It’s no wonder Bram Stoker named his most famous novel after its villain. Like the Count, the novel is exceptionally charming at first, but then you notice its pallor. By the time you feel sleepy (and that your life force is being drained from you), it’s too late— you’re stuck.
The first four chapters of ‘Dracula’ are pretty gripping. Young, heroic Jonathan Harker runs off to Transylvania and is imprisoned in Count Dracula’s castle. A few creepy, supernatural weeks later, and our hero is released. At this point Jonathan could have skipped away merrily, saving readers from three hundred and fifty more pages, but the Count takes up residence in London and starts wreaking his fanged havoc. Stoker throws in a nice plot twist by killing off one of the main characters, and then our hero and some of his pals set off to kill Dracula.
Mina falls prey to Nineteenth-Century Woman Syndrome and is only interesting after she’s been bitten. Wise, lovable Van Helsing makes up for this by playing Yoda, and his protégé Dr. Seward brings a gruesome subplot to the table by running an asylum where his favorite patient catches and eats flies. Stoker unfolds the story entirely in the fictional journals of the heroes. The entries get a little implausible when they recount complete conversations and ridiculous amounts of detail, and they make for some pretty watered-down action scenes (especially the final battle, which is four sentences long). On the bright side, Stoker avoids annoying his readers with rapid-fire changes of perspective, giving each character a generous chunk of story before handing it off to the next.
When it was written, ‘Dracula’ was probably horrifying, but the fears Stoker played on were less psychological and physical than they were religious. The idea of having your blood sucked out through your neck is unpleasant; the idea of developing a (literal) taste for blood yourself isn’t too savory, either. In Stoker’s world, though, becoming a vampire means separation from God, and despite his best efforts to convince the reader that this is the worst thing ever, it’s a fear to which not everyone can relate.
Stoker can write suspense well; he keeps it delicate and never overdone, and throws in just a few dashes of sensuality to fend off impending boredom. It’s probably only this that kept me from getting pissed at his cop-out ending. I won’t spoil it, though— while I think ‘Dracula’ would have been more effective as a short story, it made a well-crafted if long-winded novel.