Dracula The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt (2009)
Not that I’m a sucker for any old tat related to something I’m obsessed by, of course, but I was always going to buy this book. It being £1.99 helped. Jointly written by a direct descendent (a great-grandnephew) of Bram Stoker and a self-confessed “horror geek”, this is a perhaps surprisingly ambitious novel, rather than a money-for-old-rope attempt to cash in on the family name.
The authors’ stance is that of attempting to reconcile the many different threads in film, theatre, and literature that were spawned by the original novel (many of which were a result of a failure to enforce copyright in North America). At the same time they seek to be true to both Stoker’s intent and the context of historical real-world events in 15th century Romania.
As I say, surprisingly ambitious.
This results in a novel which paints a more ambiguous picture of Count Dracula than most other portrayals, setting out to ‘give him his say’, describing him as a “complex anti-hero”. It also merges fact and fiction, making Bram Stoker himself (and, of course, his most famous work) part of the story, also including real-life ye olde worlde people such as Sir Henry Irving, Frederick Abberline, and, in passing, Oscar Wilde. Abberline’s involvement is as a result of a plot device which intertwines the Jack The Ripper murders with the story of Dracula, the Harkers and co, and which sees both Dracula and Abraham Van Helsing fingered as suspects for the Ripper’s killings. Finally, the end of the novel includes the departure of the Titanic from Queenstown in Ireland.
Meanwhile, the idea of reconciling different takes on the original story sees Carfax (in the novel, a house in Purfleet purchased by the malevolent Count; in film, an abbey) combined with Whitby Abbey to give us ‘Carfax Abbey, in Whitby’. Similarly the asylum in which the lunatic Renfield is originally held is relocated, again from Purfleet to Whitby.
This blending of fiction, fact, and, um, fictionalised fact does require a fair amount of deliberate explanation to be made, in order to make the new events more plausible. The authors do this by telling us that Stoker senior wrote his original novel based on a tale told to him in the pub. Stoker, believing this tale to be the fanciful ranting of a drunk, then took liberties with what were actually (but of course) true events. This, we are told, led him to using incorrect dates for Dracula’s arrival in England via Whitby harbour – thus allowing our modern-day authors to re-set the original novel’s events in line with the Ripper murders, the Titanic, and so on.
I don’t know about you, but I’m becoming very confused by this.
Anyway, the book has its weaknesses. In addition to understandable criticism aimed at the above faffing about, there’s a surprising amount of sex and swearing (I’m no historian, but however common the word ‘bollocks’ was in the early 20th century, it simply seems incongruous), and one ‘twist’ in particular was screamingly obvious from the outset. That said, the complexities described above are executed very entertainingly, and even just a passing knowledge of one or more of the original novel and its subsequent adaptations will mean they become all the more fascinating. Similarly, the mixing of old fiction, fact, and new fiction makes for an interesting read. There is also an extensive afterword, penned by an academic who has the honorary title of ‘Baroness of the House of Dracula’, as well as lengthy notes from the authors – these suggest they are indeed genuine in their love of the story, and sincere in their attempts to create a ‘legitimate’ sequel.
Personally, I like it. I like it to death.