(Un)Dead in the Darkness

Hey there, friends and fans! Once again the power of All Hallow’s Eve is upon us! I hope this year is proving to be lovely and terrifying for each and every one of you. I’ve immersed myself in countless instances of new horror, and look forward to enjoying it for one more day before the world turns over to Christmas.

As a horror lover, I often consume all manner of spooky, scary, eerie, and dark stories. From ghosts and goblins to aliens and demons I have watched, read about, and listened to stories of it all. But through everything there is one creature that has captured my interest above all others. I’m speaking, of course, about the vampire.

Cultures the world over have told tales of the blood or life-energy draining creature that comes to us from the grave, spreading its chilling affliction. Sometimes these creatures are described as spirits who come and slowly pull life from the living, while others present us the image of corpses who dig from their earthy beds to consume the driving force of their dead relatives. Still others present us with the image that has become synonymous with the word. A pale skinned, dark clothed figure with menacing eyes and fangs long enough to pierce the throats of their living victims. These creatures rise in the night and drain the blood from unsuspecting mortals, often leaving death and infection in their wake.

Something about this creature has grabbed the imaginations of writers, music and film-makers, readers, and even avid television watchers for centuries. The most famous vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, has appeared in more than 200 instances of film and television alone. And we still can’t get enough.

But why? What is it about these immortal beings bent on taking our lives, our will, our mortality that makes us fascinated?

Earlier this year I  had a chance to sit down with Dacre Stoker, great grand nephew of the infamous Dracula author for a discussion on the latest Stoker contribution to the Dracula legacy, the novel Dracul, written with author J.D. Barker. Stoker had much to say on the reason vampires have remained such a popular legend throughout history.

“The vampire was actually created out of something that everybody in the world believes in or thinks at some time: and that is what happens in the afterlife,” Stoker said.

In times of death, disease, famine, growing scientific belief, and general open-mindedness, the legend of the vampire ran rampant and explained a lot of horrific death as well as the spread of illness. Stoker said he felt one thing that contributed to the power of the legend was the knowledge of the time.

People weren’t aware of how illness worked. Germs and viruses were knowledge far beyond the most advanced medicine. When an explanation came along that gave a possible insight into the death of a large number of people, it took root.

The legend of the vampire, in addition to help explain violent death and illness, was also increasingly appealing for those examining mortality.

“What if there was immortality,” Stoker said, noting that this question alone makes the appeal of the vampire grow exponentially.

In literature and film there are few creatures as versatile as the vampire. Even in the Anne Rice saga of bloodsucking creatures of the night, there are class systems and different beliefs and ways of life. From the high class vampires that blend into sophisticated society to those who live in tombs under graveyards, almost no two vampires are the same.

Personally I feel part of the appeal of the vampire is not only the fact that they do have such versatility, but what they stand for. For millennia humans  have been terrified of dying, death, and what lies beyond. The vampire stands as a doorway to that question. On the one hand, the vampire can dole death daily as a means to survive, literally taking the lives of others to continue their own, but they can also provide immortality to those they choose. This almost reversal of a divine power is enticing to anyone who has ever pondered the end of life and what else may exist. Stoker said this thought of death is one of the reasons vampires will always be a part of culture.

“It’s so deep rooted in our psyche, that quest to find out what happens after we’re dead. That’s why it [the vampire] never does go away.”

So, as the spooky season comes to a close over the next few hours (or days, depending on your interest in multi-cultural views), I invite you to ponder the vampire. Is it a cunning, shadowy demon, hiding in the misty ruins of a graveyard, or is it a suave and charming socialite who attends the highest social functions and feeds only on the upper class? Whether you fear a spirit who feeds on energy or a fanged physical being that slips into open windows in the night, I advise you to be on the lookout tonight, when the veil between worlds is thinnest. Make sure the window latches tight, hold tight to your crucifix as you cross the darkened dooryard after work and, whatever you do, don’t invite someone you don’t know to cross your threshold.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Learning Dracula

Hey there, friends and fans! I hope things are going well for you as we speed through spring and rapidly approach another glorious summer. Personally, I have had quite an eventful first handful of months, which came to a new climax last weekend.

Saturday I had the awesome opportunity to attend an event that I’ve been eager to be a part of for quite some time. Author Dacre Stoker, great grand-nephew of the infamous Bram Stoker, held his Stoker on Stoker lecture in Sevierville, Tennessee – and naturally I made it my mission to attend.

I have been in touch with Dacre on and off for a little more than a decade and I leapt at the chance to finally attend his discussion on all things Dracula. In addition to that, I reached out to Dacre, and we arranged a lunch meeting to discuss things that much deeper.

Dacre and I dove right in after meeting, discussing his family history, his involvement with 2009’s Dracula; the Undead, and last year’s prequel Dracul, and vampires in modern culture. Many of the details of our discussion will be used for various blog posts and more to come, but there was one thing that stuck out that I wanted to discuss here. That is the presence of connection and rediscovery of Bram’s work – essentially learning who Bram was after all this time.

Dacre told me from the start that growing up with the Stoker name had been an interesting experience in its own right. The Canadian-born author said that, until the Gothic text became a classic in 1962, it was primarily movie and literature buffs that knew a lot about it. It was ten years after that, when the infamous text In Search of Dracula: the History of Dracula and Vampires, by Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally hit shelves before Dacre really questioned his family’s connection with the Irishman who single-handedly helped make vampires a household legend.

“I finally asked my dad, ‘what is all this,'” Stoker told me with a laugh. His first experience with the novel came when his father pulled a family heirloom from the shelf – a first edition copy of Dracula Bram had signed to his mother.

From there, Dacre said, it was life as usual. Apart from the occasional Halloween related joke from friends, he sought his own way in life, knowing his connection with Bram, but not seeing it have much of an effect on his day-to-day experiences. Aside from a term paper written on his great grand-uncle, Dacre said he was aware of the interesting impact Bram had on the world, but he didn’t dwell on it.

“I would think about it from time to time, but it didn’t really determine my path in life or change the way I behaved, “Stoker said.

His focus changed when he was contacted by Ian Holt in 2003 to discuss the possibility of a sequel to Dracula.

Dacre told me the decision wasn’t an easy one to make, but after talking with his family members, they all decided he would be the one to pursue the opportunity. The next six years saw Dacre diving into family records, museum records and talking to scholars who “knew more {about Bram} than I did” until the official release of Dracula: the Undead in 2009.

From there, Dacre saw a world that accepted and appreciated Dracula. The character, now having appeared in thousands of cinematic and literary locations in some way, shape, or form, is one of the most well-known figures in horror history. The 2009 novel explored the possibility of what may have come after the events of the original. Personally I find the tale filled with amazing possibilities and a great continuation of Bram’s text.

But, Dacre told me, he felt there was more. His mind had started working around the idea of what might have come before Jonathan Harker set foot in the Borgo Pass. He pondered the idea for a while, eventually realizing he wanted to tell the story, so he got in touch with co-author J.D. Barker to start the recently-released prequel, Dracul.

This tale is set before the events of Dracula, told once again in the infamous epistolary style that allows the reader insight into the characters own mind. This time, however, Bram himself, is one of our main characters. Dacre said that is important to him.

“It allows me to really let the world know what Bram Stoker is like.”

Dacre and I went on to discuss much of the research he has done for the books and the uncle he never knew. Since starting researching Dracula in 2003, Stoker has visited many places significant to the novel and his great grand-uncle’s life. He told me of walking the beaches Bram used to walk, sitting on rock outcroppings where Bram used to write, connecting with the memory of his uncle in new ways. Stoker discussed many of his discoveries about his family with an interest, his lecture going into detail in ways even my own mind didn’t anticipate.

If you ever have the opportunity to see the Stoker on Stoker lecture, absolutely treat yourself. If you are a fan of Dracula, you will absolutely love the lecture. Dacre is an amazing speaker, with a great mind and a love of his family’s history. Even if you aren’t familiar with the story of the novel’s author or either of the subsequent works the lecture will open new worlds of horror and interest. You can find more information about Dacre and his works, as well as tour information and bits of Stoker history at his website: http://dacrestoker.com/.

Being a lifelong fan of Dracula with an obsession with vampires, this was an opportunity I’ll never forget. I appreciate the chance to sit down with Dacre and discuss his family history and learn more about the Stoker legacy. I plan to analyze the information I have and have more discussions with you all about it! Keep your eyes open for more posts about Dracula, vampires, and literature! Have you had an experience with someone like this? Have you been able to discuss your literary idol with someone who can truly understand? Let me know!

Origin of a Classic

Count Dracula. The world’s most famous vampire. The very name brings to mind passages from the novel, images from black and white movies with bats on strings and Hungarian actors in flowing capes. For more than a century we have wondered about the tale of the vampire to beat all vampires. Well, we need wonder no longer. Dacre Stoker, great grandnephew of Bram Stoker, has teamed up with horror author J.D. Barker to bring us more of the tale.

It was through the journals, letters and accounts of Jonathan Harker, his beloved Mina, and their ragtag band of warriors that the world first learned of the mysterious Count Dracula and his blood drinking ways. But just how did a young Irishman named Stoker come across the account of that creature and his terrible deeds? Could it be that he already had some inside information on the issue? Stoker clearly states in his introduction that the pages of the novel have been organized and shared in the best order possible, but that story starts far from the beginning, doesn’t it? Bram’s original text included much more of the story than the version we all know now. Dacre and Barker worked together, using the diaries of Bram and the 101 pages that were cut from his first draft to bring us Dracul, a book that details what Bram declared the “true story” of his own encounter with the centuries old vampire and the terror the creature brought to the Harkers.

Introducing Bram and his siblings as children, the reader follows along with the boy as his life moves on from debilitating sickness to a thriving adulthood with a bit of mysterious help. Told largely through the journal of young Stoker, the story reads in a way that is naturally reminiscent of the original novel. The elements of mystery, juxtaposed with a well-working repetitive time jump throughout the first two acts, create a story that is very easy to become immersed in.

Heavy horror elements combined with a modern take on the Gothic flood the pages of this novel, giving us images of vampiric slaughter alongside classic references to Irish and English history, government, myth, and architecture that rival those of the original as well.

This novel brings vampire lore into the mix in even more in-depth ways than Stoker’s original publishing, with another aged mentor who knows more about the strigoi than even Van Helsing may have. The incredible history that is brought to life in this book connects with the original not only by bringing the reader to familiar locales, but by giving its author a voice. It is very easy to find yourself following along with this tale, feeling as if you’re living the story from the marshland of the Irish coast to the cliffside in Whitby – a location synonymous with the original novel.

The main thing I want to say about this novel is that it is an absolutely fantastic read. From start to finish, I found myself consumed by the work. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in horror, vampires, the gothic, or just good great books, regardless of whether you’ve read the original. Dracul is a novel that stands on a strong foundation and is sure to bring a whole new generation of fans to the story of the legendary Count Dracula.

I want to thank Dacre Stoker and Putnam Publishing for giving me the opportunity to review this amazing novel before it hits the shelves. I also want to congratulate Dacre and J.D. Barker on a job well done. This novel promises to be a big hit, and I look forward to seeing what you guys think of it! Dracul flutters onto U.S. shelves on October 2, and onto U.K. shelves on October 18 (naturally, vampires can’t cross water without assistance). Feel free to share this review with anyone who may be interested in reading this novel, and be sure to let us all know what you think of the work. Happy reading everyone!