Bram Stoker’s 165th birthday this week (thankyou Google) reminded me that I haven’t read Dracula for a long time, and my memory of it is lost in the fog of time. It’s possible the legend of Dracula, how I hate the use of ‘legend’ but in this case it seems appropriate, the legend of Dracula has outgrown the reality of the fiction, if that’s not a paradox.
For me, Dracula is Christopher Lee, for others Bela Lugosi or maybe Gary Oldman. Charasmatic, charming, evil. I’m not sure that comes over in the original text, but as I’ve said it’s been awhile since I read it. I remember as a teenager reading Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine and thought that all the stories had been used, I was closer than I knew.
It’s difficult to think of a vampire story since that doesn’t have echoes of this Victorian gothic novel, did Stoker invent Vampires? No, I have a collection of vampire stories dating back to Byron and Polidori, and there are stories that go back further, but his version has stuck, obviously being published as cinema was beginning and having a version, albeit an unauthorised version, filmed early on gave him a head start. The fascination with horror in the 1930s cemented Dracula as a everyone’s favourite bogeyman. We all want to live forever, don’t we?
I’ve always been a reader of horror, the 70s, Stephen King and James Herbert, the 80s, Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker, the 90s, Grahame Masterton and Dean Koontz. Not very discriminating but a lot of fun, lots of blood and gore, but little of the style and originality of the classics I’d read in my youth. Almost all horror writers have had a go at vampires, but it’s Dracula that endures and let’s be honest, it’s the movie versions that have truly endured.
It’s an unwritten rule that almost without exception a book is better than the movie version. There are exceptions, The Godfather is the one that leaps to mind, by the law of averages the vast number of Dracula and Dracula inspired movies have to throw up the odd classic to compete with the novel as well as ‘interesting’ ones like The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. For me it has to be either Bela Lugosi’s version from the thirties or Christopher Lee’s from the fifties that are the definitive versions of Bram Stoker’s creation. The modern taste for vampire fiction which has lead us on the secluded forest path to Fifty Shades of Grey will fade and Dracula will come back to the fore. Another director will chance his neck to bring another version to the screen. Meanwhile, thanks to a free download as my seventies paperback has fallen apart, I’m re-reading Dracula for the first time in years.
Bram Stoker will live on forever, along with his creation. Christopher Lee? Well he has been making movies since before I was born and I’m old and is still making them. Peter Cushing is long gone. I’m suspicious.