bloated with some carrion food, buzzed into the room, he caught it, held it exultantly for a few moments between his finger and thumb, and, before I knew what he was going to do, put it in his mouth and ate it. This gave me an idea, or the rudiment of one. I must watch how he gets rid of his spiders." hahgahghagha. yes. better keep an eye on how he "cleans up"!

Renfield, to Dr. Seward, when offered a cat: "Oh yes! I would like a cat! I only asked for a kitten lest you should refuse me a cat. No one would refuse me a kitten, would they?" hm, Renfield. better keep an eye on you and that kitty-cat...

Renfield, to Dr. Seward, on whether Mina can pay him a visit: "Oh very well, let her come in, by all means; but just wait a minute till I tidy up the place." His method of tidying was peculiar: he simply swallowed all the flies and spiders in the boxes before I could stop him. haghagha. oh, Renfield. incorrigible!

- The Bloofer lady - like the Gobblers
I won't give it entirely away, but at one point, there's a lady vampire (the locals call her the Bloofer lady - don't ask me why), and she starts disappearing children. (yes, disappearing is a verb here. get over it.) It reminded me of the Gobblers in The Golden Compass and the mysterious White Witch-esque quality of the woman responsible.

- Van Helsing, to Mina:
"There are darknesses in life, and there are lights; you are one of the lights. You will have happy and good life, and your husband will be blessed in you." This was so sweet. Van Helsing was one of my favorite characters. I like to think I'm one of the lights. Are you?

- Mina's Memo (370-371)
When the protagonists are trying to hatch a plan to kill Dracula, Mina writes out a memorandum of what they know about him and strategies for the best way to find him and kill him. I love this. I just think it's hilarious to see a 19th century woman saying, "hm. What can I do to help? I'll write a memo. Done and Done!" Mina was a pretty great female character, especially given the time period. She helps out in ways that a woman could at the time (granted, a fair deal of typing and transcription) but she's confident, and she's a great foil to Lucy's flimsy waifishness. If you want to see the whole memo, go here and scroll to the section called "Mina Harker's Memorandum".

- Van Helsing, to Dr. Seward, on vampires:
Van Helsing: "My thesis is this - I want you to believe."
Dr. Seward: "To believe what?"
Van Helsing: "To believe in things that you cannot. Let me illustrate. I heard once of an American who so defined faith: 'that which enables us to believe things which we know to be untrue.' For one, I follow that man. He meant that we shall have an open mind, and not let a little bit of truth check the rush of a big truth, like a small rock does a railway truck. We get the small truth first. Good! We keep him, and we value him; but all the same we must not let him think himself all the truth in the universe." I liked this idea. Don't let the small truths think themselves all the truth in the universe. It also reminded me of when the Professor in the Narnia books suggests that perhaps other worlds Could exist, if one was open to the possibility. Check your premises! ;)

- One of my favorite lines
Van Helsing, to Arthur: "May I cut off the head of dead Miss Lucy?"
(sorry for the spoiler, but so funny! Arthur is Not pleased with this question. Shocker! ;)

- Voldemort/Occlumency Mina and Dracula
More spoilers, sorry! But there's a weird connection between Mina and Dracula that involves a forehead scar, and it is SO reminiscent of the whole occlumency/mind/dream-invasion of the Harry Potters. I wonder if J.K. Rowling read Dracula and pulled it from this book, or if it's just a coincidence. I was very pleased with the connection. :)

- A really great line:
"It is a wild adventure we are on. Here, as we are rushing along through the darkness, with the cold from the river seeming to rise up and strike us; with all the mysterious voices of the night around us, it all comes home. We seem to be drifting into unknown places and unknown ways; into a whole world of dark and dreadful things."

Passages I particularly liked:
  • Jonathan Harker, trying to talk himself out of believing in vampires: "Let me be calm, for out of that way lies madness indeed."
  • "The band on the pier, with its lively French air, was like a discord in the great harmony of nature's silence."
  • on the beginning of a storm: "The whole aspect of nature at once became convulsed."
  • on chasing Renfield during one of his escapes from the asylum: "Chasing an errant swarm of bees is nothing to following a naked lunatic when the fit of escaping is upon him!"
  • Van Helsing: "Friend John, it is a strange world, a sad world, a world full of miseries, and woes, and troubles; and yet when King Laugh come he make them all dance to the tune he play. King Laugh he come like the sunshine, and he ease off the strain again; and we bear to go on with our labour, what it may be."
  • Van Helsing, on hunting Dracula: "How shall we find his where; and having found it, how can we destroy?"
  • Dr. Seward, during the middle of their adventures: "I sometimes think we must be all mad and that we shall wake to sanity in strait-waistcoats." I have this thought often.
  • Dracula, on being hunted: "My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side." whew! you do Not want to get on D's bad side. mmkay?
  • "There was no place for words in his sublime misery."
  • "We are all drifting reefwards now and faith is our only anchor."
I loved this line in a letter from Mina to Lucy after Mina's marriage:
Mina, to Lucy: "My dear, please Almighty God, your life may be all it promises: a long day of sunshine, with no harsh wind, no forgetting duty, no distrust."

May we all have a nice long day of sunshine with no harsh wind and no distrust. I'm off to The Imbecile and more Russian literature!