Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dracula - Group Read

I am so glad I finally read Bram Stoker's Dracula!  Friends have been telling me to read it for a while, and when I saw that Allie at A Literary Odyssey was hosting it for a group read, I just had to participate.  I didn't think I would necessarily like a story about Transylvanian vampires, but I completely misjudged it.  Dracula is well-written, thoughtful, and exciting.  It's just a really fun read, and I can't remember the last time I read a book for pure enjoyment.  I usually spend so much time analyzing books and searching for all the significance within the content that I don't often get swept up in the plot.  But Dracula did take me away and remind me that reading Classics can be fun as well as thought-provoking.

Once again, this October-themed story was not written in the traditional perspective of a third-person omniscient narrator.  I am so intrigued by the fact that Frankenstein, The Turn of the Screw, and Dracula are all written in the form of letters/diaries.  What is it about horror stories that inspire authors to write in this form?  I guess it must be the best way to maintain the suspense, for the narrator doesn't know what's going to happen either if he or she is part of the story as it is happening.  Likewise, it allows the author to jump in his timeline and withhold information which a different kind of narration might require.

The real skill of this book is Stoker's incredible ability to continually provide climactic points that keep you interested.  First, we have Jonathan Harker trapped in Dracula's castle.  This interaction becomes increasingly intense, as Jonathan realizes how serious the situation is and then acts courageously to overcome it.  As time ticks by, Jonathan knows a showdown is coming, and I couldn't believe it was the day before his face-off with Dracula a mere 24% into the story!  (I read this on my Kindle...)   Yet when Stoker suddenly switches to Lucy's story and leaves Jonathan hanging, I found I was equally interested in her predicament.  Once again, I thought this would be the main plot, but after another intense climax, this portion of the story also ends.  So he follows up by creating a new challenge, and it is time for the epic hunt for Dracula together with the danger surrounding Mina.  If I heard about these developments without actually reading the story, I would probably assume that the writing was unskilled and the transitions to multiple climaxes would be clumsy and sudden.  However, Stoker weaves them together seamlessly, and they interact and overlap to create one continuous, action-packed story.

But my favorite thing about the novel is the vampire-fighting dream team.  I can't think of another story that so successfully puts together a team of equal contributors who band together to defeat their foe.  (Ok, ok, I can hear Lord of the Rings fans screaming in my ear, but I personally enjoyed the teamwork of these vampire slayers better.)  Arthur, Quincey, John, Jonathan, Mina, and Van Helsing form such a great team.  I love the characterization Stoker gives to each person, and I especially love that he includes Mina as a vital and intelligent member.  Keep in mind that this was written in 1897, long before "Buffy" and female characters who were capable of discussing such a dangerous adventure, let alone acting in one! 

And yet, I'm not sure I can say that Mina is my favorite.  I love the good, brave heart of Quincey Morris and was thrilled to see him give Americans a good name.  All of the characters balance each other in wits, looks, skills, and personalities so that they form a fairly eclectic crew.  But I think my favorite of all is Professor Van Helsing.  I just love that the leader of this group is an old Dutch professor who has the tenacity and intelligence to do what needs to be done and conquer Count Dracula.  (I also couldn't help thinking that he and fellow professor Indiana Jones might be great friends...)

With eloquent writing and stimulating descriptions, Stoker creates a fascinating story which was destined to survive countless generations.  My heart was pounding as I neared the end of the novel, and it sets up such a perfect final image to conclude the epic tale.  So please, do yourself a favor and read Dracula this month for an exciting October Classic.  And be sure to check out the other posts in the group read!


Adam said...

I was definitely impressed and surprised with how prominent Mina's role was - Stoker really took a risk by having such a powerful, important female character, and I give him mad props for it. I definitely enjoyed this book much more than I expected to.

Congrats on finishing and linking-up - you'll be entered in the participant giveaway! Are your reading Dante's Inferno as well? I read the Longfellow translation and really enjoyed it.

steelsuzette said...

I must admit, I skipped the second half of your post. Not having read the book, I want to maintain as much surprise as possible. But I DO want to say that your enjoyment of it has bumped it up on my list. I have it, and have been thinking of reading it for quite some time, but somehow... haven't picked it up. I think I'll make it my next read! Or I'll interrupt my current book for it. :-)

Andrew Shaughnessy said...

Such a great book. Really action packed and really solid prose. Also, I think the fragmented narrative strand element is really fascinating. It's somewhat of a postmodern literary element (though way ahead of the really flexible and nebulous "postmodern" period)which can make for some really interesting analysis. Whatever way you look at it, the way Stoker manages to interweave multiple narratives is brilliant and lots of fun.

Andrew Shaughnessy said...

Also, it's been a few years since I read the book, but a few scenes still stick out in my mind. That very first opening sequence where Dracula is crawling upside down on the castle, the part where the ship rolls into the foggy harbor with no one on board except the dead captain strapped to the wheel (so cool!), and the dramatic scene at the end where they finally kill off Dracula. Stoker's descriptions and sense of timing are so right on that he inevitably manages to create very coherent mental images. It plays out almost like movie scenes

Amy said...

Andrew, I'm glad you talked about those memorable scenes. That is absolutely one of my favorite things about this novel. He truly created some amazing images and unforgettable plot developments. Thanks for checking in!

Roof Beam Reader said...

Not sure I'd agree with the "Action-packed" comment. At all. But it definitely had its moments.

I was just thinking about Quincey Morris and how I believe that character was inspired Walt Whitman (Stoker was a huge admirer, and they corresponded by post) - so, although I was a little surprised at first to see such a compassionate, strong, likeable American character in this book, it actually makes quite a bit of sense.