Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Not too long ago I posted about Legends of Urban Fantasy: The Vampire. In that post, I discussed the origins of the vampire legend as well as how the legend has been adapted in media and entertainment. The most notable adaptation, of course, being the first: Bran Stoker’s novel, Dracula.

Stoker's Dracula is still the gold standard of vampire novels.

Bram Stoker

In my mind, this work is still the best of the vampire stories, ahead of Rice and Meyer. Stoker set the table for all of those that followed with Dracula. While Rice and Meyer expanded on the vampire mystique and created more in-depth worlds, Stoker’s standalone is still superior.

I grew up watching the Hammer films, usually after 10 p.m. on a Friday night, on a local station’s weekly horror film show. Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing always after Christopher Lee’s Dracula was my introduction to vampires. But it wasn’t until I got a little older and tackled Stoker’s original that my appreciation of Dracula grew.

Dracula: The Book

Published in England in 1897 and in the United States in 1899, the novel introduced us to Count Dracula, who was seeking to relocate from his castle in Transylvania. A young solicitor, Jonathan Harker, has been dispatched to the Carpathian Mountains to help the Count secure real estate in England. But the unsuspecting lawyer soon discovers he is not a guest, but a prisoner. Worse still, his life is very much in jeopardy.

Dracula was an international hit almost from the beginning.

The 1899 edition released in the United States.

The Count boards a ship for England, the Demeter, with boxes of soil from his land and leaves Harker at the mercy of three female vampires. Harker barely escapes alive and untainted. Meanwhile, the Demeter runs aground in England. Her crew is nowhere to be found while a large “dog” is seen leaping from the ship. The captain’s log describes a voyage that sees his crew disappear one at a time. In the end only he – lashed to the wheel – remains and his corpse is found in that position.

The fifty boxes of soil in the hold are delivered to a Count De Ville, Dracula’s alias, and the Count quickly makes lairs about the city that he can find shelter within when needed.

Dracula Prowls England

As fate would have it, Harker’s fiance Mina Murray is visiting her friend Lucy Westenra in Whitby, where the Demeter ran aground. Soon after the mysterious ship’s arrival, Lucy’s health begins to decline. Dr. John Seward, a former suitor of Lucy, calls in his mentor, Abraham Van Helsing to consult on the case. Van Helsing quickly recognizes the signs of a vampiric attack and attempts to save the unfortunate woman.

But the effort to save her fails and the true horror strikes when a mysterious “beautiful lady” appears and stalks children. Realizing Lucy has now become a vampire, Van Helsing leads a small group of Lucy’s friends to hunt her down. She is staked, beheaded and her mouth filled with garlic to end her vampire days. About this time, Harker has returned to England and marries Mina. The newlyweds then join the group hunting down Dracula. His lairs of soil are discovered and rendered unusable.

Dracula’s Revenge

Having lost his creature in Lucy, as well as his many boxes of native soil, Dracula begins attacking Mina. He does not turn her into a vampire, but does hold control over her. However, Van Helsing uses her condition to help the hunting party track down Dracula as he flees England. The Count is trying to return to his castle, under the protection of gypsies sworn to protect him.

But before Dracula can reach the safety of his Castle, the hunter close in. Fighting their way past the guards, Harker slashes Dracula’s throat and a mortally wounded Quincey Morris drives his Bowie knife through Dracula’s heart. Dracula crumbles to dust and Mina is freed from her curse. But the victory has come at a cost as Morris dies in the Carpathians shortly after dispatching Dracula.

Final Notes

Even over a century old, Stoker’s classic still works as a classic urban fantasy tale. It set the table for all that has followed and laid down a lot of the canon still being used today. If you want a vampire tale without some of the heavy-handed erotica that seems to fill today’s books, you can’t do much better than this classic work.

About the author

Richard Paolinelli