On May 26th, 1897, a distinguished Irish writer penned a novel which was destined to become a landmark in Victorian Gothic horror. That author was Bram Stoker, his creation; Dracula. It was a narrative which would influence all other vampire fiction and inspire countless future generations to invest in Garlic and wooden stakes for their own safety.
The vampire myth can be traced back to the Ancient Near East and into the Classical world. From the Mesopotamian’s to the ancient Greeks and the Roman Civilization. The closest folklore tales linked to our modern understanding of Vampirism come from southwestern Europe. In parts of Serbia around the early 18th century, a mass paranoiac panic regarding Vampires spread through the populace. To combat this paranormal terror, several men were exhumed on suspicion of being undead. These events popularized Vampires, so that by the 18th and early 19th century, they were appearing in poems by Goethe, Coleridge and Shelly.
In novella form, the earliest Vampire novel came from Polidori’s ‘The Vampyr which was published in 1819. It was arguably this format which Bram Stoker would draw from when establishing his blood thirsty character. Polidori moved away from the Vampire as being an evil, foul smelling ghoul to the idea of the urbane, sophisticated and elegant gentleman. In literature, Vampires were not always exclusively male as the 1871 short story ‘Carmilla’ would prove. Created by Sheridan Le Fanu, this feminine and seductive figure would also influence Bram Stoker’s work. Both men knew each other, Le Fanu was Stoker’s editor during his years as a theater critic. For more information concerning Bram Stoker’s life and specifically his time crafting Dracula, see Dacre Stoker’s ‘Stoker on Stoker‘.
For all of these previous influences, it is Stoker’s Dracula that remains the standard image of the Vampire. In it’s text, the image of Vampirism is like a horrifying disease, transmitted through the intimate contact of a bite. In an era where syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases were common in society, this hit a particular nerve.
Before long, Dracula related works began to appear. In 1914 Stoker’s widow published a chapter which had been edited out of the original novel. This was known by the stand alone title ‘Dracula’s Guest’. As the popularity of the character grew, various translations of the text began to appear world wide. The most interesting of these is the Icelandic translation by Vladimar Asmundsson. Dracula scholars have recently been intrigued by the fact that this interpretation may be a ‘lost version of Dracula’. A read through will reveal to the Dracula enthusiast that Asmundsson’s version features additional characters and changed plot details. This interpretation has been translated back to English and is available as ‘Powers of Darkness‘.
Dracula has even been brought into the realm of Science Fiction, Erotica, paired with Sherlock Holmes. He’s even tangled with real life monsters such as Adolf Hitler in Patrick Sheane Duncan’s Dracula vs Hitler. On of my favourite interpretations of the Count in modern literature is Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula. In this text, Dracula escapes the confines of his Transylvanian home and has reached England and America in the 20th century and proceeds to build an empire.
My writing partner Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great-grandnephew has continued with the family legacy and has given us both a prequel and a sequel to the original novels. ‘Dracul‘ is a prequel to the Dracula story and is inspired by Bram Stoker’s notes and text’s. It tells the story of both Dracula’s origins and Bram Stokers, all interlaced with the fate of an enigmatic young woman. The spiritual sequel to the original Dracula novel, ‘Dracula:The Un-dead‘ deals with the characters of the much loved novel and the aftermath of Dracula’s demise.
It would be remiss to merely talk only about the literary influences of Dracula. It is the world of cinema which has become even more fond of variously interpreting Stoker’s powerful character. From his first appearance in film, the 1922 silent classic, ‘Nosferatu’ to the kid friendly single-parent version in the animated ‘Hotel Translyvania’. Hollywood has diversified and popularised Dracula’s presence to greater degrees for each successive generation.
Dracula is most widely associated with the powerful and commanding performance of Christopher Lee in the Hammer Horror film series. He almost became typecast in the role after starring in seven Dracula themed films. He famously brought a sense of sexual magnetism to the role and managed to keep the character fresh in each anticipated sequel. One of the more intriguing films concerning Dracula is ‘The Shadow of the Vampire’ which was released in 2000. This film takes place during the filming of the original Nosferatu film and imagines that the actor playing the title role was actually a Vampire.
In this article I have only scratched the surface of Bram Stoker’s influence on the Vampire legend and the horror fiction genre. I have yet to mention the various comic books, video games and even musicals that feature Dracula. When you consider the multitude and range of Vampire’s in film and literature which may not specifically relate to Count Dracula. It must be also said that Stoker’s legacy within our modern society is enormous.