Dracula and Modern Popular Culture
Dissertation by C.J. Carter-Stephenson
"time is on my side, your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine." ['Dracula', page 365]
These words, spoken by Dracula himself, encapsulate his motivations within Bram Stoker's well-known novel. Yet they might also have been written to describe the influence of his character over future generations. The character of the Count has so inspired the human imagination that he has become one of the most renowned figures of modern popular culture. Interestingly, it is not the original book that has led to the count's fame, but a host of other mediums. In fact, it has got to the stage now where the kinds of people who would once have read Dracula no longer bother to do so, because they are so familiar with the film adaptations. For this reason, it is possible to see, the book as a victim of its own success. Another way in which the book has suffered from its own popularity is explored by Clive Leatherdale in Dracula:The Novel and the Legend, in a passage that states that popular culture has so trivialized the book that until recently it has been wholly ignored as a subject for serious study.
The character of the Count has been rejuvenated so many times and in so many different ways, that it is impossible to catalogue them all. Dracula is a book that has left the literary world to be absorbed by popular culture and like vampires themselves, it seems to have attained immortality. One reason for this is that we have taken the character of the Count, made him our own and perhaps even made him into an image of what we ourselves are. Dracula explores the central themes of gothic fantasy and has the strange effect of transforming the genre from parody to myth. We accept the figure of the Count as a figure of power and a clear reflection of something that is inside of us. Dracula may well be evil, but he is also an empowering vision of the Self as Other. With gothic texts that are parodic, we maintain an analytical relationship; texts that we embrace as fables of identity however, pass beyond fantasy, as is undeniably the case with Dracula.
One only has to look around to see the influence Dracula has had on the world we live in. The Count has appeared in a whole host of films and cartoons; he has been the subject of masks and figurines; he has featured in literally hundreds of comics; and this of course, is only the beginning. What, then, is the reason for this far-reaching influence? Undoubtedly part of the novel's appeal comes from its applicability to so many twentieth century preoccupations - such as sex, the Other, the supernatural and the nature of evil - but it is likely that its popularity has an even deeper foundation. For what other book can be as easily adapted to topics as diverse as religion and the cold war?
What I am concerned with here however, is exploring the impact that Dracula has had on popular culture. This will involve an evaluation of some of the numerous films it has spawned and an exploration of how indebted later writers in the horror genre - such as Anne Rice and Stephen King - are to Bram Stoker. Unfortunately the topic is such an extensive one, that I cannot hope to cover it exhaustively. As Ken Gelder points out in Reading the Vampire,
"this is a novel which seems (these days, especially) to generate readings, rather than close them down." 1
It is obvious to anyone who reads Dracula that it contains religious connotations. It is not surprising, therefore, that critics began considering the Count's inversion of everything that Christ is supposed to stand for almost immediately after its publication. There are two main points I want to make about religion. The first relates to the character of Van Helsing, who brings about the downfall of the Count and thereby establishes himself as foremost amongst
"the ministers of God's own wish," ['Dracula', p.381]
Van Helsing set a precedent for a whole range of twentieth century Catholic heroes (e.g. the priest in The Exorcist). Secondly, I feel it is important to briefly look at the ways in which religion has ceased to play a pivotal role in twentieth century takes on the story. Other ways in which religion is significant to Dracula and its impact on popular culture, will become apparent later on.
Bram Stoker's Dracula is replete with religious imagery and as Clive Leatherdale asserts,
"it is superfluous to claim that 'Dracula' is a Christian parody." 2
It does not take a great stretch of the imagination to slot the Count into the role of antichrist; after all, he inverts everything that the Bible says Christ stands for. In the light of this, it is interesting to consider the ways in which he is similar to the character of the antichrist in The Omen saga.
Like Dracula, Damien begins as a child. At first it may not be evident why I should describe Dracula as a child; I refer you in explanation to the following assertion about the count by Van Helsing:
"In some faculties of mind he has been, and is, only a child." ['Dracula', p.360]
Also like Dracula, Damien attempts to use capitalism to conquer the world (Damien becomes head of the Thorn Corporation). The link between Dracula and capitalism is again not obvious and although I shall be discussing it in more detail later, I feel it is necessary to clarify it here. the Count is shown to be the archetypal capitalist exploiter during the course of the novel by the way in which he is hoarding money to attempt to assume economic control of London. The following extract informs us of the Count's interest in money:
"the point just cut the cloth of his coat, making a wide gap whence a bundle of bank-notes and a stream of gold fell out." ['Dracula', p.364]
Both Dracula and Damien must be stabbed to be destroyed (though in Damien's case, the weapons used must be a series of sacred daggers).
The Count is pure evil in Dracula; but it is an evil which the Catholic Church seems to need in order to survive. The Bible is replete with references to the fact that the only way we can be saved from Satan is through God. In addition to this, as Clive Leatherdale points out, the vampire myth was used by the church to help them explain transubstantiation (the church claimed that just as the vampire drank blood to capture souls, Christians can drink the blood of Christ to ingest His divinity). It takes the presence of evil in the book to convince the good characters of the existence of God, as Harker's attitude to his crucifix suggests:
"It is odd that a thing which I had been taught to regard with disfavour and as idolatrous should in a time of loneliness and trouble be of help."['Dracula', p.40]
Time and again in modern films, we see heroes and heroines forced to accept religion as the only way of battling some great evil, as films like The Omen trilogy and The Exorcist demonstrate.
Christianity is not just used as a weapon against vampires in Dracula, but also as a means of rationalising their murder:
"Strike in God's name, so that all may be well with the dead that we love, and that the Un-Dead pass away." ['Dracula', p.258]
This manipulation of faith is another device frequently used by modern horror films. In The Omen, for example, the presence of the devil within the toddler Damien is taken to be justification for killing him.
In Dracula, it is Van Helsing who is responsible for convincing his comrades of the existence of vampires. As I have already suggested, this makes him a template for future religious heroes. Evidence for Van Helsing's strong belief in the Catholic faith can be found by virtue of his frequent use of Biblical language, e.g. his use of the parable of the seed and the sower (Dracula , pp.145-146) and the following warning which he gives to Mina:
"You must not die by any hand; but least of all by your own." ['Dracula', p.346]
His role as a kind of shamanic priest in the novel has influenced popular fiction and film in all sorts of ways. One of the most obvious films that replicates to some extent the character of Van Helsing is The Exorcist. A more obscure way in which the character of Van Helsing has influenced modern popular culture exhibits itself in The Karate Kid films. In The Karate Kid an old mentor teaches an impetuous youngster what he needs to know in order to defeat his enemies in much the same way that Van Helsing teaches his associates about vampires.
One of the interesting things about the character of Van Helsing is that it changes dramatically with each new interpretation. Hammer for example, presented him as one of their consummate professionals.
Before Hammer, film incantations of Van-Helsing were given to lengthy pseudo-scientific speeches; the Hammer version restricted himself to matter-of-fact instructions on how to kill vampires. Hammer's Van Helsing is arguably cinema's first professional vampire-hunter. It is he who outlines the Hammer vampire rules into his recording machine in Hammer's Dracula. That these rules are broken in later films is not important. What is important is that we have an authoritative recognition of the existence of vampires.
The movement of Van Helsing away from religious guru towards vampire-hunter is typical of the way in which Christianity has ceased to play such a key role in the interpretation of Dracula. It would appear therefore, that the following assertion made by Clive Leatherdale about religion in Dracula is perfectly correct:
"Another age or another culture less imbued with Christian dogma might fail to perceive Dracula's religious challenge." 3
Religion has played an ever-decreasing part in our lives as time has gone on. This is clearly reflected in the way it is presented in our interpretations of Dracula. In the original novel, the spiritual importance of the cross is continually stressed, as we see in the following incident described by Seward:
"I moved forward holding the crucifix and the wafer in my hand. I felt a mighty power fly along my arm." ['Dracula', p.364]
In the Hammer films, the cross has become merely another weapon against the undead. This is typified by the way in which the shadow of the cross, formed by the two arms of a windmill, is enough to dispatch the vampire in The Brides of Dracula. This implies that it is the image as opposed to its religious significance that vampires fear and thereby negates the role of Christianity. Anne Rice actually goes so far in her Vampire Chronicles as to suggest that vampires have nothing to fear from religion, as the following extract demonstrates:
" 'The power of Satan will blast you into hell,' the boy bellowed, gathering all his remaining strength. ’You keep saying that!' I said, 'And it keeps not happening, as we can all see!' " ['The Vampire Lestat', pp.243-244]
Anne Rice's books are clearly the product of a society in which religion no longer holds the majority in its sway. The character of Louis in Interview with the Vampire is a disillusioned Catholic, whose subsequent belief in vampires is, as Ken Gelder puts it,
"a kind of modern, secular replacement for his lost Catholic faith." 4
Interview with the Vampire is a novel about disillusionment, written at a time when religion features highly amongst the things we are most disillusioned about. The vampire lore in which Van Helsing places such faith in the extract below:
"after all, these things - tradition and superstition - are everything. ['Dracula', p.285]
is described by Louis as "bullshit" in Interview with the Vampire. This speaks volumes about the credence attached to religion by vampire fiction today. More importantly, however, it is a reflection of modern spiritual beliefs and a tribute to the efforts of science to banish God to the annals of history.
Every generation gets something new from Bram Stoker's Dracula. This has meant that the novel has lent itself easily to a great deal of manipulation during the twentieth century and has formed an important part of much propaganda. One example of this is the way post-war Germany - seeking Teutonic heroes - found a perfect role-model in the form of Count Dracula, who was descended from Attila the Hun. Authors thrilled the German public with gothic tales in which vampires were represented as superhumans whose aim was to establish a new order based on blood. Interestingly the link made by Germany between vampires and Nazis was later turned against them by the allies, who seized on what Van Helsing tells us in Dracula is one of the most threatening things about the Count, i.e. is his ability to make new vampires:
"all that die from preying of the Un-Dead become themselves Un-Dead." ['Dracula', p.257]
The allies drew to public attention the fact that this ability implies that when the Count feeds on people, he is actually altering their race. To put it plainly, the East was shown to be essentially attempting to assimilate the West. This is what Clive Leatherdale was talking about when he said,
"During World War Two the equation of the Hun-like Dracula with the Hun-like Nazi was gratefully manipulated and exploited by the allies." 5
The Americans used the Count to personify German cruelty and even published posters featuring a German soldier with dripping fangs.
It is equally possible to draw parallels between the heroes of Dracula and the Nazis, however. Ken Gelder considers the anti-Semitism of Dracula in Reading the Vampire. As he suggests, it is surely significant that it is a Jew who helps the Count escape his pursuers and leave England:
"We found Hildesheim in his office, a Hebrew of rather the Adelphi type, with a nose like a sheep and a fez... with a little bargaining he told us what he knew" ['Dracula', p.349]
Another way in which the book seems racist is in its treatment of the Count. If we see him as representative of another race - which seems a quite reasonable standpoint to take - then the pursuit of him becomes a kind of ethnic cleansing.
Dracula makes careful distinctions between the West and the East, as we see in the following entry in Harker's diary:
"The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East" ['Dracula', p.69]
Harker feels that in entering the East, he is leaving civilization behind. It is partly this kind of distinction that enabled America to make use of the novel as a symbolic representation of the onslaught of communism. They were quick to point out that both the Count and communism appear to threaten the Western world and that both choose subversion as their weapon. the Count's subversion focuses on women; the subversion of communism focuses on the working class. the Count's subversive tactics are revealed in his careful preparations, e.g. his decision to keep apart his unwitting collaborators:
"Skinsky is mentioned as dealing with the Slovaks...and the man's remark that the murder was the work of a Slovak, showed the general feeling against his class. the Count wanted isolation... he blotted out his traces, as he thought, by murdering his agent." ['Dracula', p.419]
The smugness of the West in Dracula discounts the possibility of subversion, meaning that Van Helsing and the others are compelled to act in secret. Van Helsing demonstrates a certain tendency towards disdain in his attitude towards Seward's liberalism, as the following passage shows:
"Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are; that some people see things that others cannot?"['Dracula', p.229]
Van Helsing knows that the Count is attempting to sweep aside objection and thus opposition. Interestingly, dissenters against McCarthy were treated in a similar way in America.
America's use of Count Dracula as a metaphor for communism is paradoxical, because as I have already pointed out, the Count can be seen as a capitalist exploiter, attempting to conquer the world with money. There is a close connection between vampirism and capitalism, as Marx points out in the following:
"Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks." 6
Like the vampire, the capitalist's driving force is insatiable. the Count is a perfectly rational entrepreneur, who even pays his employees well, as his treatment of Hildesheim demonstrates:
"He had received a letter from a Mr. de Ville of London, telling him to receive, if possible before sunrise so as to avoid customs, a box which would arrive at Galatz... He had been paid for his work by an English bank-note, which had been duly cashed for gold at the Danube International Bank." ['Dracula', p.415]
However, as Franco Moretti points out, he is also,
"a true monopolist: solitary and despotic, he will not brook competition." 7
As a result, he strikes terror into the hearts of his competitors. the Count permits no independent survival, in a similar way to the monopolist. In the words of Ken Gelder,
"The vampire must be exorcised because he represents an excessive form of capitalism." 8
The connection between vampirism and capitalism remains in much modern vampire fiction. One place we can see this is in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, where the vampire Lestat is shown to prosper as a result of his commercial viability in the music industry and his ability to captivate the audience at a rock concert. The connection between vampirism and capitalism is also explored in some detail in Guillermo del Toro's 1992 film, Kronos. Kronos is about a man who discovers a clockwork beetle that makes him into a vampire. He is then hounded by thugs sent to acquire the device by a wealthy American on the verge of death. The American wants to buy the beetle at any cost and because of this becomes more vampiric in his own way than the vampire. The connection between vampirism and capitalism is by virtue of this turn of events made very clear.
An academic by the name of Punter has suggested that much of Dracula's appeal comes from the way it secretly concerns itself with exploring taboos. After all, do we not frequently see the character of the Count crossing boundaries that should be secure? One of the main ways in which the novel explores taboos is in its symbolic sexual implications and these are everywhere. The novel's sexual undertones are most apparent in three specific instances. The first is Harker's seduction by the vampire women, which is exemplified in the following:
"There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing... burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips... The fair girl shook her head coquettishly... advanced and bent over me until I could feel the movement of her breath upon me." ['Dracula', pp.51-52]
When one takes into account the parallels drawn by critics like Carol A. Senf and Clive Leatherdale between blood and semen in the book, this passage is obviously sexually suggestive. The second instance when it seems apparent that sex is being explored through symbolic language is when Arthur Holmwood drives a stake through Lucy's heart:
"But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake" ['Dracula', p.259]
The stake in this piece is conventionally thought to symbolise a phallus and the staking of Lucy is said to represent the sex act. In the words of Carol A.Senf, the scene,
"resembles nothing so much as the combined group rape and murder of an unconscious woman." 9
The last of the three most sexually suggestive sections in Bram Stoker's Dracula occurs when Mina drinks the Count's blood:
"When the blood began to spurt out, he took my hands in one of his, holding them tight, and with the other seized my neck and pressed my mouth to the wound, so that I must either suffocate or swallow some of the - Oh my God, my God! What have I done?" ['Dracula', p.343]
Mina is unable to say the word blood and leaves an opening which readily lends itself to the insertion of semen. It seems fairly self-evident from the first and last of these passages that there is a definite connection between blood-sucking and intercourse. The link between blood and semen is emphasised by Van Helsing himself at the time of Lucy's blood transfusions, when he says the following about Holmwood's idea that his blood inside Lucy makes her his bride,
"Said he not that the transfusion of his blood to her veins had made her truly his bride... If so... Then this so sweet maid is a polyandrist, and me, with my poor wife dead to me, but alive by Church's law, though no wits, all gone - even I, who am faithful husband to this now-no-wife, am bigamist." ['Dracula', pp.211-212]
The connection between blood-sucking and intercourse is something that has been seized upon rapaciously by modern popular culture. The Hammer films are a classic example of this, frequently featuring scenes where stakes find a home in the bosoms of buxom girls. The most overtly sexual of the Hammer films were their female vampire series (Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, Countess Dracula and Twins of Evil ), which included scenes of nudity and lesbianism, thereby consolidating the association of vampirism with erotic behaviour for their audiences.
Other striking examples of parallels being drawn between intercourse and vampirism in modern popular fiction can be found in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. In Interview with the Vampire for example, Louis's conversion into a vampire is described in distinctly erotic terms:
"he lay down beside me now on the steps, his movement so gracious and so personal that at once it made me think of a lover... I rememeber that the movement of his lips raised the hair all over my body, sent a shock of sensation through my body that was not unlike the pleasure of passion." ['Interview with the Vampire', pp.22-23]
Later on we are told how Louis' journey to becoming a vampire actually involves him exchanging bodily fluid with Lestat. The implications of this are obvious and require no clarification here.
Moving swiftly onto other matters sexual; it is entirely possible to see the Count in Dracula as an arch-seducer, who awakens female desire. Mina herself intimates Dracula's morbid attraction, when she says,
"I was bewildered, and strangely enough, I did not want to hinder him. I suppose it is part of the horrible curse that this happens when his touch is on his victim." ['Dracula', p.342]
The Count's sexual magnetism is probably partly responsible for his mass appeal. Men long to have his seductive power, whilst women long to be seduced by him. Many film studios attempting to capture the spirit of Dracula have played on this aspect of his character. The Christopher Lee incarnation of Count Dracula, for example, had an elegance and charm that highlighted the innate sexual attractiveness attributed to the character in Bram Stoker's novel. More recently, in Francis Ford Coppola's film, Bram Stoker's Dracula, we see the Count transformed into a fairly typical Hollywood hero, who sweeps Mina off her feet to such an extent that she finds herself unable to resist him.
Given Count Dracula's seductive power over women, it only takes a small stretch of the imagination to suggest that he is the inspiration for a number of twentieth century heroes, James Bond being one of them. After all, both James Bond and the Count are tall, handsome and irresistible to women.
The character of Count Dracula has become synonymous with insatiable male potency in modern popular culture. If we equate blood-drinking with lovemaking, Dracula's need to find new victims is essentially a journey through a never-ending string of lovers. This comes across very strongly in Bram Stoker's original novel. Once the Count has taken a lover/victim, he moves onto someone else, as we see in his taking Mina immediately after he has finished with Lucy. The potency of Dracula is frequently contrasted with the passivity of the young heroes, especially Harker. the Count has the power to make Harker feel impotent, as Harker himself remarks:
"I felt impotent, and in the dark and distrustful." ['Dracula', p.225]
Later on, we see a striking example of the contrast between Harker and Dracula, when the Count is attempting to turn Mina into a vampire - a sequence which takes place in Mina's bedroom. If, as Ken Gelder speculates, the thin open wound on the Count's chest and Mina's bloodstained nightgown suggest Mina's defloration by the Count, then the Count is having his way with Harker's wife while Harker lies passively on the bed:
"On the bed beside the window lay Johnathan Harker, his face flushed, and breathing heavily as though in a stupor." ['Dracula', p.336]
One difference between Hammer's Dracula and Bram Stoker's novel is the fact that Harker is no longer an unsuspecting innocent; he is a knowledgeable vampire-hunter. Unfortunately for him, this does not mean he is able to destroy the Count. Harker's failure to do this points to the work done by Hammer to connect the piece with the social realities of Britain in the 1950s. Despite Harker's knowledge, Dracula gets the better of him. What we are essentially seeing in this is the theme of weakened masculinity being carried across by Hammer from Bram Stoker's novel. The oedipal quality of Harker's death underlines the way in which the film presents masculinity as arrested in a weakened state. Arthur Holmwood proves similarly ineffectual against the Count in Hammer's Dracula. At first Holmwood is a Hammer unbeliever, who needs to be brought to terms with the reality defined by the film. Significantly his marriage with Mina is childless. His impotency is further stressed by his helplessness in the face of Dracula's vampiric victimisation of his sister Lucy and by his reaction to her death (clutching his chest). Interestingly it is Arthur himself who destroys Lucy in Bram Stoker's novel, whereas Van Helsing has to do it for him in the Hammer film.
In both Bram Stoker's novel and Hammer's film, Van Helsing and the Count exist on the edge of a world characterised by masculine weakness. Both versions of the Count are seen to prey on this weak world and particularly on its women. That Mina and Lucy are willing victims in the film demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the male hold over them and implies that there is an unprecedented acknowledgement of female desire taking place (witness the scene where Lucy waits longingly for the Count). However, Dracula is not liberating the women, but merely placing them into a different power hierarchy in which they are subservient to him. The same is true in Stoker's novel, as the Count's dominance over the three female vampires in his castle illustrates:
"With a fierce sweep of his arm, he hurled the woman from him, and then motioned to the others, as though he were beating them back; it was the same imperious gesture that I had seen used to the wolves." ['Dracula', p.53]
In Hammer's Dracula, the Count's attacks and Van Helsing's defence take place against a background of masculine weakness. This suggests a possible link with the shift in the understanding of gender that was occurring in the 1950s. The growth of consumerism in the 1950s was often viewed as a feminising process which threatened masculine identity. At the same time the two social positions available to women - that of housewife and that of working woman - were becoming contradictory as many women began filling both. This contradiction registers in Hammer's Dracula in the uneasiness of the females within the bourgeois household (which can also be viewed as representative of male anxiety over the female movement away from traditional social roles). Both Dracula and Van Helsing in the film guarantee a system of male power which is elsewhere seen as weakened - for example in the fact that Arthur Holmwood, who is head of the Holmwood house, cannot keep its women from wandering. Hammer's Count Dracula aims to restore male authority over the women by taking it out of the hands of ineffectual men and establishing himself as sole patriarch. Hammer's Van Helsing on the other hand, attempts to protect the weak men, without actually doing anything to strengthen them. The Count is defeated at the end of the film, but the situation which gave rise to him remains the same. Arthur's minimal role in defeating Dracula is a clear example of this and as a result, his reunion with Mina at the end of the film can be seen as provisional at best.
As far back as 1929, critics like Ernest Jones were suggesting that Bram Stoker's Dracula has links to Freud's ideas about the Oedipal Complex. More specifically, it is possible to see the novel as describing a child's love for a mother figure (Mina) and hatred for a father figure (Dracula). One of the most striking cases of oedipal suggestion in the book occurs when Doctor Seward and his vampire-hunting associates interrupt Mina drinking blood from a cut in the Count's chest. The scene is read by critics like Philip Martin as being representative of a child (Seward) stumbling upon its parents having sex. They cite their evidence for this as being in Seward's two contradictory descriptions of the episode. In his first description, Seward says of the Count's position in relation to Mina,
"With his left hand he held both of Mrs. Harker's hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom." ['Dracula', p.336]
Later on however, he describes the same scene in the following terms:
"It interested me, even at that moment, to see that whilst the face of white set passion, worked convulsively over the bowed head, the hands tenderly and lovingly stroked the ruffled hair." ['Dracula', p.339]
The contradiction in Seward's two descriptions is supposed by Martin to be the result of a confusion similar to that which a child feels over seeing his parents engaged in intercourse; an act which has the father seemingly hurting the mother at the same time as loving her.
Interestingly, although Hammer’s Dracula reduced Bram Stoker's story to the bare bones, the oedipal connotations were retained. Harker's death in the film is one of the most obvious of its oedipal sequences. It is as if Harker has been found in the bedroom of his mother by his father. Seen in this light, the dropping of the stake by Harker becomes a symbolic castration before the father's (Dracula's) accusing glare. As in Bram Stoker's novel, both the Count and Van Helsing are authority figures and symbolic fathers in Hammer's Dracula. The existence of two fathers in the film means that the vampire-hunters are allowed to kill and obey the father at the same time. In the earlier film version of Dracula made by Universal, the Count was isolated from the rest of society and Van Helsing's role was down-played; in Hammer's version, as in Bram Stoker's novel, the two figures embody the same male authority and their conflict arises from the use to which their powers are put. Van Helsing's authority in the Hammer film is stressed by the way he dominates the scenes he is in. The same dominance is afforded the Count. Both the Count's and Van Helsing's authority in the film have sexual connotations, since they are the only accomplished penetrators of the female body (Dracula with his teeth and Van Helsing with his stakes).
It is intriguing to note how recurrent the need is for a father figure to balance the paternal vampire in modern vampire film and fiction. In Stephen King's Salem's Lot the relationship between the two main vampire hunters - Ben and Mark - is clearly depicted in terms of a father/son relationship, with Ben helping his adolescent friend to become an effective warrior in the fight against vampires. Interestingly, Ken Gelder suggests that there is another father figure in Salem's Lot - the medium of popular fiction itself. It is certainly true that all the knowledge in the novel comes either from classical popular fiction or else from influential literature, both of which the young are shown to be able to inherit.
Another important aspect of Bram Stoker's Dracula that has been absorbed by modern vampire literature and film is the presence of homoeroticism. Of course, Stoker was not the first author to include suggestions of homosexuality in his vampire fiction. J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla has quite obvious lesbian connotations, whilst Polidori's The Vampyre deals with a young man's attraction to an older man. One striking suggestion of a homosexual undercurrent in Dracula is when the Count prevents his three female vampire companions from feeding on Harker. The passage runs as follows,
" 'This man belongs to me! Beware how you meddle with him, or you'll have to deal with me.' The fair girl, with a laugh of ribald coquetry, turned to answer him:-'You yourself never loved; you never love!' On this the other women joined, and... a mirthless, hard, soulless laughter rang through the room... Then the Count turned, after looking at my face attentively, and said in a soft whisper:-'Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so?' " ['Dracula', p.53]
The vampire woman's exclamation that the Count has never loved suggests that the Count does not need her or her comrades. the Count has just admitted that he needs Harker, however. Taken together, these two things seem to indicate that the Count is homosexual. The women laugh at the accusation they make, but Dracula speaks softly and fixes his attention firmly on Harker in a way that seems suggestive of sexual desire. Critics like Thomas Byers suggest that Dracula is not the only one who exhibits homosexual tendencies in the novel. Byers would have it that Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, Quincey Morris and Arthur Godalming are bound together by similar feelings, though they cannot properly identify them or act upon them. Craft seems to agree with Byers, suggesting that the good men in the novel are bonded to one another in a series of erotic triangles, each of which includes a woman, who acts as a channel for their homosexual desires. Lucy's suitors for example, bond together by donating their blood to Lucy. In this context, the temporary expulsion of Mina from the group of vampire hunters can be seen as a necessary step in order that the men can homosocially stabilise themselves. Homoerotic desire cannot be represented directly in Dracula, but it seems likely that it is there.
Anne Rice is one modern author who has built upon some of the homoerotic desires found in Bram Stoker's Dracula. As I have already mentioned, Louis' initial transformation into a vampire in Interview with the Vampire reads very much like a homosexual love scene, with he and Lestat unashamedly mingling fluids.
Louis makes the connection between becoming a vampire and having intercourse even more explicit when he says,
"I can't tell you exactly, anymore than I could tell you exactly what is the experience of sex if you have never had it." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.18]
Rice is careful to paint the characters of Louis and Lestat in very different terms. Louis is sensitive and effeminate, whilst Lestat is aggressive and masculine. The suggestion of a homosexual relationship between Louis and Lestat means we read Claudia's questions about how she was made, as actually referring to how she was made by two men. Louis and Lestat are a demonic gay couple who compete with each other for the attentions of their daughter. The arrival of Claudia adds the dimension of heterosexual paedophilia to the homosexual relationship between Louis and Lestat. The description of Claudia sleeping in the same coffin as Louis in particular calls to mind a sexual relationship between the two:
"At dawn she lay with me, her heart beating against my heart, and many times when I looked at her...I thought of that singular experience I'd had with her and no other." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.112]
Interestingly we also find suggestions of paedophilia in Bram Stoker's Dracula. As Anne Cranny-Francis points out, the blood-sucking/intercourse connection in the book forces us to view the three vampire women in Dracula's castle as child molesters, since they eagerly feed on the baby the Count provides them with. The episode with the "bloofer lady" later on in the novel, where we see Lucy luring children away from Hampstead Heath, seems to confirm this interpretation:
"During the past two or three days several cases have occurred of young children straying from home or neglecting to return from their playing on the Heath. In all these cases the children were too young to give any properly intelligible account of themselves, but the consensus of their excuses is that they have been with a 'bloofer lady'." ['Dracula', p.213]
To return to homosexuality in Interview with the Vampire however; in the second half of the novel, we see another erotic triangle forming, in which Armand and Lestat compete for Louis. Louis clearly expresses a desire that borders on the homoerotic when he says,
"I could see the mortal boy again as if he were not asleep on the bed but kneeling at Armand's side with his arms around Armand's neck. It was an icon for me of love. The love I felt." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.275]
Another place the subject of homosexuality crops up is in Joel Schumacher's film, The Lost Boys. In The Lost Boys, the lure of vampirism is fairly obviously equated with the lure of homosexuality. When David asks Michael how far he is willing to go, he is emphasising this link. Once again there is a clear erotic triangle established; this involves Michael and David competing for Star, and David and Star competing for Michael. David sleeps away from Star, so his interest in her seems non-sexual, unlike his interest in Michael. In direct contrast to the homoeroticism of Interview with the Vampire and The Lost Boys, Stephen King's Salem's Lot seems to border on the homophobic. We see this especially coming out in Ben's discussion with Matt about how the townspeople might think they are homosexual. King gets rid of his vampire before he can upset the sexuality of the heroes; he also has Matt die before he can become too intimate with Ben.
Another way Bram Stoker's Dracula has influenced the popular view of vampires and sex is in its presentation of women and female sexuality. Feminist critics like Anne Cranny-Francis and Carol A. Senf, have written extensively on the way women are both liberated and trapped in the novel. Lucy's letters to Mina reveal her promiscuity and suggest that when she becomes a vampire, she is merely finding the means to live out desires she already had:
"I couldn't help feeling a sort of exultation that he was number two in one day... Why can't they let a girl marry three men; or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?" ['Dracula', pp.75-76]
Taking this a step further, it is possible to see the destruction of Lucy as the result of the patriarchy's need to subdue women who don't conform to the sexual roles assigned to them. Lucy is a character who deviates from what the other characters consider to be the norm, so she has to be saved/destroyed. When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, he demonstrated the expedience of using horror fiction to explore female sexuality and the constraints placed upon it. Numerous authors have followed suit. One striking example is William Blatty, who considers these themes in his book, The Exorcist. The Exorcist transgressed a taboo of the time by concerning itself with a woman who masturbated and enjoyed it, because she was possessed by the devil. The girl - Regan - becomes a compulsive masturbator, as the following sequence shows:
"She pulled up her nightgown, exposing her genitals.'Fuck me! Fuck me!' she screamed at the doctors, and with both her hands began masturbating frantically." ['The Exorcist', p.128]
This scene is just one example of Regan's complete contempt for decent behaviour. She urinates and defecates in front of others, she forces her mother's face into her genitals, she masturbates with a crucifix and she vomits on priests. There is an obvious displacement by association in the film, since all these latter acts indicate a loss of control. The suggestion is that Regan must be possessed, because nobody in their right mind would do these things. She is seen to have deviated from the sexual norm and so to be in need of curing. It is up to the exorcist to rid her of her demon. Just as in Dracula, therefore, the patriarchy is seen to have to step in to subdue the female deviant.
"the stranger from another time, the barbarian who speaks an incomprehensible language and follows 'outlandish' customs... the avenger of some oppressed class or race... these are some of the archetypal figures of the Other, about whom the essential point to be made is not so much that he is feared because he is alien; rather he is evil because he is... unfamiliar." 10
So runs Fredric Jameson's definition of the Other, a concept that seems to inspire the popular imagination with a morbid fascination. The importance of Otherness to Bram Stoker's Dracula is fairly obvious. There are any number of deviations that alienate the Count from the other main characters in the novel. In the first instance, he is of another race and represents the East encroaching on the West. Sadly this kind of racist subtext is very prevalent in Dracula. Another striking example is Lucy's comment to Mina about Quincey, when she echoes Desdemona from Shakespeare's Othello:
"an American from Texas, and he looks so young and fresh that it seems almost impossible that he has been so many places and has had such adventures. I sympathise with Desdemona, when she had such a dangerous stream poured in her ear, even by a black man." Dracula, p.74]
Of course, Quincey is one of the heroes of the novel, which seems at first to go against the idea that it is racist, but it is important to note that the American is persistently shown to be inferior to his English comrades. He is rejected by Lucy in favour of a true Englishman and is disposed of at the climax in a way that Clive Leatherdale suggests illustrates the innate nationalism of the novel:
"the vulgar Texan is expunged so that the superior English are no longer reminded of America's growing power." 11
Dracula is also racist in its depiction of the Count's gypsy underlings. They are shown to be especially despicable in their refusal to help Harker:
“They looked up at me stupidly, and pointed, but just then the 'hetman' of the Szgany came out, and seeing them pointing to me in the window, said something, at which they laughed. Henceforth no effort of mine, no piteous cry or agonized entreaty, would make them even look at me. They resolutely turned away... the Slovaks were given some money by the Szgany, and spitting on it for luck, lazily went each to his horse's head." ['Dracula', p.58]
The suggestion is that so long as the gypsies get paid, they will not pry too closely into the Count's business. As I have already mentioned, however, the most obviously racist depiction of character is in the Count himself, who is portrayed as a foreigner attempting to invade the West. From the very first time we meet the Count we are made to appreciate that his roots lie firmly in the East. The connection that he alludes to between himself and Attila the Hun clearly illustrates this:
"What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?" ['Dracula', p.41]
Dracula's foreign routes are stressed throughout the novel. He is himself all too aware of them, as he points out to Harker:
"Well I know that, did I move and speak in your London, none there are who would not know me for a stranger." ['Dracula', p.31]
We are even told that the Count smells, a common racist misconception about foreigners. The racism with regards to the Count is manifold. Ken Gelder suggests that the description we are given of Count Dracula in London presents him in a way that calls to mind stereotypical descriptions of Jews, making the novel anti-Semitic. The descriptive passage Ken Gelder cites as evidence for this claim runs as follows:
"he gazed at a tall, thin man, with a beaky nose and black moustache and pointed beard," ['Dracula', p.207]
Further evidence for drawing parallels between the Count and racist interpretations of Jewishness lies in the way he hoards money. The Count has treasure buried all around his homeland - carefully marked out for reference. At one point in the novel, Harker stumbles across a horde of money and jewels in one room of the Count's own castle:
The only thing I found was a great heap of gold in one corner - gold of all kinds, Roman, and British, and Austrian, and Hungarian, and Greek and Turkish money... There were also chains and ornaments, some jewelled. ['Dracula', p.62]
In the light of all this, it seems undeniable that Dracula is a racist text, which asserts the authority of England over the rest of the world and calls for constant diligence against foreign invasion. What we essentially see is a kind of ethnic cleansing taking place, as the West is won back from the East. The heroes are seen to have to rid their country of the invading foreigner in order to safeguard themselves. This kind of racist undertone was to become a common feature in popular horror fiction following the publication of Dracula. It is only in recent years that there has been a change for the better, with authors having to conform to much more stringent regulations. One example of a glaringly racist author is Dennis Wheatley, who had a prolific literary output during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. As anyone familiar with Wheatley's work will tell you, his books have not aged particularly well and reek of the British ideology of their day. Wheatley essentially comes across as a man who is writing for the white middle-class. Society at the time was racist and Wheatley clearly reflects this. One way in which we see Wheatley's racism is in his depiction of his villains, who can hardly fail to call to mind the Russian, German and Chinese megalomaniacs made famous by the early James Bond films. Wheatley's villains are devilish figures and normally foreign. The connection between evil and abroad is made especially apparent in The Satanist. The description of the disciples of the satanic temple for example, runs as follows:
"among the women there was an enormously fat Negress, and a young Chinese girl; among the men, two Negroes, one of whom had white hair, an Indian and two who looked like Japanese." ['The Satanist', p.92]
Within Wheatley's work there is usually a good-hearted heroine or hero, who is misled by a seductive foreigner with evil powers. The similarities between this formula and the formula we find in Dracula are obvious. After all the Count is an evil foreigner who seduces virtuous heroines to darkness, just like one of Wheatley's villains. As in Dracula, the heroes and heroines in Wheatley's novels have to be guided back to the path of righteousness by a virtuous associate:
"The early stages of her investigation had held for her only a spice of danger sufficient to intrigue, and her first successes with Ratnadatta had strengthened her resolution to ignore the warnings she had been given - until Barney had extracted a promise from her that she would have nothing more to do with the Satanists." ['The Satanist', p.389]
At the heart of Wheatley's work lies a very definite idea of what is right - or British - and what is wrong. Like Bram Stoker before him, Wheatley considers the forms of decadence and questions what it actually means to be British. The following comment, made by David Punter in relation to gothic novels and their concern with decadence, seems equally applicable to Wheatley's work:
"they each pose, from very different angles, the same question, which can readily be seen as a question appropriate to an age of imperial decline: how much, they ask, can one lose... and still remain a man... to what extent can one be infected and still remain British?" 12
Wheatley's protagonists are strong, assured British people, who rescue infected beings and restore them to normality, their transgressions having been seen in terms of dabbling with infernal powers or being caught up in Satanism through no choice of their own.
As I have already asserted, the villains in Wheatley's books are often similar to those in the early James Bond films. It is interesting to consider therefore, the ways in which James Bond's enemies resemble Count Dracula. After all, the villains in James Bond films are frequently megalomaniac Easterners, attempting to invade the West and take over by virtue of their capital, just like the Count.
It is tempting to assume that more recent popular fiction and film is wholly free of racist undertones, but there are traces of it to be found, even in the books of an author as contemporary as James Herbert. In The Rats, for example, the menace is clearly suggestive of a foreign invasion, since the rats are in fact a mutated tropical strain, introduced to England by one Professor Schiller. The professor has come to England to conclude his experiments. The symbolics of the rats as foreign are pre-figured in a day-trip that Harris makes to Stratford:
"many of the old streets had managed to retain their old charm, after all, but it was the throngs of people, the multi-racial accents that destroyed any hope of atmosphere." ['The Rats', p.66]
Herbert is clearly complaining about the violation of a cohesive local-national identity. The implications of the extract with regards to ethnic minorities are self-explanatory, although they remain undeveloped.
Of course, race is not the only the thing that casts Count Dracula in the role of outsider. As a character he is alienated from everything around him. He is a nightmarish parody of a man, and as such, he belongs outside the human race. When the Count confides his yearning to walk the streets of London therefore, he is probably expressing more than just a need to find new victims:
"I long to go through the crowded streets of your mighty London, to be in the midst of the whirl and rush of humanity, to share its life, its change, its death, and all that makes it what it is." ['Dracula', p.31]
What the Count seems to be alluding to is a very real sense of isolation. To quote Clive Leatherdale,
"the Count is lonely, he has no more armies to command; no children to rear; he can no longer love; and his castle is surrounded by a wasteland." 13
Dracula's loneliness is in stark contrast to the unity of his pursuers, who would willingly die for one another. Royce MacGillivray suggests that the Count is tired of his solitary existence and embarks on his quest in the hope that he will finally be laid to rest. MacGillvray's evidence for this is that he can think of no other explanation for how such a skilled campaigner as the Count could be defeated by such pitiful adversaries.
The friendships shared between the Count's enemies and the interaction that takes place between them make them a group we can readily identify with. It is this that makes the Count's intrusion so horrifying. We are seeing a situation we recognise being invaded by a creature wholly unfamiliar to us. Time and again this sense of intrusion is emulated in modern popular culture. In Ridley Scott's Alien for example, we see a group of people with whom we can easily identify, having to fight for their lives against a creature that is vastly different from anything we ourselves have had experience of. The introduction of the alien fractures the group, because of the irrationality of some of its members, making the situation all the more horrifying.
Count Dracula's Otherness comes across distinctly in his social position. Unlike the majority of his opponents, the Count is an aristocrat; thereby implying that the Victorian middle-class was a more desirable group of people than the Victorian upper-class. Interestingly, all the film adaptations of Dracula have retained the Count's aristocratic status. The only other aristocrat in Dracula is Lord Godalming, who achieves very little besides proposing marriage to Lucy, who is a commoner. By marrying into the middle-class, Lord Godalming lowers himself to the level of his associates. Johnathan Harker and Mina are obvious examples of the way Dracula celebrates the middle-class at the expense of the aristocracy. They are upwardly mobile people, who prove instrumental in the battle against the Count. Harker begins the novel as a solicitor's clerk, but ends up with his own law firm. He and Mina are also responsible for providing a medium by which the battle against the Count can be remembered in the twentieth century:
"We want no proofs; we ask none to believe us! This boy will someday know what a brave and gallant woman his mother is... he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake. ['Dracula', p.449]
The superiority of the middle-class in Dracula is emphasised by the narrative structure. The story is told almost exclusively from a middle-class standpoint by three working professionals - Harker, who is a solicitor, Mina, who is a teacher, and Seward, who is a doctor. Stoker disposes of the upper-middle-class Lucy early on in the novel and deprives Lord Godalming of the opportunity to express his views. Lord Godalming's main role in the book is to provide his companions with the benefits of his money and position. Whenever the Count's opponents wish to break the law or enjoy special privileges, Lord Godalming provides them with the means of doing so, as we see in the following instance:
"Lord Godalming went to the Vice-Consul, as his rank might serve as an immediate guarantee of some sort to the official, we being in extreme hurry." ['Dracula', p.412]
Although other vampire novels like J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla featured an aristocratic vampire, it was Bram Stoker's novel that solidified the link between vampirism and the upper class. It is a link that has been exploited mercilessly in modern popular fiction. In Interview with the Vampire for example, the vampires are intimately acquainted with high culture and have distinctly aristocratic tastes. This is especially true of Lestat, who wears fine clothes and lives life to the full:
"he wasn't opposed to anything which smacked of style and excess. He loved the great figure we cut, the three of us in our box at the New French Opera House or the Theatre d'Orleans, to which we went as often as possible, Lestat having a passion for Shakespeare." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.110]
Another aristocratic trait exhibited by Rice's vampires is their familiarity with fine art. Louis' descriptions of the paintings in the Louvre in Interview with the Vampire demonstrate the abundance of time he has had to contemplate them and to change his opinions about them:
"Before, all art had held for me the promise of a deeper understanding of the human heart. Now the human heart meant nothing... The magnificent paintings of the Louvre were not for me intimately connected with the hands that had painted them." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.344]
In Interview with the Vampire, the vampires are portrayed as having acquired a sense of culture and as being as idle as decadent aristocrats. None of the vampires work; their mission in life is to explore their origins and purpose:
"It was her idea that we must go first to central Europe, where the vampire seemed most prevalent. She was certain we would find something there that would instruct us, explain our origins." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.164]
Another book which casts its vampire protagonist in the role of aristocrat is Stephen King's Salem's Lot. The noble upbringing of King's vampire is just one of many ways in which he is similar to Dracula. Like the Count, the vampire in Salem's Lot is a foreigner of noble breeding, who introduces the threat of vampirism into a seemingly secure environment.
Dracula's Otherness in Bram Stoker's novel means that he must be destroyed. It is interesting to note, however, the ways in which the distinctions between the Self and the Other are collapsed. For a start there is the identity conflict that occurs between the Count and Harker, as we see in the following instance, when a woman from the village proves unable to tell the two apart:
"When she saw my face at the window she threw herself forward, and shouted in a voice laden with menace:- 'Monster, give me my child!' " ['Dracula', p.60]
The distinctions made between the Self and the Other are further questioned by the way the Count's opponents are seen to duplicate him as well as pursue him. In driving Dracula out of the West, they increasingly abandon rationality. Superstition takes precedence over reason, even in Van Helsing, the man of science:
"Van Helsing sprang forward and held between them his little golden crucifix." ['Dracula', p.254]
On top of this, there is the fact that the vast majority of the crimes in the novel are perpetrated not by the Count, but by his opponents. They play his own game in order to survive, never stopping to reflect on their actions. Dracula, in the words of Carol A. Senf,
"is tried, convicted and sentenced by men... who give him no opportunity to explain his actions and who repeatedly violate the laws they profess to be defending." 14
It has become fairly common for popular culture to explore the boundaries between the Self and the Other. An early cinematic example is The Creature from the Black Lagoon, which concerns a being who lives outside of society's definitions of normality, but who is presented in an almost sympathetic manner.
He is never violent towards the heroine, Kay, and as a result their relationship plays like a tragic romance. Unlike the other males in the film, the creature seems to want to love Kay rather than dominate her. As for Kay, she is fascinated by the creature and seeks to defend him. Kay and the creature recognise something in one another. When Kay is swimming in the lagoon, the creature mirrors her movements as though he identifies with her. In addition to this, the creature has a childlike quality which makes him seem pre-pubescent. The death of the creature comes across more as the loss of an alternative form of existence than the destruction of a threatening influence, especially when we are shown Kay's profound sorrow.
In Richard Matheson's novel, I am Legend, we see an interesting reversal of the Otherness theme in Dracula. This time the world is populated by vampires and it is a human being who is the outsider. We are distanced from the human, Neville, and so we can objectively isolate his limitations. Neville is a man who cannot imagine other states of being. Not only does he refuse to obey burial laws designed to stop the spread of vampirism, but he fails to leave the vampire-infested city for safer surroundings:
"I almost went several times... But I couldn't, I couldn't go. I was too used to the... house." ['I am Legend', p.14]
Instead of leaving, Neville starts hunting down and destroying vampires. We are clearly shown that this makes him a monster in the eyes of the vampires. As a result we are forced to the conclusion that evil is relative to social surroundings. The vampires appear monstrous to Neville because they threaten his world and Neville appears monstrous to the vampires because he threatens theirs'. Neville only realises this when he dies and humans becomes a legendary threat to vampires, just as vampires once were to humans.
"the ingenious Bram Stoker... created many starkly horrific conceptions in a series of novels whose poor technique sadly impairs their effect... best of all is the famous Dracula, which has become almost the standard modern exploitation of the frightful vampire myth." 15
As H.P. Lovecraft notes in the above extract, Bram Stoker's Dracula is responsible for much of the modern interest in vampires. It is ironic that Jack the Ripper - who was still at large when Dracula came out - should have been consigned to the world of folklore, whilst Bram Stoker's fictional Count is thought by many to have been a bona fide vampire. When you think about it, the very idea of vampires borders on the absurd. Ghosts and even werewolves seem relatively rational compared to the idea of the dead rising from the grave to drink the blood of the living. Yet stories about vampires have been with us since the beginning of time, as Van Helsing informs us in Dracula:
"let me tell you, he is known everywhere that men have been. In old Greece, in old Rome; he flourish in Germany all over, in France, in India, even in Chersonese; and in China, so far from us in all ways, there even is he, and the peoples fear him at this day." ['Dracula', pp.285-286]
Bram Stoker clearly drew upon traditional vampire lore for his novel, but as Royce MacGillivray has pointed out,
"Anyone who compares Stoker's portrait of Dracula with the lore that Montague Summers has collected in his two volumes on vampires will find that Dracula, a polished and eloquent gentleman as well as a wily antagonist, is untypical." 16
Traditionally vampires were squalid and bestial; quite unlike the aristocratic figure of Dracula. The Count is an attractive and seductive character; an innovative blend of sex and the supernatural that would be exploited mercilessly in the years that followed. As Mark Jankovitch has pointed out, Hammer were especially good at it, frequently portraying evil as sexually attractive in their films.
This is especially obvious in Christopher Lee's portrayal of Count Dracula - which oozes with a sense of intense sexual magnetism - but there are numerous other examples; such as Peter Cushing's portrayal of Victor Frankenstein as a figure we feel we can understand and empathise with. The destruction of the attacks on morality in Hammer films is ultimately shown as necessary, but the attacks themselves are still exciting and appealing. The fact of the matter is that despite the morality of Hammer's films, they are usually remembered for their monsters, not the morality of their heroes (even Cushing's Van Helsing is secondary to Lee's Dracula).
So what exactly is it that makes Count Dracula such an appealing character? Christopher Lee is perhaps in a better position than anybody to answer that question. This is what he has to say on the subject:
"He offers the illusion of immortality... the subconscious wish we all have of limitless power... he is either a reincarnation or he has never died. He is a superhuman image, with erotic appeal for women... In many ways he is everything people would like to be - the anti-hero, the heroic villain." 17
As Lee rightly says, one of the things that makes the character of the Count so appealing is that he is immortal. Clive Leatherdale suggests that even at the end of Bram Stoker's Dracula we cannot be sure that the Count is really dead, since the description of his demise is very ambiguous, especially when set against the spectacular demise of Lucy Westernra. It reads as follows:
"before our very eyes, and almost in the drawing of a breath, the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight. ['Dracula', p.447]
We know that Dracula can turn into dust, since Van Helsing has already informed us of the fact earlier on in the book:
"He come on moonlight rays as elemental dust - as again Johnathan saw those sisters in the castle of Dracula." ['Dracula', p.286]
Leatherdale speculates whether it might not be possible that Dracula turned into dust and escaped destruction. The description is certainly inconclusive. In addition to this, his heart was pierced by a knife instead of the requisite stake. Several film adaptations have played on the possibility of the Count escaping destruction. One notable example is John Badham's 1971 version, which has the Count float away at the end. The suggestion made by the film is that the Count will eventually return to reclaim Mina, who has decided that a passionate lover who will live forever is infinitely preferable to a mere mortal.
One of the main themes addressed by Bram Stoker's Dracula is humanity's fear of things that cannot be explained scientifically or rationally. It was written at a paradoxical time, when there were still people in the world who insisted on placing their faith in magic, despite the wondrous scientific achievements taking place around them. This is reflected in the book, which not only explores the conflict between the forces of good and evil, but also the conflict between technology and superstition. It has become a metaphor for a modern crisis. Dracula - the vampire leader - is a supernatural figure, but he is also a Renaissance nobleman who pits himself against representatives of modern law and medicine, who fight him with the latest technology. Dr. Seward's phonograph is one piece of up to date technology that the Count's enemies have at their disposal, as Mina reveals in the extract below:
"on the table opposite him was what I knew at once from the description to be a phonograph. I had never seen one, and was much interested." ['Dracula', p.263]
The Count's opponents (with the exception of Van Helsing) have a burning desire to dispel all forms of illusion. One sees this in the numerous references that are made to the medical advances of the time. One such reference is Dr. Seward's work on the dynamics of the unconscious, which was, as John L. Greenway has remarked, a relatively new field at the time:
"There is a method in his madness, and the rudimentary idea in my mind is growing. It will be a whole idea soon, and then, oh unconscious cerebration! you will have to give the wall to your conscious brother. ['Dracula', p.88]
The invasion of the Count brings with it the suggestion that the characters in the book are pompous for presuming they can explain and control everything, as there are mysteries in this world that mankind cannot ever fully grasp. Van Helsing remarks on the need for science to explain everything in the following passage:
"Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new beliefs, which think themselves new; and which are yet but the old," ['Dracula', p.229]
The Count is eventually defeated with the weapons of ritual not science. The importance of the Host for example, is stressed throughout, as the following passage demonstrates:
"I seized some of the firewood which was by me, and holding out some of the Wafer, advanced on them towards the fire. They drew back before me... They could not approach me, whilst so armed," ['Dracula', p.436]
In the years following the publication of Dracula, it became relatively common for writers to offer discourse on the hidden fears entertained by humanity and to call for a return to ritual as the only effective means of fighting them. Dennis Wheatley is a classic example of this. Like Bram Stoker, Wheatley uses religion as a direct force for good. Horror fiction by its very nature is largely about human apprehension. It caters to a very specific need. In bygone times, when religion held the world in its sway, the supernatural went hand in hand with the natural, but when religion entered a decline, people wanted their apprehensions explained. Neither a floundering religion nor a progressive science could wholly oblige them, so the fears ensconced themselves in the deepest recesses of the human mind, later emerging in the form of horror fiction. Stoker, Wheatley and other writers like them are essentially providing a safety valve for the unspeakable fears.
In a typical Wheatley novel, an evil presence is introduced into a rational environment and religion is cited as the only means of fighting it. The ritual and magical elements are reasserted, with crucifixes, miniature holy grails and the Lord's Prayer. The following extract demonstrates the power of religion in Wheatley's fiction:
"Pulling the crucifix from her bag, she threw it with all her force at his face. It hit him on the chin. As it struck him there came a blinding flash. He uttered a piercing shriek and fell backwards against the altar... For an instant the chapel and the ruins outside it were as bright as though lit by brilliant sunshine. Next second all other sounds were drowned in a crash of thunder. The floor of the chapel rocked, a part of the roof fell in." ['The Satanist', pp.407-408]
In order for a supernatural creature like the vampire to come across as a real threat, it must first be set against a background of superstitious folklore and rumours, as we see occurring in Dracula. Before Bram Stoker ever introduces us to the Count, he presents us with an assortment of superstitious country folk:
"When we started, the crowd round the inn door, which had by this time swelled to a considerable size, all made the sign of the cross and pointed two fingers towards me. With some difficulty I got a fellow-passenger to tell me what they meant... it was a charm or guard against the evil eye. ['Dracula', p.15]
A context of belief is thus established within the novel, though it is kept at a distance through the presentation of the people that champion it, who are excitable and prone to exaggeration:
" 'Do you not know that to-night, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going to, and what you are going to?' She... went down on her knees and implored me not to go." ['Dracula', p.13]
It is important to note however, that as the novel progresses, the peasants are shown to be justified in their fear of the Count. When Harker is first given the crucifix on his way to the Count's castle, he dismisses it as an idolatrous trinket; later on his forced to acknowledge its power:
"Bless that good, good woman who hung the crucifix round my neck! for it is a comfort and a strength to me whenever I touch it. It is odd that a thing which I have been taught to regard... as idolatrous should in a time of loneliness and trouble be of help." ['Dracula', p.40]
Van Helsing is the only educated man who believes instinctively in the reality of vampires. He is forced to operate against a background of peasant superstition. It is up to him, as a scientist, to act as a mediator between superstition and rationality. The same Van Helsing is equally at home in both of these worlds. He is a rational man, but he is given to hysterical outbursts:
"He raised his hands over his head in a sort of mute despair, and then beat his palms together in a helpless way; finally he sat down on a chair, and putting his hands before his face, began to sob, with loud, dry sobs" ['Dracula', pp.162-163]
As a scientist Van Helsing might be expected to disprove the existence of vampires; instead he helps ensure his comrades accept that they are a reality.
It is not uncommon to find modern writers and film-makers blending the contrasting worlds of rationality and superstition in a similar way. In Stephen King's Salem's Lot for example, we are shown a small community that is vulnerable to vampires because of its isolation from the rest of the world. The town must be defended by people with a knowledge of folklore or popular culture. The isolation of Salem's Lot is discussed in the following extract from the book:
"the Lot's knowledge of the country's torment was academic. Time went on schedule here. Nothing too nasty could happen in such a nice little town." ['Salem's Lot', p.33]
The town is cut off from reality, so it is able to maintain its illusions. It is also ripe to be disillusioned, though it is important to bear in mind that the town is shown to have an academic knowledge of the danger it is facing. The first hero, Matt, has a literary background and seems to have been created purely for the purpose of helping in the fight against vampires, who are after all, creatures out of literature:
"it was fitting when trouble came to him... it should come in this dreamlike, darkly fantastical form. A lifetime's existence had prepared him to deal in symbolic forms that sprang to light under the reading lamp." ['Salem's Lot', p.375]
The second hero, Ben, also has a literary background, which is complemented by his knowledge of popular fiction. His friendship with Matt is based on a mutual belief in something that is unbelievable, but which they know to be true:
" 'According to folklore...' Matt said suddenly. 'When the victim dies, the marks disappear.'
'I know that,' Ben said. He remembered it both from Stoker's 'Dracula' and from the Hammer films" ['Salem's Lot', p.186]
The third hero, Mark, is thoroughly obsessed with the horror depicted in low culture. He is shown to have an academic knowledge of vampires as a result of this. In fact, Mark's intimate knowledge of popular horror gives him an almost scientific understanding of how to fight and destroy vampires. In this way, he is similar to the Frog brothers in The Lost Boys, whose detailed knowledge of comics and the other mediums of popular culture enable them to mobilise against the vampires in the film.
The total immersion of the Frog brothers in popular horror connects knowledge with belief within The Lost Boys and suggests that the greater the body of knowledge one has, the more equipped one is to do battle with vampires. As I have already stated, in Bram Stoker's Dracula, Van Helsing has to operate as a mediator between science and superstition. No mediator is required in The Lost Boys, because the Frog brothers’ knowledge is shown to be scientific already.
The character of the Count in Bram Stoker's Dracula shares many of the characteristics exhibited by earlier literary vampires - his flesh is cold, he is repelled by Christian symbols and he casts no reflection - but a number of things distinguish him from his predecessors. One way in which the Count was unique at the time of his conception was his need to sleep in consecrated ground:
"their graves make sacred the earth where alone this foulness can dwell. For it is not the least of its terrors that this evil thing is rooted deep in all good; in soil barren of holy memories it cannot rest." ['Dracula', p.288]
This was an intriguing idea on Stoker's part, as according to folklore, vampires are unable to rest in consecrated ground. Perhaps it was designed to appear sacrilegious and so prejudice us even more against the Count. Whatever the reason, it seems to be something that is here to stay. Another way in which Dracula is different from earlier vampires is in his immunity to the sun (something that is usually ignored in movie adaptations of the book). The Count's power ceases at sunrise, but the sun does not kill him:
"His power ceases, as does that of all evil things, at the coming of the day. Only at certain times can he have limited freedom. If he be not at the place whither he is bound, he can only change himself at noon or at exact sunrise or sunset." ['Dracula', p.287]
Bram Stoker's movement away from traditional folklore gives Dracula a disillusionary feel; we expect certain rules to be adhered to, only to find that they are not. Many recent vampire novels have followed this trend and done away with some aspect of the traditional ideas about vampires. Folklore is now often used as a point of reference, either to be accepted or else to be adjusted or parodied. This is the certainly the case in Interview with the Vampire, which is full of examples of the traditional elements of vampire lore being manipulated. Crosses in Bram Stoker's Dracula have a magical influence over evil; in Interview with the Vampire, they are a source of reflection for the vampires and induce feelings of despair, frustration or amusement. At one point in the novel, Louis remembers his earlier experiences with Babette as a result of looking at a crucifix:
"I turned to see she'd ripped the crucifix from the beam over her head, and she had thrust it out towards me now. And out of the dark nightmare landscape of my memory I saw Babette gazing at me as she had so many years ago, saying those words, 'Get thee behind me, Satan.' " ['Interview with the Vampire', p.199]
Garlic in the book is similarly ineffectual against vampires. Anne Rice's attitude towards the religious weapons traditionally used for battling vampires probably stems from her desire to critique the catholic faith in her books. The characters in Interview with the Vampire are forced to put aside their catholic beliefs, as they struggle to maintain an ethical integrity against their apparently evil desires and against a world that has made them immortal outside the parameters of spiritual immortality. The vampires have to look inside themselves for the power to deliver them from despair, as Armand remarks in the following extract:
" 'This evil, this concept, it comes from disappointment, from bitterness... Children of Satan! Children of God! Is this the only question you bring to me, is this the only power that obsesses you so that you must make us gods and devils yourself when the only power that exists is inside ourselves?' " ['Interview with the Vampire', p.258]
The wooden stake is also disposed of in Interview with the Vampire, probably to ensure that the vampire's bite is the primary instrument of penetration.
Bram Stoker's Dracula features many of the elements traditionally associated with gothic novels like Matthew Lewis' The Monk and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. There is a mysterious castle at the centre of a mountainous wilderness, there are virtuous heroines, and there are an abundance of gothic ruins and graveyards. Dracula himself is more than just a gothic villain, however. He is both a human criminal and a supernatural devil, and he has magical powers that can't be explained away:
"He has the strength of many... He can transform himself to wolf... he can be as bat... He can come in mist," ['Dracula', p.286]
The Count champions superstition over rationality and calls for a return to spiritual awe. Essentially he shows his opponents that their disbelief in the supernatural is a mistake. In this way he has a disillusionary function. Of course, a character as complex as the Count has a great many other roles to play in the novel besides this. He is representative of a complete alternative to human identity, for example. The alternative that the Count represents might be horrific, but it is powerful nonetheless. Through Dracula, death is transformed from the end of all things into a monstrous gateway to a new kind of existence.
The complex folding together of illusion and disillusion that takes place in Bram Stoker's Dracula is something that has been emulated in much modern popular fiction and film. One good example of a writer who concerns herself with exploring illusion and disillusion is Anne Rice. Louis in Interview with the Vampire, for example, is a disillusioned catholic in stark contrast to his brother, who was completely under the spell of the church; because Louis does not believe in the ideas of his brother, he is allowed to experience the reality of vampires:
"I did not escape my brother for a moment... I thought of him constantly... I drank all the time and was at home as little as possible. I lived like a man who wanted to die... And then I was attacked. It might have been anyone... But it was a vampire." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.14]
His belief in vampires becomes for him a modern substitute for his lost religion. Louis has no illusions and is therefore able to believe in anything, even vampires as he later explains to Armand:
" 'you ask me how I could believe I would find a meaning in the supernatural! I tell you after seeing what I have become, I could damn well believe anything... And believing thus... I can now accept the most fantastical truth of all: that there is no meaning to any of this!' " ['Interview with the Vampire', p.259]
This is just one way in which Rice plays with the concepts of illusion and disillusion; there are numerous others. While searching for their origins, Claudia and Louis travel to Transylvania - this being the setting of many vampire legends - only to find themselves confronted by a mindless corpse and once again disillusioned:
"The two huge eyes bulged from naked eye sockets... only a putrid, leathery flesh enclosed his skull... I was battling a mindless animated corpse. But no more. We had met the European Vampire, the creature of the Old World." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.207]
Louis and Claudia travel to Paris and are led to the Théâtre des Vampires, where they see real vampires pretending to be actors portraying vampires. Instead of providing Louis and Claudia with the answers they crave, however, these vampires reveal that vampirism is merely a way of behaving. This is vampirism at its most disillusioned. The vampires at the Théâtre des Vampires,
"had made of immortality a conformist's club... And waste... that word, that value which had been all-important to me as a fledgling vampire, was spoken of often. You 'wasted' the opportunity to kill that child. You 'wasted' the opportunity to frighten that poor woman." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.266]
The novel allows the illusion of vampirism to flourish at a representative level. There is no meaning to being a vampire, but by collapsing together acting and being, vampires can make themselves real. This fact produces a new faith within the novel based on vampirism. The substitution of vampirism for religion is one notable element that links Interview with the Vampire to Bram Stoker's Dracula. The vampires in both books live a life that is very different from the lives of humans, simply because it does not centre around the search for spiritual immortality.
Evil in Bram Stoker's Dracula is closely allied to the concept of Otherness. As Fredric Jameson has remarked, evil tends to be characterised by the fact that it differs from the norm. It is the difference that defines the evil. Yet Count Dracula is not completely bad. He is a complex blend of different archetypes, some bad, some good. The Count is a murderer and a devil, but he is also a father and a rebel. Arguably the real horror of Dracula is the way the Count brings into consciousness discarded areas of experience, which seem to be not altogether undesirable. The Count is effectively a ghost of repressed desire, and more specifically, repressed female desire. Dracula's threat to the men in the novel is his ability to enthrall women, not any wish he might entertain to kill them. The Count sums up his intentions in the following extract:
"Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall be mine - my creatures, to do my bidding" ['Dracula', p.365]
The sexual nature of the Count's power reveals one of the problems inherent in perceiving him as a threat. The fact that he hypnotises his victims with his sexual magnetism, suggests that his attacks are not purely external - his victims must in some way unconsciously desire their own victimization. In addition to this, the vampire women do not seem displeased with their existence among the undead. Certainly the resistance put up by Lucy when Arthur is driving a stake through her heart is not suggestive of someone who is unhappy with life:
"The thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions; the sharp white teeth clamped together till the lips were cut ['Dracula', pp.258-259]
Dracula conveys a sense of erotic desire to its readers, but it also conveys a sense of fear about the consequences of the fulfillment of that desire. It is a book that seems to warn against blindly yielding to the wiles of sex.
According to Clive Leatherdale, it was a commonly held view during the Victorian period that crime was an intrinsic part of society and criminals were therefore suited to the society that gave rise to them. This implies that as the Count was the worst criminal imaginable, Victorian society must have been the worst society imaginable. What is interesting is that the Count's crimes are restricted to those relating to blood-drinking. In every other respect he is a model citizen who always ensures his business transactions are above board and goes out of his way to avoid drawing attention to himself. If we are to label the Count as a criminal, therefore, we must balance his crimes against the crimes committed by his opponents, who are shown to be perfectly happy to break the law in their pursuit of Dracula:
"under the circumstances it wouldn't seem so bad for us to break into an empty house... My title will make it all right with the locksmith, and with any policeman that may come along." ['Dracula', p.356]
The Count's opponents have no compunctions about destroying their undead enemies, even though it could be said that doing so amounts to murder. The vampires are destroyed outside the law, but as Van Helsing explains there is no need to fear prosecution, because the bodies dissolve into dust:
"The professor says that if we can so treat the Count's body, it will soon after fall into dust In such case there would be no evidence against us," ['Dracula', p.398]
In the Hammer film Dracula Prince of Darkness, we are given a number of veiled references to the criminality of killing vampires. For one thing, the staking scene is unnecessarily ferocious, thereby calling into question the righteousness of the authority figures responsible. To return to Bram Stoker's novel, however, there is a very clear moral message and it is this - that the Count is a monster who must be destroyed, because he transgresses moral norms.
Morality also features heavily in Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, though its message is somewhat different. We identify with the vampires in Interview with the Vampire, because they are no longer fundamentally removed from us. Instead they are representatives of the age they were made in, as Armand informs Louis in the following:
"This is the very spirit of your age... Everyone else feels as you feel. Your fall from grace and faith has been the fall of a century." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.310]
We can empathise with Anne Rice's vampires, so they are tolerable to us, even though they still transgress moral norms. Like Mina and Lucy in Dracula, their mobility turns them into outsiders; unlike Lucy and Mina, however, they are not set free by crusaders like Van Helsing. There is nobody to slay Rice's vampires in the name of morality, so they are left to ponder their existence and ask themselves troubling existential questions. The character of Louis in Interview with the Vampire is a prime example. He is forever inquiring into the nature of evil and agonizing over the connotations of his vampirism, as Armand points out to him:
"you die when you kill, as if you feel that you deserve to die, and you stint on nothing. But why, with this passion and this sense of justice, do you wish to call yourself the child of Satan!" ['Interview with the Vampire', p.254]
At first, Louis thinks being a vampire makes him evil; later on he realises that evil is a good deal more complicated than this. What he eventually decides is that it is not the things he has done that constitute the real evil, but the things he has not done:
"That passivity in me has been the core of it all, the real evil. That weakness, that refusal to compromise a fractured and stupid morality, that awful pride. For that, I let myself become the thing I am, when I knew it was wrong. For that, I let Claudia become the vampire she became, when I knew it was wrong. For that, I stood by and let her kill Lestat, when I knew that was wrong." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.332]
One of the reasons we are able to identify with vampires generally, and Anne Rice's vampires in particular, is that they represent our own power sexualized. We identify with the ability of the vampire to dominate, but we also identify with the person who is being dominated. As critics like Burton Hatlen point out, vampire fiction furnishes its readers with the opportunity to submit to the Other. The foreign Count in Dracula is a compelling force and Rice's vampires represent a bisexuality and homosexuality that has only recently been allowed the freedom to publically flourish. Domination and power are recurring themes in vampire fiction. In Dracula there is as obvious anxiety displayed on the part of the author about foreign invasion; in Interview with the Vampire the anxiety is primarily sexual.
As I have already suggested, modern fiction has started presenting vampires in a far more favourable light than they were presented in the past. One of the reasons for this is that there has been a decline in the influence of religion. The vampire appeals to us, at least partly, because of the fact that he has transgressed the barrier of death and so offers us an alternative way to achieve immortality to the way proposed by the church. Given that we live in a world where fewer and fewer people blindly accept the teachings of religion, it is comforting to think there is some way in which we can escape the uncertainty of death. In Dracula, immortality is described as a curse by Van Helsing:
"there comes with the change the curse of immortality; they cannot die, but must go on age after age adding new victims" ['Dracula', p.257]
The modern view of immortality is in stark contrast to this, as Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire demonstrates. In Interview with the Vampire, immortality is described as a gift, along with the rest of the traits of vampirism:
"I was gifted with eternal life, with heightened perception, and with the need to kill," ['Interview with the Vampire', p.308]
Another reason for the modern presentation of vampires as characters we can sympathise with is that writers have found in them a means of representing human grief - grief over the death of those we love and grief over the missed opportunities that a life as short as ours faces us with. Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire shortly after the death of her daughter and it is easy to read Louis' plaintive distress over the death of Claudia as expressive of her own resultant grief:
"What mattered was that I was more utterly alone in the world than I had ever been in my life. That Claudia was gone beyond reprieve. And I had less reason to live than I'd ever had, and less desire." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.339]
Interestingly, the final disillusionment in the novel concerns the question of vampiric immortality, since Louis is forced to accept there is an end to everything and everyone, even vampires:
"The magnificent paintings of the Louvre were not for me intimately connected with the hands that had painted them. They were cut loose and dead like children turned to stone. Like Claudia, severed from her mother, preserved for decades... like Claudia and Madeline and myself, they could all be reduced to ashes." ['Interview with the Vampire', p.344]
Unlike Rice's vampires, the character of the Count in Bram Stoker's Dracula is sublimely evil. Film adaptations have tended to adhere to this conception to a greater or lesser extent. One notable exception to this is Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, which supplants the novel's narrative with an insight into the tragic love of Vlad the Impaler. The male bonding between Van Helsing and his associates is played down in the film. Instead of ending with the necessary purging of the invading evil, the film concludes with Mina standing in for the Count's dead wife and delivering the blow that sets him free. Coppola's version of the story does not consistently present the Count as a sublime figure of evil. The Count does not come across as an antichrist, nor even a demon; instead we see a victim and a sentimental romantic hero. This is summed up by Fred Botting as follows:
"Dracula is less tyrannical and demonic, and more victim and sufferer" 18
The Count's evil is explained away by the film, as the result of the untimely death of his wife and his consequent grief. It is his hatred of God for depriving him of his love in such an unfair manner that leads him to become a vampire. Without anyone to love, the Count is left to prey upon humanity, until he meets Harker and discovers that the young lawyer's fiancé is the very image of his dead wife. As the film progresses, Mina increasingly assumes the identity of Dracula's dead wife. This new vision of the story turns it into a romance.
It does not affirm a set of values in a moment of sacrifice, but mourns a lost love. The Count is no longer wholly Other, and as a result, the film implies that a more humane approach to vampirism based on tolerance is preferable to the violent solution offered by Bram Stoker. Count Dracula's horror is compromised by the love theme in the film. In Bram Stoker's novel, there is an ambivalent link between sacrificial violence and diabolical play; the romanticism of Coppola's film has to a certain extent severed this link.
Of course, Francis Ford Coppola is not the first person to have deprived Count Dracula of some of his horror; what is Batman if not the Count cleansed of his evil and endowed with a social conscience? The similarities between Batman and Count Dracula are plain to see. Both move around in the shape of a bat, both are happiest at night, both dress in black, and both are feared by their victims. In addition to this, Batman is psychotic in his all-consuming desire to have revenge on the criminal world for depriving him of his parents. He is addicted to crime-fighting, just as Dracula is addicted to blood-sucking. Bruce Wayne - Batman's alter-ego - makes all this explicit in the first ever Batman comic:
"I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on criminals... I must have a disguise. Criminals are a cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible... A bat! That's it!" 19
Bob Kane's inspiration when he created Batman was partly a film, called The Bat Whispers, which was a remake of the silent film, The Bat. Both films were influenced by Dracula and the gothic tradition. The killer's face in The Bat Whispers was covered by a bat's head mask and he wore a black cloak to terrorize his victims. When Bob Kane created Batman, he created a character who not only became an immediate success, but who also became one of the twentieth century's most enduring icons. Batman was mysterious and compelling, because he suggested the darker side of human nature (if we accept that Dracula represents unrestrained sexuality, then he too suggests the dark side of human nature).
Dracula exerted an influence over the Batman comics that went beyond the central character. The city Batman inhabited, for example, was a world of large moons, long shadows and weird perspectives - in short, a place more akin to Transylvania than a modern city. The influence of Dracula on the Batman comics is especially apparent in a story that pitted the Caped Crusader against a character called the Monk. In this particular comic, Batman is thrust into a nightmare world of ruined castles, vampires and the supernatural. When he eventually tracks the murderous Monk to his tomb, he opens the coffin to reveal a living corpse. Batman then dispatches the Monk with a gun loaded with silver bullets. More recently, in a graphic novel called Red Rain Batman was actually pitted against the Count, further emphasising the link between them.
Batman is not the only comic book character to have been influenced by Bram Stoker's Dracula. James O'Barr's creation, the Crow, bears more than a passing resemblance to the Count as well. The Crow dresses in black, paints his face a deathly white colour and inhabits a nightmarish landscape of gothic scenery. The most convincing piece of evidence for linking Dracula with the Crow, however, is that both of them have returned from the dead to prey on the living (in the Count's case, the living constitutes anyone who crosses his path; in the Crow's case, the living constitutes the thugs who murdered him and his girlfriend).
Critics like Cranny Anne-Francis have suggested that the main horror in Dracula is sexually independent women. According to this argument, the Count is simply the means by which this evil is unleashed. This is a view that was seized upon by Hammer. Female sexuality is presented as threatening in numerous Hammer films. They were even known to take things a stage further on occasions and contrast a weak or crippled male against a professional figure, who was distinguished by his removal from female association. The message conveyed by Hammer is that female sexuality is dangerous and must be repressed. In Dracula Prince of Darkness, one of the women, Helen, has repressed desires that erupt when the Count bites her. She is converted into a creature of sexual aggression and it is only when she is staked that she reaches a state of grace. This is remarkably similar to the fate of Lucy in Bram Stoker's Dracula. After all, Van Helsing frequently talks about the need to set Lucy free within the novel, as the following extract illustrates:
"When this now Un-dead be made to rest as true dead, then the soul of the poor lady whom we love shall again be free. Instead of working wickedness by night and growing more debased in the assimilation of it by day, she shall take her place with the other Angels." ['Dracula', p.257]
It has become common in recent years to underscore horror stories with suggestions of some hidden threat. James Herbert for example, used the obvious menace in his book, The Rats, as a metaphor for his fear about the contamination of the working class and the pending destruction of its identity as a result of this and other threats. This is clearly hinted at when Harris muses about the rats in the following sequence:
"He'd had a feeling of revulsion towards the people, not as individuals, but en masse. Strangely enough, it had been slightly akin to the revulsion he'd felt towards the rats. As though they were a threat." ['The Rats', p.68]
Arguably, The Rats is more about a social catastrophe than a supernatural one.
To anyone who has stuck around to the bitter end, I would just like to say a few words in conclusion. The aim of this discussion has been to attempt to catalogue and evaluate some of the numerous ways in which Bram Stoker's Dracula has been assimilated by modern popular culture. Obviously the topic is so extensive I have barely scratched the surface. The good thing is that the research is so much fun I may eventually get around to expanding on what I have said here. Only the other day, for example, I watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which surely constitutes further groundwork.
Count Dracula has entered the realms of iconography and the novel in which he first appeared has turned out to be more enduring than any other gothic novel, with the possible exception of Frankenstein. The most probable reason for this is that Dracula crystalizes the main themes of gothic fiction in their most powerful form. Modern popular culture has taken the figure of Dracula and made him its own. It has also arguably made him one of the images of humanity. The Count appeals to us all, because we recognise in him a mirror reflecting the darker side of our own nature.
Dracula is a novel that is replete with imagery and is open to any number of different interpretations. Every generation has gleaned something different from it - which is why the Universal film adaptation is so different from the Hammer version - and so it has continued to fire the imagination. One of the most recent readings and adaptations of the novel was Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, which introduced a love theme into the story and interspaced the action with references to modern society (AIDS, drug addiction, etc.).
Bram Stoker's novel has not only given us a popular icon in the form of the Count, but it has also had a profound effect on modern horror literature. Modern vampire fiction especially is indebted to Dracula, but even books as far removed from the vampire mythos as William Blatty's The Exorcist borrowed from Bram Stoker. Dracula is one of the most terrifying creations of horror literature ever and continues to enthrall readers with its imagery and power to shock. The novel is often forgotten as a subject of serious literary study, but it seems it will never be forgotten by modern popular culture.
The right of C. J. Carter-Stephenson to be identified as the author of this dissertation has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author, or a license permitting restricted copying.