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Bruce Markusen Celebrates the 125th Anniversary of ‘Dracula’ in Time for “World Dracula Day”



Bruce Markusen Celebrates the 125th Anniversary of 'Dracula' in Time for "World Dracula Day"

The novel, Dracula, has now been in publication for 125 years. We celebrate this anniversary on May 26, which is now recognized in horror circles as “World Dracula Day.”

In 1897, the great Irish writer, Bram Stoker, gave us Dracula, the story of a Transylvanian count and vampire who relocates to Great Britain in an effort to terrorize fresh victims in a more populated setting. Since the initial publication, both the book and the character have taken a firm hold in popular culture, not only in America, but in England and Romania (where significant parts of the story take place), and so many other countries. As successful as the book has become in print, its impact in other media has been just as profound. There have been over 700 films that feature or at least mention the character of Dracula. In addition, more than 1,000 comic books and stage adaptations have stemmed from the original source work.

No one, not even Bram Stoker himself, could have seen this coming. When Dracula was first published, it did not do particularly well in terms of sales. In fact, it was outsold by another horror novel, called The Beetle, a book written by English writer Richard Marsh about a shapeshifting monster that seeks revenge against a member of Parliament. While The Beetle is virtually forgotten today, Dracula’s impact has soared over the years. The popularity of Dracula increased exponentially after two separate filmmakers brought the story to the big screen in the form of the 1922 film, Nosferatu, and the 1931 groundbreaking movie that made Bela Lugosi into a household name.

And perhaps most remarkably, Stoker’s book has never gone out of print, not for a month or even a day. There have been over 1,000 editions of the book, both in hardcover and paperback, with all different kinds of colorful and Gothic artwork. (Three of my favorite cover shots of Dracula are featured here below. One shows Bela Lugosi from the 1931 film, another shows Dracula’s hands emerging from an old, wooden coffin, and a third displays a horrific-looking vampire with a greenish complexion carrying a victim through a graveyard.)

Facebook Dracula Novel Lugosi

Facebook Dracula Novel

Facebook Dracula Novel 1

Shortly after I became a fan of horror, I tried to read Dracula. It must have been around 1978, when I was all of 13. I was so young then that I didn’t fully comprehend it; the reading level was much higher than my fifth or sixth grade mind could fully digest. I made my way through about a hundred pages of the novel before deciding that it wasn’t for me. In retrospect, I simply wasn’t ready.

About five years ago, I decided that I needed to revisit the challenge of Dracula. As a slower reader, it took me roughly two months to finish Dracula. When I did, I came away with a much greater appreciation for the beautiful and graceful writing of Stoker. Yes, it does take a while to adjust to the style of the book, which is laid out in the epistolary style: a series of letters, diary entries, and newspaper references, all coming from different characters. But once I became used to the shifting perspectives, the story became much easier to follow. With that, it also became easier to recognize the quality of the writing.

Here are a few other significant takeaways from reading this 370-page classic:

–Stoker’s Dracula is very different from the Dracula of Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee. Stoker’s vampire is an older, graying man with a large mustache, and one who is not especially attractive, nor romantic or charismatic. Furthermore, the Dracula of the novel is not destroyed or severely harmed by sunlight. The daylight makes him weaker, robbing him of most of his supernatural powers, but it does not kill him

–Having read the book, I now see why there has not been a true adaptation of Stoker’s novel on film. The book is so long and the storyline so complicated that a film would have to last about five or six hours to accurately portray Stoker’s written word.

–My only criticism of the book involves the long spans of time when Dracula is not a first-hand presence in the story. The famed vampire is featured prominently at the beginning and at the end of the novel, but there are large swaths of text where his impact is only implied. I would have enjoyed more direct descriptions of Dracula’s confrontations with others.

So what is it about Dracula that has made it so lasting, to the point that it is more beloved within popular culture today than it ever has been?

There are a number of reasons. First off, there is the writing. Stoker’s writing is dense, but it’s also of a high quality: lyrical and descriptive. He was a phenomenal wordsmith who could assemble sentences and paragraphs like few other writers of the 19th century.

Then there is the imagery, which reaches its peak with Stoker’s description of the arrival of the ship carrying Dracula. The accounts of the ghostly, nearly abandoned death ship landing on the British coast at Whitby represent some of the best horror writing in history. More specifically, the description of the dead captain who ties himself to the ship’s wheel is stunning and chilling, as is the imagery of the large, wolf-like dog running off the deck of the doomed vessel.

Not only is Dracula beautifully written, but it is filled with tension, Stoker’s characters are complicated and intriguing, especially Van Helsing and Mina Harker. No cookie cutter could have produced characters like these, or Dracula himself.

Any great book of horror must have an ending that is fitting and dramatic. Dracula certainly has that. In describing the chase through the Transylvanian mountainside, Stoker unfurls a dramatic conclusion just outside of Dracula’s Castle.

Any true fan of horror and vampires should make the effort to read the book. If nothing else, you will learn about early vampire mythology and the intriguing backstory of Dracula. At a higher level, you might just come away with a greater appreciation of Dracula as an iconic figure in literary history.

All these years later, Dracula is still felt throughout popular culture. With an unyielding grip, Stoker’s character retains its hold on our imagination. And I suppose he always will.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you can let Bruce know via his Twitter account here.



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