Five things people who have read Dracula know…but most people don’t
Halloween is coming up, and despite all the options out there, it’s still pretty likely you’ll see some kid dressed as Dracula.
You’ll know it’s Dracula: maybe by the widow’s peak hairdo, the cape, or the toy bat cleverly taped on to a shoulder.
You know who wouldn’t recognize that character as Dracula?
Bram Stoker, who wrote the original 1897 novel.
As is often the case, the adaptations of the book have had a greater impact on the public imagination than the original book…or at least, a more lasting, widespread one.
If you haven’t read the book yet, you might want to do that…right now…before reading the rest of this post. 😉
You can get it for free here, as well as in many other editions:
Go ahead…we’ll wait.
If not, then I guess I’ll just have to put up this
Here, then, are five things people who have read Dracula know…that most people don’t:
1. Dracula has a mustache!
Stoker describes Count Dracula like this:
“Within, stood a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere.”
Why the mustache?
Stoker is explicit: Dracula is a specific historical figure, and that figure had a mustache:
“He must, indeed, have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk, over the great river on the very frontier of Turkey-land.”
Here is a picture of Vlad:
The term “Voivoide” that Stoker uses is a title, which evolved a bit over time…you can think of it like “Warlord” or maybe “Prince”, to give you an idea.
So, yes, Dracula has a mustache.
2. Dracula doesn’t only turn into a bat
In Stoker’s novel, Dracula can also turn into a wolf…or even a mist. Does that make Dracula a werewolf, in addition to being a vampire? Well, there is a suggestion that they may be the same thing:
“I could hear a lot of words often repeated, queer words, for there were many nationalities in the crowd; so I quietly got my polyglot dictionary from my bag and looked them out. I must say they were not cheering to me, for amongst them were “Ordog”—Satan, “pokol”—hell, “stregoica”—witch, “vrolok” and “vlkoslak”—both of which mean the same thing, one being Slovak and the other Servian for something that is either were-wolf or vampire.”
The wolf is actually much more important in the book than the bat…and it isn’t the bat that bites anybody (which we often see in the movies).
Here is Van Helsing describing Dracula’s powers of transformation:
“He can transform himself to wolf, as we gather from the ship arrival in Whitby, when he tear open the dog; he can be as bat, as Madam Mina saw him on the window at Whitby, and as friend John saw him fly from this so near house, and as my friend Quincey saw him at the window of Miss Lucy. He can come in mist which he create—that noble ship’s captain proved him of this; but, from what we know, the distance he can make this mist is limited, and it can only be round himself. He come on moonlight rays as elemental dust—as again Jonathan saw those sisters in the castle of Dracula. He become so small—we ourselves saw Miss Lucy, ere she was at peace, slip through a hairbreadth space at the tomb door. He can, when once he find his way, come out from anything or into anything, no matter how close it be bound or even fused up with fire—solder you call it.”
That’s right: “elemental dust”. You can not board up the doors and windows to keep out Dracula…it’s not like fighting zombies!
3. Dracula doesn’t sleep during the day
It’s a bit complicated, but Dracula can move around during the day…the vampire doesn’t “sleep” all day in a coffin, and disintegrate if exposed to sunlight. In fact, Dracula can even transform during the day…but exactly at noon. Here, Van Helsing talks a bit about Dracula’s limitations:
“His power ceases, as does that of all evil things, at the coming of the day. Only at certain times can he have limited freedom. If he be not at the place whither he is bound, he can only change himself at noon or at exact sunrise or sunset.”
4. A wild rose can defeat Dracula
While we all know about garlic (and yes, that’s in the book) affecting Dracula, it isn’t just the “stinking rose” (a term for garlic) which works. Let’s hear from the Professor again:
“Then there are things which so afflict him that he has no power, as the garlic that we know of; and as for things sacred, as this symbol, my crucifix, that was amongst us even now when we resolve, to them he is nothing, but in their presence he take his place far off and silent with respect. There are others, too, which I shall tell you of, lest in our seeking we may need them. The branch of wild rose on his coffin keep him that he move not from it; a sacred bullet fired into the coffin kill him so that he be true dead; and as for the stake through him, we know already of its peace; or the cut-off head that giveth rest.”
5. Dracula hasn’t been undead and unchanging for centuries
I’ve written about this more extensively in my blog, The Measured Circle:
To me, one of the coolest elements of the book, and one which I don’t think I’ve seen exploited on screen, is that Dracula has just awakened when encountered by Van Helsing. The master tactician Vlad is not fully awake…doesn’t have it all mentally together yet.
When the Voivoide does, Van Helsing will be facing one of the greatest military minds in history.
As a proud geek myself, I completely see the fear this gives Van Helsing.
Van Helsing is a geek…an intellectual with an interest in odd things.
Physically, unlike some interpretations (quiet down there, Hugh Jackman), Van Helsing is not a competitor.
When that’s the case, we geeks count on our mental superiority to give us a chance in the “sport”.
Imagine that Dracula was, oh, a great football quarterback. Living in the Bay Area, I’m going to go with Joe Montana.
Count Montana has just awakened…slowly, the intellectual capacities are returning.
Van Helsing has to play football against the Count.
The first person who scores, wins.
Van Helsing, being a terrible football player, has to score…now. Four or five plays from now, there will be no chance whatsoever: the Count will be back to full capacity!
The Professor better get it all right, right away. No mistakes…every mistake costs valuable time, and Count Montana becomes less vulnerable.
That, to me, is where some of the strongest drama comes in the book. It’s not just Van Helsing versus Dracula…it’s Van Helsing versus Van Helsing’s own weakness.
There you go! All kidding aside, if you haven’t read the book, I recommend it. I like a lot of the movie versions, too…Bela Lugosi (who is the inspiration for that Halloween costumer) is very different from Christopher Lee in the part, but they both have their fascinations.
You can love the movies (and the TV shows, and comic books, and videogames, and…) and you can love the book (and the other books written about the Count), but they aren’t the same.
Now, about Frankenstein… 😉
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