So, in preparation for the upcoming NBC version of Dracula…
…I was planning to do some sort of post on how I first came to read Bram Stoker’s most famous novel, and how I think this latest adaptation will…compare to the original.
But then my attention was caught and held by The Dracula Tape, a 1975 novel written by Fred Saberhagan, which seeks to tell Dracula’s side of the story in his own words. Namely by waylaying some descendants of Jonathan and Mina Harker in their car one snowy night, and proceeding to tell his version of the events while preserving it on a tape recorder.
Sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it? I would cry copy-cat, except that Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was published the year after this book. Then again, said Interview with the Vampire was based off a short story she wrote in 1968…
Anyway, the plot pretty much follows that of Bram Stoker’s novel while, again, being from Dracula’s point of view. The basis of the whole idea for the plot being that, if Dracula was so great a threat as Professor van Helsing claimed, he certainly didn’t put up that much of a fight against his foes…so there must have been a reason for his actions and behavior towards our heroes!
Plus, Saberhagan also points out – through Dracula – that Van Helsing’s efforts to save Lucy through blood transfusions were actually probably killing her faster than the vampire’s attentions. Oops. Yeah, the discovery of blood types just a few years after the book was written did this whole section of the plot no favors.
(Still, there’s always the concept that Lucy, by getting the fluids of the three men she loves the most inside her, fulfills her desire of a girl being allowed to marry three men at once!
I feel unclean.)
Saberhagan’s Dracula is witty, darkly humorous and a great narrator. Unlike Stoker, who left it ambiguous, Saberhagan definitely establishes this Dracula is Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, who also went by that catchy nickname, what was it, oh yes, Vlad the Impaler. This in turn leads to interesting flashbacks and fascinating insights into Dracula as a character, since the real Vlad’s experiences when figured into the back-story of the horrifying yet alluring count make for wonderful reading. As Vlad did not have a particularly quiet life, you can imagine what impact this has on him when he becomes a vampire. There’s a truly brilliant section where he describes just how the torture the Turks inflicted upon him left him without fear, since he simply didn’t care what they did to him any longer, and how that lack of fear helped him to survive.
Still, despite this ruthless backstory, the Dracula of this novel is…I won’t say toothless (yes, I went there, deal with it) and after all the narration is biased towards his point of view, but still, the reassignment of blame for the various deaths in Stoker’s original novel does somewhat take the wind out of Dracula’s sails. The sailors on the Carpathia were killed by the maddened First Mate; Lucy was dissatisfied with her life and welcomed his attentions, never dreaming that the mortal men in her life would constrain and repress her so, finally killing her; Renfield was asking for it and would have done truly heinous things if Dracula hadn’t stopped him!
‘Your friendly neighbourhood, sexually liberating vampire’ indeed.
I’ve always been a sucker (yes, I went there as well) for re-tellings of famous stories, creating an entirely new spin on what seems like a plot that’s set in stone. Alternate character interpretations are my bread and butter. But, as I read The Dracula Tape (and enjoyed it immensely, despite what I’ve said and what I’m about to say) I realised all too soon that it was a story I’d heard, at least in part, before. It was probably a new concept in the 1970s, but the revelation that Dracula was in love with Mina Harker – and vice versa – loses its power and punch, what with Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, and the general romance of the vampire that only gained force with Anne Rice’s work, to say nothing of the fanfiction.
Probably you had to to be there.
And then there’s the ending, when Dracula reveals that the reason he’s been waiting in the car and recording this tape is because they just so happen to be near the graveyard where Mina just so happens to be buried after dying at around the age of ninety, and he’s anticipating Mina’s rising from the grave when she finishes transforming into a vampire, because after all the process can take some time…
But, in the end, with its condemnations of the constant usage of ‘voluptuous’ and its snarky commentary on the numerous coincidences in Stoker’s gothic novel and its compelling main character – as well as a version of Mina that, however cliche their relationship, is actually an intriguing person in her own right – I do recommend The Dracula Tape. It’s a fun look at the possible other side of the story, and the other ‘other side’, if you will.
Now, back to that upcoming NBC version.
(It’ll be all right, they gave us Hannibal after all…)
(Rocks to and fro in a corner.)