Book Groups of America, put down your Oprah choices, your Eat, Pray, and Love drivel, your watered elephants, and read Bram Stoker's Dracula. I wanted to read some long books before my book-a-day project begins and Dracula was on the list of recommended must-reads. My son's English teacher was right, everyone should read this book.
I finished Dracula last night after midnight. WIth a shiver I went off to bed and I dreamt of mist coming in under doors, bats beating against windows, garlic flowers and golden crucifixes. This novel is a really great read and ten million times better than any movie version ever made. The novel is deep and dense and scarily engaging, with compelling characters, great atmosphere, and a plot that teases thrillingly; Evil approaches, then withdraws, moves forward and is then pushed back again, if only until the sun sets and enabling darkness again descends.
The novel reads like the metaphor used often by its characters: a chess match. The match is between Evil (Count Dracula and his lovely undead) and Good (Mina and Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward, Professor Van Helsing, Lord Godalming and the brave American, Quincey Morris); the pawns include the lunatic Renfield and the lovely and beloved virgin Lucy Westerna, as well as many other minor characters dragged nefariously into Dracula's plot to infiltrate London.
Clearly the novel is about temptations of the Devil being finally vanquished by the deep and intensely held faith of the righteous in their God: eternal life as offered by Count Dracula is spurned in favor of eternal paradise as offered by God.
But the novel is also an appropriate, and apropos, parable about greed. Count Dracula is not satisfied with living only one life; he wants to live the durations of a hundreds of lives. His greed grows and grows, and he feeds on the blood of the oppressed to further power his driving ambition. Greed begets greed and Evil begets evil. There is no end in sight until the forces of Good combine their faculties of intelligence, observation, and action to overcome the Evil and save the world from greed gone wild. As a political commentary, Dracula is frighteningly astute (and makes a sound argument for a much-needed third party in this country, the intelligent, observant reformer party).
Each character in the novel is well-defined and individually presented, each character grows and changes through the course of the novel; there is no stereotyping or predictability (even in Count Dracula). The heroine, Mina Parker, is viewed by the other characters through the lens of sexism but she is presented by Bram Stoker as intelligent, tenacious, and brave; she is never hysterically brave or mother-protecting-her-young brave, as so many movies and novels portray female bravery, but is wisely and timely brave.
The plot moves forward through letters, journal entries, and stenographic recordings, all from the point of view of the various forces of Good; our unease grows into fear as we catch clues that our braver heroes miss. I stayed up way too late to reassure myself that in the end the clues were caught, interpreted, and used to solve the mystery of where and how to catch the vampire villain. Count Dracula is finally brought down (I don't think I'm ruining it for anyone) through such diverse means as hypnotism, detailed knowledge of train schedules, buying of drinks for information (tipping for tippling), and of course, garlic, the sacred communial wafer, golden crucifixes, and the stake through the heart. There are also plenty of wolves, bats, mists, spiders, superstitious (quite rightly so) Roumanians, and long moon-lit nights.
Read this book. For more great book recommendations, visit readallday.org.