Sunday, October 31, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 31: Dracula

Real World Origin:
Literature, Dracula by Bram Stoker

In-Universe Description:
Jonathan Harker ends up in a nightmare when he is sent to Transylvania to assist Count Dracula in purchasing property in England. At first Dracula's behavior is merely strange: he disappears during daylight hours, he warns Harker not to leave his room at night, and his castle appears to be completely empty of other inhabitants.

It doesn't take too long for Harker to realize that he is a prisoner in the castle and that Dracula is a vampire who is looking for new hunting grounds in England. While Harker tries to escape from the castle, Dracula is transported to England by ship in a box of soil. The ship eventually runs aground with all hands missing except the captain, who is dead. A large dog is seen leaving the ship.

Dracula begins stalking Jonathan Harker's fiancée, Mina, and her friend Lucy using his power to shapeshift into a dog, a bat, or a mist. Night after night he preys on Lucy and day after day her suitors (she originally has three) notice that she appears weaker than the day before. Finally one of her suitors calls his friend Professor Van Helsing to help. Van Helsing quickly determines that Lucy is the victim of a vampire, although he is reluctant to admit it. Lucy eventually dies and returns from the grave as a vampire that preys on the local children. Van Helsing and Lucy's chosen fiancé are forced to dispatch Lucy by staking her through the heart and beheading her.

With the return of Jonathan Harker to England, Harker, Mina, Lucy's suitors, and Van Helsing make a pact to find and destroy Dracula. Knowing that Dracula must sleep in boxes of soil brought from his homeland, the vampire hunters seek out the boxes and ruin them. Dracula avenges himself by preying on Mina while she is unprotected. In addition to drinking her blood, he forces her to drink some of his blood, which bonds Mina to him. Slowly Mina begins to show signs of becoming a vampire. However, her link with Dracula also allows the hunters to determine that Dracula has given up on England and is returning to Transylvania.

Van Helsing and the other vampire hunters know that unless Dracula is killed, upon her death Mina will be cursed to become a vampire. Thus, they must follow Dracula to his homeland and destroy him.

The character of Dracula was very loosely based on Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476), also known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad the Impaler. The nickname of "the Impaler" came from his favorite method of torture and execution. Although there is no legend linking Vlad the Impaler with vampirism, it's logical that Bram Stoker would use the name of a bloodthirsty tyrant from the region where much of European vampire lore appears to have originated.

Bram Stoker borrowed several elements from European folklore; e.g., the standard method of killing a vampire (staking and beheading), the vampire's lack of a reflection or shadow, its aversion to holy symbols and garlic, and the vampire's shapeshifting abilities. However, Stoker also modified the folkloric vampire to produce Dracula. The vampires of European legends did not live in castles and pretend to be nobility but instead returned to their graves at daybreak. They were supposed to have dark or ruddy skin rather than Dracula's pale skin.

Subsequent stories and films have further changed the rules of vampires that Stoker created. For example, Stoker's Dracula is not harmed by sunlight and is even seen by Mina and Jonathan Harker in the middle of the day in London. Van Helsing explains that daylight merely deprives the vampire of its superhuman strength and ability to shapeshift. The idea that a vampire is destroyed by daylight was introduced in the film Nosferatu (1922), which was loosely based on Stoker's novel. Another change is the idea that only a wooden stake (sometimes made of a particular wood) will have any effect on a vampire. In Dracula this is the method used to kill all vampires except Dracula himself, who is stabbed through the heart with a bowie knife. The vampire instantly crumbles to dust as a result.

Dracula was adapted for the stage and later for film; the most famous of which being Dracula (1931). This film greatly deviates from the novel. The visitor to Dracula's castle is changed from Harker into Renfield; the lunatic from Stoker's novel who plays a relatively minor role. Lucy's suitors are replaced by a single individual who is now Mina's father. Among other changes: the hunt for Dracula is truncated, Mina's link to Dracula is somewhat downplayed, and the climax of the film occurs in England. The 1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula may be the most faithful adaptation of the novel, although it inserts a previously non-existent plotline in which Mina is the reincarnation of Dracula's wife from before he was cursed to be a vampire. This makes him a sympathetic villain rather than the loathsome and irredeemable creature from Stoker's novel.

Dracula was saved for the very end of the 31 monster countdown due to the influence that the character has had on the horror genre since 1897. To this day vampires continue to appear regularly in literature and film. Though they may change the mythology, the rules of vampirism, etc., they still owe their existence to Dracula; the father of the modern vampire.

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