Courtesy of our friends at History.com, I am pleased to begin each and every day of the week here at Bulldog Pundit with a snippet of some important event that occurred on this date sometime in the past. Some events might come readily to mind while others may take a bit of effort to recall. Not all are historically portentous and some may even seem whimsical. Nevertheless, each and every one is a grain in the hourglass of human history.
On this day in 1847, Bram Stoker, author of the horror novel “Dracula,” is born in Clontarf, Dublin, Ireland. Stoker’s villainous, blood-sucking creation, the vampire Count Dracula, became a pop-culture icon and has been featured in hundreds of movies, books, plays and other forms of entertainment.
After overcoming a childhood filled with health problems that frequently left him bedridden, Stoker graduated from Trinity College in Dublin. He then worked for the Irish Civil Service while writing theater reviews for a Dublin newspaper on the side. His drama reviews brought him to the attention of Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905), a tall, dark and well-regarded actor of the Victorian era who was said to have served as an influence for Stoker’s Count Dracula. Stoker eventually became Irving’s manager and also worked as a manager for the Lyceum Theater in London. He published several horror novels in the 1890s before the debut of his most famous work, “Dracula,” in 1897.
Set in Victorian England, “Dracula” is the story of a centuries-old vampire and Transylvania nobleman, Count Dracula, who roams around at night biting the throats of human victims, whose blood he needs to survive. The concept of vampires didn’t originate with Stoker: These mythical creatures, who cast no shadows, have no reflections in mirrors and can be killed with a stake through their hearts, actually first appeared in ancient folklore. English writer John William Polidori’s 1819 short story “The Vampyre” is credited with kick-starting modern literature’s vampire genre.
Stoker’s novel has been adapted for the big screen several times. An unauthorized version of the book was made into a 1922 German film, “Nosferatu.” In 1931, Universal Pictures released the well-received “Dracula,” which starred Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) in the title role. (The Library of Congress later labeled the movie culturally significant and added it to the National Film Registry.)
Bram Stoker died at the age of 64 on April 20, 1912, in London. He published other novels after “Dracula,” but none achieved the same level of success.
Here is an excerpt from my unfinished novel in which Laura Montresor – a 20,000 year old hematophage – briefly vents her thoughts about Bram Stoker and the genre he fathered:
“Nosferatu,” he repeated the word slowly. “You used that word earlier. It means vampire, doesn’t it?”
“No,” she replied, shaking her head. Everyone thinks it’s the Romanian word for vampire. It isn’t. In fact, no one today but us knows where it came from. And it likely would have vanished from the English language but for Stoker.”
Stoker… Bram Stoker?
“Yup. THAT Stoker. He was a mediocre writer for his time, but fairly prolific. I met him once when I was in London, about a year before Dracula was published. It was his magnum opus. It coalesced and distilled the essences of all the folktales, the canards, the mythology, all of mankind’s ancient memories of us – into a single book.
“Then the popular culture got hold of it, first the theatres then in Hollywood, which spent the next seventy-five years spinning it totally out of control. Anne Rice came along and reinvigorated the genre with her pompous vampire novels. Not that she conceived anything really new or inventive. The formula was a simple one: dust off the old Dracula, carve him up into a cast of different characters, dress them in fancy period clothing, marinate them in a florid writing style that cleverly weaves in a smattering of history and anguished, pseudo-philosophical pondering. Presto: instant best-seller. The next thing you know Hollywood inflicts upon us Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in a duet of bickering bloodsuckers. Pathetic.”
“I can see this bothers you.”
At first it did. I hated them for it – a lot of us did, because it was a shallow stereotype, like the money-grubbing Jew or the step-and-fetchit Nigger. But we don’t have our own version of the Anti-Defamation League or the NAACP and so we had to endure the mockery in silence. Then something happened that made us look at it a completely different way: the emergence of the Goth sub-culture in the 1980’s. Anne Rice – the new goddess of S&M with fangs – became their patron saint and vampire chic became all the rage. Whole nightclubs dedicated to this theme sprang up everywhere like toadstools on a damp summer night.”
“I would think this would be even more insulting. What am I missing?”
She smiled. “Baudelaire once remarked that the devil’s cleverest strategy was to convince us he didn’t exist and in the twentieth century it became difficult to take the concept of pure spiritual evil seriously when characters like Anton LaVey and his ridiculous Church of Satan pranced naked around pentacles on the floor. In that respect, Stoker’s book was a windfall of misinformation that ultimately worked like a charm. Popular culture carried the rest of the water and these days, with the exception of the Goth-vampire lunatic fringe, no one takes our existence seriously.”