Sunday, November 16, 2014

Countdown to Dracula

I'm going to see Dracula the musical in Germany next weekend.

I'm not a Dracula fan. As I mentioned a while ago, I didn't even finish the book. I don't really adore the musical, either – it's nice, but not on my favourites list. Instead, it's the man playing the Count who made me want to book the flights... but more about that later.

In any case, I've been trying to get into the right mindset before the vampire trip. My bedtime stories have consisted fully of Dracula during the past few weeks. Now, I'm going to share the two gems I've read with you!

Major, major spoilers ahead.

The first book I read was Dracula's "official sequel", Dracula the Un-Dead by the original author's great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker and screenwriter Ian Holt.

This book is incredible. It's the very worst book I've ever read in my life.

Some books are bad because they're boring. But not Dracula the Un-Dead! It has a fast tempo and many, many exciting events – it hits a new, unbelievable low every five pages. My friends who saw me reading it can attest that during some of the twists and turns, facepalming with both hands wasn't enough. Every now and then, I had to rest my head on the table for a moment to calm down.

The book is set 25 years after the events of Dracula. It shows what has happened to the characters from the classic novel, and also introduces a couple of new faces. Like Mina and Jonathan's son Quincey Harker, the serial killers Elizabeth Báthory and Jack the Ripper, a Romanian actor called Basarab who's totally not a vampire count at all...

Dracula the Un-Dead is a wild ride that takes every chance to insult the reader's intelligence.

We find out that Mina has stayed young all these years because, having drunk Dracula's blood that one time, she now has immortality coursing through her veins. She's also still in love with her "Dark Prince".

And indeed, she has every reason to adore Dracula. Did you know that the Count was good all along? He only drinks blood from criminals and proclaims himself as a warrior of God. How about his fear of holy symbols? Nah, Bram Stoker just got that wrong in his book. Yes, good ol' Bram appears as a character in Dracula the Un-Dead. It is revealed he didn't come up with the plot of his famous novel himself at all. Instead, he got it from some drunk he met at a bar.

The drunk later turns out to be Professor van Helsing. Who then turns into a vampire, and enjoys the feeling of being undead.

In the grand finale of the story, we have Dracula telling "I am your father" to Mina's son. After this totally unpredictable revelation, the remaining handful of the novel's cast fall of a cliff. Heck, the bodycount simply wasn't high enough already! People were trampled, staked, decapitated, burned or bitten only once per every ten pages. The only character to survive is Dracula Junior.

As an epilogue, the son of Dracula wants to start a new life in the United States – and boards the RMS Titanic to travel across the Atlantic.

The authors' notes at the end make it clear this is not a parody.

Official sequel indeed. If the co-author was anyone else but Bram Stoker's great-grandnephew, I'm certain this book would have never hit the shelves. I'm kind of glad it did, though, because you rarely get to read a real printed book as crazy as this one.

To rinse the official sequel out of my brain, I returned to an old favourite. When I was younger, I loved Angela Sommer-Bodenburg's Anton und der kleine Vampir: Die Reise zu Graf Dracula, or The Little Vampire Meets Count Dracula.

The Little Vampire series is about Anton, whose best friend Rüdiger is a vampire. This installment focuses on Anton and his family's trip to Transylvania. Rüdiger has just moved to the land of his ancestors, and Anton wishes their paths will cross during the vacation. The friends indeed meet each other again, and Anton gets invited to a vampire party – a party the famous Count Dracula will also attend.

I wasn't a vampire enthusiast as a kid, but rereading this book, I now understad why I enjoyed it so much. Anton and his family's trip to Romania strongly reminds me of my own family's trips around Europe when I was younger! Endless car rides, sleeping my way through the countryside, seeing sights and staying in hotels and the feeling of being away from home... It's all here.

Reading this ten years ago, I didn't pay attention to the way the novel describes Romania. Now, it feels so dated it's almost funny. I suppose things were different in 1993 when the book was released. But the way the writing heavily underlines the sad state of Romanian plumbing, awful cuisine and hideous poverty of the people... I'd say the novel is a product of its time.

It's more than a travel journal, though. The central conflict of the story is actually about Anton being a human while is friends are immortal. 

Our young hero is deeply fascinated by vampires, but he's determined not to become one. His best friend Rüdiger and Rüdiger's little sister Anna were both bitten at a young age. Anton could choose to stay a child forever and spend an eternity with his best friends (and his vampire friends do remind him of this possibility). But no. Anton has decided to grow up, to live his human life. To embrace his mortality.

At the end of the book, the vampire siblings leave for a journey with their new mentor, Count Dracula. They don't know when they'll return, or if they'll ever come back to Germany where Anton lives. It might take years before the friends meet again. Who knows if Anton will be old when they next see each other – old, while his childhood friends are still and forever young?

The characters actually point this out. At one point, Anna is worried that Anton is changing because he's growing up. I admit I felt genuinely sad while reading this.

When comparing the two sequels I've read, The Little Vampire Meets Count Dracula is by far the more adult and profound story, that's what I'm trying to say.

Also that Dracula the Un-Dead is crap.


  1. I've read a handful of vampire literature, and pretty much like the movies (and musicals), only 1 % of it has been of good quality. Most can be filed as Crap. It's sad, really, because having undead blood suckers running around could work very well and give food for thoughts and so on, but it seems surprisingly difficult to not make it look like parody. So far the honest vampire parodies like Tanz der Vampire and Dracula: Dead and Loving It have been the best adaptations I've seen.

    1. Yeah – I haven't read that much vampire stuff, but based on what I know, that seems to be the case...

      Still, many of the adaptations I've encountered are at least bad in a silly way. Like the movie Dracula Untold – he fought a huge army with giant fist made out of bats! It doesn't get much funnier than that. But Dracula the Un-Dead... I found it so horrible because it takes itself so very seriously. No bat fists or any fun to be found. Just murder and serious talk about how Dracula was a good person all along.