Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Reflections: Dracula the Un-Dead

Dracula was one of my favorite books I read in 2013.  I loved the book's storytelling, atmosphere, characters, and literary prose.  After finishing Dracula and writing my reflection on it, I wrote some brief comments about the need for another and better adaptation of Stoker's excellent story.  I never, however, thought that creating a sequel to the original story was warranted or preferable.  Ian Holt, a Dracula enthusiast and writer, and Dacre Stoker, a grandnephew of Bram Stoker, saw opportunity in continuing the Dracula saga by capitalizing on the somewhat ambiguous ending of the original novel, and the result is Dracula the Un-Dead.  (The Un-Dead, by the way, was Stoker's original title, but he changed it at the last minute to Dracula). 

It is immediately apparent that Dracula the Un-Dead has much more modern sensibilities than its predecessor.  The original book relied on mood and atmosphere to create its greatest tension and suspense.  Dracula the Un-Dead is bloody, at times coarse, and far, far more violent in every way.  This is to say nothing about the writing itself, which is extremely utilitarian and doesn't provide much insight other than to push the story along.  The original Dracula can rightly be classified as literature--providing perspective on human nature, good and evil, among other important and interesting topics; this sequel isn't written with much more finesse or art than a normal crime or mystery novel.  Furthermore, I really disliked the handling of vampires in general in this book.  I find vampires to be mysterious and fascinating, and they are rarely treated with any kind of restraint, except in the original Dracula story.  Dracula the Un-Dead stumbles down the familiar paths of epic, fantastical, and bloody fight scenes which drag on too long and feel far too much like a comic book. 

I credit the authors for attempting to make historical events and personalities the connective tissue in a story about a supernatural being who lives on human blood.  Most interesting of all is the fact that Bram Stoker is a character in the story.  The authors weave into the back-story of the fictional portrayal of Stoker real people and real events from his past.  It's quite entertaining, but the purpose for their doing it leads to certain revelations that I found a little unsatisfying.  Dracula the Un-Dead tries quite literally to be a book about the untold story of Dracula and attempts to re-frame the character in a new light.  It works on some levels and doesn't on others.  In the end, I love the original character of Dracula so much, at least what I think I know about him, I wasn't terribly satisfied with the re-imagining of the character.  Furthermore, in the midst of all this mystery and intrigue, some of the characters' motivations become suspect for their dubious and irrational nature. 

Dracula the Un-Dead is a creative book; I don't wish to take anything away from it or the authors, who clearly put a lot of love and research into writing it.  Unfortunately, I can't say the book could really stand on its own two legs without the arresting character of Dracula and the lore that surrounds him.  And when I realize I wasn't very satisfied with what they eventually did with Dracula or the supporting characters, such as Mina and Jonathan Harker, I must confess the book is a brief, slightly enjoyable distraction, but not much more.

I bought Dracula the Un-Dead on a whim.  I have tried these "unofficial" follow-up books before; for example, I loved Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and I read Susan Heyboer O'Keefe's Frankenstein's Monster and really, really disliked it.  When I find characters or a story I dearly love, such as Dracula or Frankenstein, I want more of them or more of that type of story.  However, sometimes the original is so good it doesn't need a sequel or prequel to never die.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Dracula
Adaptation, Please: Dracula
Reflections: Frankenstein's Monster

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