Today is Bram Stoker’s birthday, which is probably as good a time as any to draw another corpse from its grave. This is a brief essay about Dracula I wrote a year or two back for the wonderful Smiling, Damned blog, which has since gone on hiatus. I was considering writing something on The Jewel of the Seven Stars or The Lair of the White Worm, but I figured–eh, this one’s already done and I have a novel pitch to write (coincidentally, that pitch deals with vampires). So, if that sounds interesting, read on…
If there were just one word to sum up the concept of ‘evil’, it would likely be Dracula.
In the pantheon of western literature’s best and brightest villains, Dracula sits high on some dark Olympus, if not at the apex, then comfortably close. Barely on screen in Bram Stoker’s eponymous novel for more than a few chapters, nonetheless it is Dracula who drives the book. It is Dracula who drives the films which bear his name, who drives the action in every appearance.
He’s the sort of antagonist that brings out the best in a hero, which may account some for his popularity. He’s all of humanity’s fears and hates and loathing rolled up into one handy package. He embodies themes as varied as cannibalism, rampant sexuality, the ‘other’ and the fear of death and the dead, as well as more esoteric concepts (the Faustian bargain, necromancy, plague, taboo animals, etc.).
But is that all there is to it? Just some smelly themes and subconscious symbolism?
No. Dracula is the outsider, always scratching at our door, looking for a way in. The thing at the back of the cave, or waiting in the forest. The omnipresent Night, with teeth. The themes and symbols which trail after him like a cloak are but manifestations of his ultimate identity-that of the Thing That Scares Us.
It’s why we go back to him, again and again, much as his victims did. We invite him in, even knowing what he is, foul breath and all. We invite him in with books and films and plays and all variety of entertainments, pitting him against ourselves and our archetypes (Dracula Vs. Sherlock Holmes, Dracula Vs. Billy the Kid, Dracula Vs. Superman, etc.), destroying him again and again, but like the Night, he always returns. We mock him in cartoons and commercials, we make him into comic books and video-games, but the savagery never diminishes, the fear never entirely goes away.
It’s the fear that we can’t do without. The terror of being hunted. We can’t forget it, even with all of evolution at our back, with our science and religion and civilization. Some part of us always remembers the cave, and thing that we saw there, waiting to pounce out of the darkness.
We can’t get rid of him, just like we can’t rid ourselves of the atavistic fears handed down by our primordial ancestors. No matter how much we try to dislodge him, to remake him or remould him, Dracula clings to us, he is in the back of our head. In our blood.