31 October 2009

Dracula - Chapters 26-End: Fina-freaking-ly

We're done! Rejoice! Did you ever think that a trans-continental chase of a bloodsucking dude could be so boring? Nor did I! Admittedly, it was tense. And the final scene, as Van Helsing and Mina watch all of the parties converging was pretty awesome. I mean, sure, it takes some willing suspension of disbelief to imagine that they all end up in the right place at the right time; but we were already talking about people gaining life by sucking blood. It's a leap I'm willing to make.

But the fight with the gypsies and the killing of Dracula was really heinously anticlimactic. Why couldn't we get a fight between Dracula and the gang? Or at least some tension with the box? As it was: throw the box, open box, stab the vampire. Quincey Morris comes off as a pretty awesome dude though, and he did throughout the whole book. We American's seem nonessential, but pretty great to Stoker. I'm cool with that portrayal.

But really, the strongest character in the whole book is Mina. She's kind of awesome, wielding that revolver and all. At some point I'm going to read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and I hope there's a really badass version of her in it. What I can't get over, in relation to Mina, is how Van Helsing, more than anyone, professes his love for her. Shouldn't that be Jonathan's job? I really think the old doctor was crushing on Mina.

Overall, if you've not read the book, pick it up. It's tedious at times, that's for sure. But if you're not keeping to a schedule, it'd be a really quick read. And why not get one of the classics off your list quickly. So what'd you all think? I gave it three stars. Let's hear your rating in the comments.

28 October 2009

Dracula - Chapters 22-25: Mina Potter and the Dutch Man's Vampire

So if you're reading this you're probably reading along. I'll spare you plot points to discuss something else. Is Mina Harker actually Harry Potter (thus making Drac He Who Must Not Be Named)? Let's look at a few salient points:

Harry: Scar on forehead
Mina: Scar on forehead

Harry: Scar burns when Voldemort does something
Mina: Scar was burned on when the bite-o-christ touched her

Harry: Can see what Voldemort is up to, especially while dreaming
Mina: Can see what Dracula is up to (but only in a hypnotic dream-like state)

Harry: Voldemort can get in his mind
Mina: Drac can get into hers

The evidence is pretty compelling. I mean, was J.K. just cribbing from Bram? Was our hero of Harry just a progenitor for She Who Shall Never Be Named Here?

Maybe. But you have to admit, it is rather compelling drama. After so many pages of schlock, we're finally getting somewhere. And thank GOD Stoker saved us the time between the decision to go to Varna and actually arriving there. Can you imagine what the diaries from the "in transit" part would have been? Eesh. So things are heating up, but all I can think of is the Harry Potter connection. What do you think? Agree or no?

24 October 2009

Dracula - Chapters 17-21: Get on with it!

Dear heavens this book is dragging. Luckily, it's only one chapter a day, or at this point it'd be easy to lose motivation. So what have I missed telling you about? The boys are off hunting vampires and being absolute freaking idiots. "What's that? Mina looks pale? Poor girl needs sleep!"

NO! NO! NO! You blasted morons. Let's think about what happened to Lucy here gents. Pale? Check. Won't wake up at a normal hour? Check. Acting oddly? Check.

_HE'_  A  _A_P_ _ E  _OU  _U_BA_ _ E_

I'd like to solve the puzzle please.

::wild applause::!

Or at the very least, she's been vamped. I just can't get over how oblivious our gang is about this. I mean, they've been doing nothing but studying Dracula and the way he works. They really couldn't figure this one out? GAH!

On to less infuriating things. Renfield continued to be the most compelling character in the novel. That is until he got murdered by Dracula. But in his last act, he did something both selfish and noble. Attempting to prevent Dracula from getting to Mina was an act that I can't help but think was at least partially motivated by his apparent warm feelings for the woman. Certainly, as Renfield himself says, he was mad at Dracula for not asking his permission to come in, and for not giving him any blood. But I imagine he would have never been so bold as to attempt to seize the Count without some other motivator.

So Renfield sends the boys to catch Dracula just in time and now it appears as if Mina is back in. Good for her. She seems to be the only logical one (though the "I don't want to tell Jonathan of my suspicious dreams, much like those of Lucy" moment was a bit dumb. She can be forgiven though since the dudes were all being idiots towards her). Maybe with Mina on the case we'll finally catch Drac.

Regardless, this book's middle section is not nearly as good as the opening chapters. It's just dragging too much. Here's to hoping our final week is more enjoyable.

18 October 2009

Dacula - Chapters 13-16: The ones in which Van Helsing is Reticent

Wait, Van Helsing being reticent isn't enough to figure these out? I don't share quite the same sense of exasperation that 'kül and Infinite Detox have for these chapters in which Van Helsing continues to drag things out, but let's just say it's a good thing they finally chopped off Lucy's head and drove a stake through her, because any more would have been past my limit. That said, I cannot possibly hope to describe what has happened any better than ID, so I quote them here:
Van Helsing hand-feeding Seward from his little Dutch Pez-dispenser of clues every step of the goddamn way.
Yep, that sums it up perfectly.  I guess upon retrospection, this whole section has been overly long. We've known what is happening for ages, as has Van Helsing. Was there any need for him to draw it out for so many chapters? I wonder how much of this has to do with the fact that we know Dracula is a vampire from popular culture. It would be fascinating to know what public reception of the novel was at the time of its release. Did the Victorians share in our exasperation? I feel that Elizabeth Miller could best answer my question, and if she's reading, please join in the comments!

But another factor that, I think, adds to our angst with Stoker's dramatic pacing is how riveting the opening chapters were. Remember that feeling of being shocked, terrified, creeped out, or otherwise that we all felt? Well we haven't had that in a while. We're in the exposition part of the book now, where some things have to be drawn out. Maybe this is unavoidable. I've been enjoying the references to Dan Brown, but remember: Dan Brown would never allow a lull like this. It's fast-paced all the time with him. Perhaps, in the end, we will see this as a point in Stoker's favor. And perhaps, we won't.

With that said, I'm glad to see the action picking up again. We learn some tricks of the de-vampiring trade, including stakes, garlic in the decapitated head, and Body of Christ Putty (tm). I'm fascinated by the fact that Van Helsing has a dispensation from the Pope to use communion wafers. This means the Vatican not only knows of the un-dead, but approves of Van Helsing hunting them (which, logically, they should). Could be an interesting twist later on, though I kind of doubt we get the Vatican involved (that would be too much like Dan Brown).

Anyhow, for these middling chapters, what do you think? Anything particularly strike your fancy? Let's hear it in the comments!

13 October 2009

Dracula - Chapters 9-12: Why do Victorians hate garlic?

The chapters in which Lucy is sick. Pretty easily summed up: Lucy is sick, Seward doesn't know what to do, he calls Van Helsing who does the right thing, people undo the right thing, Lucy gets worse. Now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk about a couple of things from these chapters.

Firstly, while I agree with Victoria over at VPO that it is not the smartest idea ever for Van Helsing to not tell anyone what he's doing, I think he has a reason. I'm absolutely positive that Van Helsing knows what is going on. He's got the garlic (which we know keeps away vampires), and he's giving Lucy much-needed blood while trying to make sure she isn't alone at night. So he's got this figured out. But I'm not sure if he's 100% certain yet, and I think that is where he derives his reticence to let anyone in on the secret. I've been trying all day to come up with a parallel, and I'm having trouble. Imagine that you think your mom is secretly an alien. But there is NO WAY you are telling anyone until you are positive. I mean, that just gets you laughed at. Also, it alerts the other aliens that you know. Once you have proof and a way to get rid of her slimy self, you act. In much the same way, Van Helsing is waiting until he has everything he needs to rid the greater London area of Vampires, and he isn't showing his cards in the meantime.

That said, it's leading to some awfully horrible things. Some of these circumstances just seem like something out of Comedy of Errors (or a good Looney Tunes cartoon), but they leave us horrified rather than humored. So it should come as no surprise that things finally work for the worse and Lucy is dealt a final blow from the escaped wolf who is in the company of the original Batman. As she is attended to by Seward, Van Helsing, and her third suitor, Quincey Morris, we get to hear of a couple interesting stories on the side.

Story One: Jonathan and Mina Harker are back in England! And they've come into a boatload of money! And Mina has decided to again start writing Lucy. She, sadly, doesn't realize it's too late. I wonder if we're going to get the journey from Budapest to Essex any time. That would be an awfully interesting tale, I think. Alternatively, it could be heinously boring.

Story Two: Renfield is still insane! Patrick Hennessey, the only man with enough letters after his name to rival Van Helsing, is looking after the asylum while Seward is off taking care of Lucy. He reports that Renfield has broken out again and gone chasing after two laborers carrying heavy boxes from Dracula's British estate. Now, we know that heavy boxes going to the estate had Dracula in them. What do you suppose these contained? My guess is maybe Dracula again, now that he has done in Lucy. Maybe that was his whole goal in coming. Renfield lends some credence to this when he shouts as he is being restrained:
I'll frustrate them! They shan't rob me! They shan't murder me by inches! I'll fight for my Lord and Master!
I think he is literally fighting for his "Lord and Master" here, and not just doing Dracula's bidding.

I always find it interesting how an author can keep my attention in books with multiple story-lines of equal importance. In Dracula, I'm always sad to see one go by the wayside, but after a bit, I almost forget about it and get just as engrossed in the next story. This really is one of the best page-turners I've read in quite some time, and if it weren't for Victoria keeping me on track, I surely would have gone ahead of schedule by now. What do you guys think? We're about halfway through: good book, great book, or terrible book? Let's hear it!

10 October 2009

Dracula - Van Helsing rules

Van Helsing freaking rocks, if for no other reason than this.
Letter, Abraham Van Helsing, M.D., D.Ph., D.Lit., Etc., Etc., to Dr Seward
I want that many letters behind my name. Dude is awesome, and we've barely met him yet.

08 October 2009

Dracula - Chapters 7-8: Dracula stops by for tea

So as promised to Victoria in the comments, let's talk about Lucy. Even after I've seen what her sleep-walking leads to, I still have questions. I understand her being awake and walking around after she gets bit by our good friend the Count, but why was she doing it before? My guess is that she was exposed to some other vampire at some other point, but where? So many unanswered questions.

And Mina. Oh Mina. Stupid Mina. After coming across Lucy in the churchyard, apparently in the embrace of some stranger, she prudently puts a cloak on her friend.
I fastened the shawl at her throat with a big safety-pin; but I must have been clumsy in my anxiety and pinched or pricked her with it, for by-and-by, when her breathing became quieter, she put her hand to her throat again and moaned.

The emphasis there was added by me. Mina, darling, two quick thoughts here. First, if she was moaning and putting her hand to her throat before you used the safety pin, it probably wasn't the safety pin. Secondly, if you stab someone with a safety pin, you're going to feel it. I understand that Stoker has to keep the suspense going, make sure his characters don't figure it all out before they're supposed to, but come on. She really is meant for Jonathan. Neither of them can see past the freaking obvious.

And we confirm our suspicions of Lucy have been Drac'd, when the Count is shipped to London and Lucy feels all better. Just when things seem to be settling down in the coastal town, Mina gets a letter from a nun about Jonathan. It's off to Hungary time for her! I can kind of understand the idea here, run to the side of your lover when they're ill. Makes sense. But that said, if he's insane, maybe you should take someone with you. No?

I should just note in passing, since I didn't cover it earlier, that log from the ship was absolutely chilling, and amazingly well-written. There are few things as great as a good nautical thriller. I mean, look at Der fliegende Holländer or Peter Grimes. Storms, the sea, and spooky ships are always an A+ combination.

Finally, we get to Renfield and Dr. Seward. So Renfield is really quite obviously a vampire, now that we've seen him refer to Dracula as Master. And Seward hasn't quite caught on yet. In his mind, "Master" is still in Renfield's head. It'll be interesting to see how Seward, the rational man that he is, comes to terms with Renfield being even weirder than previously thought. (Also: Seward is a chloroform addict! Neat! I didn't know we'd be dealing with high-end drugs in this novel.)

Alright, that's it for tonight. Any thoughts on the last two chapters, or the novel thus far? Let's have them in the comments!

07 October 2009

Dracula - Chapters 3-6: Is everyone a vampire?

So Jonathan Harker seems to be in a bit of a pickle (either dead in a ravine or being chased by angry Hungarians through Eastern Europe). Mina is dealing with death and tempests. Dr. Seward is helping a man upsize his pet collection. Where to begin?

Well, Harker seems the logical place, since he is where we left off. Our "hero" is told by the Count to continue to explore the locked up castle, but to make sure he doesn't fall asleep anywhere but his room. Harker is obviously new to this whole genre of Horror, because he decides to fall asleep in a room not his own as an act of rebellion. Now we get to see the Count's sweet side, as he saves Rip Van Winkle from becoming a drinking fountain for the three vampire women. But, before we get too comfortable with the image of Dracula as a savior, he tells the women that Harker is his for the eating, eventually. I was conflicted here. It seems obvious that the Count wants to take a bite out of Jonathan, but he seems almost genuinely concerned about him. Are we seeing a real side of the Count? We certainly have before, when he was busily and happily telling his family's history. So can we be led to believe that the Count is even slightly normal?

I'm going to quickly sum up the next bits, because this is already getting long and I haven't even gotten to Mina yet. Jonathan's explorations into Dracula's room give us the idea that maybe he's been a coin collector for a few hundred years now, and he likes a firm bed of topsoil. These scenes are unbelievably creepy, as is the scene in which Jonathan is seduced by the dancing dust in the moonlight. (Side note: Jonathan has obviously been warned of the dangers, and he obviously already has a healthy fear of both Count Dracula and his castle; so why is it that he always seems to be falling asleep? I mean, I understand that there is dust in the moonlight, and "oooo, dust!" Nevertheless, given the situation, if you are Jonathan Harker, don't you do everything in your power not to fall asleep outside your room? If I knew that three women, and possibly a Count were trying to make Cartoid Cocktails from me, I'd be darn sure I wasn't too busy watching moonlight theatre to get back into bed. Just saying.) One last note from the castle, we begin to see Stoker's (seeming) infatuation with the theme of life. Dracula regenerates his and this is part of what convinces Jonathan to flee. More on this in a bit.

We leave the castle with Jonathan (not knowing if we'll ever see him again) and head northwest to England where we meet a cast of characters guaranteed to keep this story creepy. For now, I'd like to focus on Dr. Seward, Mina, and the old fisherman. Seward's experiments with Renfield seem shocking today, but my guess is they were well within acceptable norms in Victorian times. But the truly interesting this here is Renfield's desire to upgrade his pet collection. First flys, then spiders, then sparrows, and finally the desire for a cat. After Seward learns that Renfield has eaten his sparrows (raw), he comes to a diagnosis of sorts for the madman:
My homicidal maniac is of a peculiar kind. I shall have to invent a new classification for him, and call him a zoophagous (life-eating) maniac; what he desires is to absorb as many lives as he can, and he has laid himself out to achieve it in a cumulative way. He gave many flies to one spider and many spiders to one bird, and then wanted a cat to eat the many birds. What would have been his later steps?
Renfield planned on ingesting life. We don't yet know his motives, but from what I know of vampire lore (which, granted is only loosely based on this novel, so my conjecture may be significantly off), this is the premise behind vampires. Are we, then, to believe that Renfield is some form of Vampire? That's certainly what I'm leading towards. Seward has (as do I), a sort of macabre fascination with what Renfield was going to do next.

Lastly, I'd like to turn to Mina and the incomprehensible fisherman (seriously, I'm all for dialects, but dear god reading notes to understand what someone is saying is frustrating). Here again we see a fixation with life or, rather, with the end of it. The fisherman makes light of death, only to reveal on the eve of what seems to be a massive storm, that it was only because he knows it will be coming for him soon. The imagery of Death (capitol D intended) here stands in such stark contrast to the earlier talk of gaining life. And at the same time, that too was centered around death. For Renfield to gain life, countless other things had to die. But the fisherman puts into words what I think will become the defining characteristic of the divide between vampires and normal people.
For life be, after all, only a waitin' for somethin' else than what we're doin': and death be all that we can rightly depend on.
The normal people accept Death (and death) as natural, and maybe even wanted. The vampires (at least Dracula) seem to be avoiding it at all costs. What for? Are they doomed to Hell and scared of their fate? Or, alternatively, is it just a desire to stay in the corporeal world? I'm leaning towards the former explanation, but I wouldn't be surprised to change my mind as the work goes on.

As a final question: is the Russian boat coming into the harbor Dracula? I say yes.

Alright, that's a mouthful. But that's what happens when I go four days without blogging. I'll try and be more punctual in the future so as to keep these to a more controllable size. Be sure to keep following along at VPO and IS:Drac as well! And let me know what you think in the comments.

02 October 2009

Dracula - Chapters 1 & 2: What's with all the dogs?

So I'm going to be blogging as I read Dracula along with the good folks of Infinite Summer (not to mention Views from the Page and the Oven). This is my first time reading the novel, so keep that in mind as you read. I'll put chapter 2 after the break for those of you who haven't gotten there yet. 

Quite obviously, after the opening chapters, things are not looking good for our hero, Harker Johnathan. Oh wait, it's Johnathan Harker. Sorry, I keep thinking like the Transylvanians. But a few observations on Harker first. He seems to truly embody the Victorian spirit of "The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire." Take for instance his observations on the women he passes.
"The women looked pretty, except when you got near them"
At first I was drawn to thinking of Harker as the original Victorian brosef. But then as he talks more and more about the locals, I got a sense of condescension. It's never really overt, and he certainly never refers to people as anything so brusque as "savages," but there is a definite feeling of superiority to the locals. It comes across best when Harker talks about timetables:
"It seems to me that the further east you go the more unpunctual are the trains. What ought they to be in China?"
Everyone knows that Dracula is a Victorian novel, but I think it will be interesting to see what sort of impression I can glean of the Victorian mind at the time. How is their worldview reflected in the writing of Bram Stoker?

Another thing I noticed was the motif of dogs. In the first chapter alone, we get 15 mentions of "dog" or "wolves," and a "werewolf." Now, this is probably just a misconception on my part, but I've never associated the story of Dracula with dogs; bats were always the animal I had in mind. I'm going to be keeping an eye open as I keep reading, because I get the feeling that dogs (wild or domestic) are going to become a theme.