Like ‘Ruritania’ the word ‘Dracula’ has passed into the English language. For millions the latter instantly conjures up thoughts of one of the most horrible manifestations attributed to the supernatural.
In South America the vampire-bat lives by sucking the blood of sleeping animals at night. It is, perhaps, upon this fact that in ancient times there arose the belief – a belief still held by many primitive peoples – that certain humans who sold their souls to Satan while alive do not perish after burial. The evil spirit in them lives on, endowed with magic powers. By day they lie in their graves, unaltered in appearance except that their eye-teeth have grown into long hollow fangs. By night, with the ability to shroud themselves in mist and call on wolf-packs to protect them, these ghouls emerge; then, in the dark hours, prolong their foul existence by sinking their fangs into the jugular veins of the unwary and drinking their blood.
There have been countless tales and films based on this belief, but none to compare with Dracula by Bram Stoker. He lived from 1847 to 1912, and wrote a number of other stories of the occult, all of which we hope to publish in this series in due course. Dracula, his masterpiece, was first published in 1897, so it naturally has a very Victorian flavour.
The elderly Dutch scientist, Dr. Van Helsing, who is steeped in the lore of vampires, directs the little team of four young men who attempt to destroy Dracula. One could wish the good doctor was less verbose, as one could say all he has to say in half the number of words; and the impression is given that any of the four young men have been shocked beyond words had he been told that every night his contemporaries were gaily drinking champagne out of the slippers of naughty girls in Paris. Alone among them the American, Quincy Morris, strikes a modern note, owing to his faith in pistols and Winchester repeating rifles.
The heroine is lovely Mina Harker – later in the story, when married, always respectfully referred to by her male chums as Madame Mina. When she writes of them in her journal as so ‘strong, courageous and determined,’ while she is only ‘a poor weak woman’ one would love to give her a sharp slap on the behind. But, of course, Mina would never admit, even to herself, that she had anything so vulgar as a bottom; and it is a safe bet that in bed she always wore a thick flannel nightdress heavily ruched tight round her neck and wrists. Even so, the fact is that while the men blundered, almost fatally, by not telling Mina what was going on, she showed more intelligence and courage than the lot of them put together.
Apart from the above concessions to the conventions of the day when drawing his characters, Bram Stoker tells a magnificent story. From the very beginning, at Count Dracula’s castle deep in the vast, deserted forests of Transylvania, we feel the horror of supernatural evil. Later again, when Dracula has succeeded in having himself transported to England, there are those unforgettable scenes in the cemetery where his first victim lies in her coffin, but has become another Un-Dead capable of leaving it at night. There fellows the long, frantic search for him while Mina is in dire peril. Again and again the cunning vampire eludes his pursuers and it becomes a race against time as they cross Europe in a desperate attempt to prevent him from gaining sanctuary in the vaults of his ancient castle.
No one who reads this hair-raising tale can wonder at it having become a world-wide classic and supreme above all other vampire stories.