(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!

October book announcement

Good Monday, everyone. I know life is too much like a horror story these days, but it’s time to make that October book announcement. This month I wanted to focus on something terrifying, yet fictional. Something we can feel afraid of, but understand that, when we close the book, the terror ends there.

To do this, I chose the novel that inspired the movie that has long been called the more terrifying movie in history (not to mention the subsequent television series, which just began its second season); William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist.” The novel tells the story a young girl who is possessed by the demon Pazuzu who threatens not only her immortal soul, but those of her mother and the priests who attempt to save her. It is certainly not for the faint of heart.

This novel and its franchise has been scaring audiences for more than four decades and has inspired multiple sequels/retellings, as well as the sequel series and some of the most iconic cult horror scenes and references in pop culture history.

If demonic possession and terrifying scenes of religious desecration are too much for you, you may not want to sit this one out. As a Christian man, I understand if anyone wants to sit out. Fortunately the novel is fiction so, as a horror author, I’ll be checking it out for posterity and research.

As always, feel free to comment and message me your suggestions for future reviews. I look forward to speaking with everyone who participates! Expect this review to go up on Halloween, naturally, for fright’s sake. I hope you’ll join me in reading this scary novel, and I hope you enjoy!

The Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula

I loved diving into this lost piece of history. Dracula has long been one of my favorite works and one of my favorite literary characters. Reading this work and watching some of the more than 200 film adaptations of the character further inspired my love of vampires and helped me decide to be a vampirologist and Dracula scholar. From the first time I read Stoker’s novel I was pulled to Dracula with a vigor I’ve never been able to (or desired to) escape from. That fascination was renewed when I got my hands on a copy of Dacre Stoker’s co-written sequel that said the count hadn’t actually died after all. When I first heard this new retwlling had been discovered by Hans de Roos and others and was being translated and released I couldn’t believe it. For years I had dreamed of  even more workings of the menacing and misunderstood figure that has become synonymous with all things blood-sucker. After reading the book I have to say that I am both very pleased and still left wanting more.

Getting straight to the point I have to say that Valdimar Asmundsson wrote an incredible alternate version of the book that has become literary staple in the past century. Heading right out of the gate I was both shocked and intrigued to see that the book took a much more conversational tone than the original (granted, I’m sure at least some of that had to do with the translation from Icelandic to English). Originally Harker was strict, speaking … er, writing…. with professionalism and personalism. Here Harker, Thomas rather than Johnathon in this case, feels a bit looser to me, as if he’s less stiff than the original.

The blatant changes in Harker’s journey were fascinating to me, too. In the original novel it feels like Harker’s trip is swift and the people he encounters very stiff and cold. This version gave us a trip that felt almost casual rather than business in my opinion. Harker was hit hardest by superstition at the last leg of his journey in both cases, however. The people in the last village he stopped at all but begged him not to go to the castle they believed to house something wrong.

Harker’s stay at the castle dominates this particular version of the novel, taking up about three quarters of the piece. He is subjected to the same strange behavior from the count, right down to the destruction of his shaving glass and the often absent host that never eats. He explores the castle on his own, as before, but now he finds only one beautiful woman, rather than three illustrious vampiric wives. He is almost haunted by this woman, her power over his mind and spirit mentioned multiple times as he spends weeks in the castle with no escape. His only saving grace is the cross around his neck. Both the woman and the count are visibly turned away by this the cross, and he mentions multiple times that he believes the cross to be what saves him from an unknown, but surely terrible, fate.

The layout of the castle is another new piece of work, as are a number of new characters. Here Dracula and his “cousin” are in the castle with a deaf, mute (and once-blind) maid and a number of strange “ape-like” men who are only mentioned once outside of the demonic cathedral beneath the castle. I loved the scene where Harker first truly sees the evil inside his host. Young women are sacrificed by the count and his ape-men in this underground altar room and Harker finally stops denying that something is wrong.

I enjoyed the way the book picked up from this point. When Harker comes to the full realization that he has to get out, I kind of felt like I was on a roller coaster. I loved the way he continued to try to be impartial to Dracula and the way Dracula became even more fiendish to him. I was a bit disappointed by the big reveal of Dracula laying in the coffin, because even here there was no mention of what exactly Harker thought might be happening.

I liked the way the second part of the book is told in a standard novel format, as opposed to the journal/letter format of the original. It made the story flow a little smoother, in my opinion. I was really thrown off by how quickly and how entirely differently the story wraps up, however. It seemed to me like Asmundsson either just didn’t like the latter half of the original, or he got bored with his own retelling. Perhaps he was unable to finish filling in his own details and decided to publish the piece as is. I don’t know. The second part of the short novel felt more like a detailed outline than an actual part of a novel. We hear of the Demeter’s crash, we hear of Lucy (here Lucia) and her sleepwalking, but we are also given the representation of a drastically younger-looking count becoming a very social figure. Mina (here Wilma) and Lucia meet the character on multiple occasions, putting me in mind of the classic Bela Lugosi Universal flick, or one of the many others that borrow from a similar story line. Is it possible someone down the line might have had this version to look at and base one of the many cinematic versions on it? The ending of the book came very quickly. There was no great chase through the European countryside, no large final battle, no real threat to the main characters. They opened his coffin and killed him. It was simple, easy and clean. In a way I felt a little robbed of what could have been done with this new version of the classic monster.

Overall, I did like the book. I thought it was a very interesting retelling of a novel most of us know (whether we know we know it or not), and I think there is a lot of opportunity to work with this altered story line (Dacre, if you read this I’d love to be in on anything that could be in the future!) and character. I enjoyed the addition of more characters in the castle, and I do think I preferred the single mysterious woman to the three. It added a  heightened sense of fear in my opinion. One woman can hide much easier than three, vampires or not. I enjoyed this more cunning and commanding version of the count. I say more commanding because we actually get to see him command a large group of his “ape-men” through a very dark ritual and that in itself added another layer to the inert fear the character can inspire.

Of the things I was less than impressed with… There is a bit of a list, but I’ll only hit the high points. Before I do, however, there was one thing that I can’t decide if I liked or disliked. That is Harker’s seeming lack of ability to understand or unwillingness to admit what is going on. Where the word vampire is mentioned in the original, this version never suggests that his host may be a vampire. He does mention the idea that he fears they (Dracula and the mysterious woman) may want to suck his blood, but he doesn’t come right out and say the word. Even after watching this blood ritual in the altar room, seeing the ape-like men drink someone’s blood, he doesn’t make this connection. I’m torn about this because, on the one hand I think it almost makes Harker out to be a fool, that he either doesn’t get it or doesn’t believe what he is seeing. On the other, it reminds me of  one of my favorite vampire movies, “Near Dark.” This movie is one of the most under-rated I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. It tells the story of a roaming group of vampires that have run-ins with the law, etc… It discusses their need to drink blood, the fact they never age and heavily showcases the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, but never once in the film is the word ‘vampire’ ever used. Clever tool, if you ask me.

I think the biggest thing I didn’t like with this book was how fast paced it moved after a certain point. The beginning was well thought out, well planned, and perfectly executed, but the latter half seemed to stumble over itself. Particularly the second part of the book, after Dracula leaves his castle. I feel like the author went through Stoker’s notes and novel with a marker and highlighted what he liked and made up some of his own work, but never took the time to put the real detail into it. I was very disappointed with the absence of the Renfield character. I feel he gave interesting insight into the effect Dracula can have on the brain. Personally, I also wonder just how much of Renfield’s tendencies Harker might have taken on while in the nunnery (or if Dracula sought Renfield because he wanted a similar servant to what he expected of Harker). The possibilities with that character are endless. Finally, I was disappointed in the fact that Dracula’s death was just there.  You’re reading the book, noticing it going faster and faster, and suddenly Dracula’s dead and the book is over. As much as I hate to say it, it did leave something to be desired.

I do have to say that the foreword, footnotes and all accompanying text was very helpful, very interesting and helped make the book that much more enjoyable. It does also help pose the question of whether or not there are other alternate versions of this age-old classic out there just waiting to be discovered (aside from the Swedish version which is being translated as we speak)….

Make sure to share your thoughts on this unique piece of literary history and share this with anyone you think might be interested. Make your suggestions for future books and let’s keep the book club going! Summer is here, the kids are out of school, and it’s time for those summer reading lists, so let’s say this month’s book is going to be your favorite summer reading list pick! Leave them in the comments or message me directly via email or social media. I look forward to hearing from everyone. Keep reading!

 

 

Sink Your Teeth Into This!

Hey guys! I hope everyone has been having an awesome Spring. So far it’s been pretty great for me. I have to admit that I’ve been having an amazing time at my new job. I get to see in depth, behind the scenes things that make the theatre run smoothly, and I’m very impressed. I feel very fulfilled with my job, and the fact that it gives me a solid schedule – which means I don’t have to scrounge for time to read at night! Isn’t that exciting? Anyway, I wanted to give everybody our May book club read, and I promise it’s awesome.

For this book, I chose another new (yet pretty old) release; “Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula.” Of course I chose this! It’s a book that was originally written by Valdemar Asmundsson in the early 1900’s (it was translated and released by Hans de Roos). It was first thought to be just a translation of the original text from English to Icelandic, but after it was examined researchers realized it is actually a complete retelling of “Dracula” that features an altered story, changed names, new characters and bits of text that coincide with Bram Stoker’s original ideas and notes for his classic novel. I know this book might not be the type of thing some of you look for, but I assure you it promises plenty of amazing scenes. Unlike “Dracula”, this book isn’t just told in the form of letters and such, but is written in a slightly more standard style, with the majority being told through Harker’s (Thomas rather than Johnathon in this text) journal entries.

Unfortunately, some book stores view this book as slightly more scholarly that what they typically carry, so you may have to specifically request it if you want to buy it. Since it is such an interesting topic it can be a little hard to track down in libraries as well. I had to have my copy shipped from a library in New York so I could dive in. But it’s definitely worth it to a vampirologist and “Dracula” scholar in the 21st Century.

Either way, I look very forward to diving into this book and I hope you’ll all join me in this awesome experience! Feel free to follow me on social media (https://www.facebook.com/DMathewsBooks ) if you haven’t. Now that I have more time at night I have been writing a lot more, and I think I’ll start making more regular posts and discussion on my various pages. With luck there may also be some discussion from a special guest once this review goes up! I’m thinking it will go up around May 25. I know that doesn’t give a lot of time, but this book isn’t as long as “Dracula” and, based on what I’ve read so far, will likely be consumed pretty quick by most people. There are also some interesting forewords and commentary, including a great one from Bram’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker, throughout the novel that I find fascinating.

I hope you guys will be able to track the novel down and enjoy it! If you do have any trouble finding it, feel free to let me know. As a former librarian, I know some tricks of the trade that might be able to help. Ok guys, let’s dive in to a retelling of one of the greatest Gothic novels of all time!