Archives for : Dracula

The dreadful influence of books


Over the past few weeks, I’ve been watching the new show “Penny Dreadful” on Showtime, and it has quickly become one of the most confusing, entertaining and delightfully odd TV shows I have seen in recent memory. If you haven’t given it a watch, I wholeheartedly suggest you do. And I know of what I speak, as I watch a lot of television (probably too much).

Penny Dreadful takes place in London during the early 1890’s, and begins with our audience proxy, marksman and con man Ethan Chandler (played by Josh Hartnett) is recruited by Vanessa Ives and Sir Malcolm Murray (Eva Green and Timothy Dalton, respectively) to do some “night work.” What follows is a gruesome adventure into London’s seedy underbelly, but all is not what it seems. For you see, Ives and Sir Malcolm are hunting something much darker than a murder or a thief … they are hunting vampires. One vampire, to be specific, who stole Sir Malcolm’s niece before the series began

The niece, it is quickly revealed, is Mina Harker – the same Mina who was bitten and transformed into a vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Penny Dreadful, named for a type of 19th century cheap British fiction with lurid and sensational subject matter, incorporates many of horror’s best and most iconic characters as players. Dracula, Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and more have been seen so far, as only three episodes have aired of the first season, and I’m confident that the Wolfman will make an appearance at some point, along with Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, the Mummy and more.

I have read all the classic horror novels, with Stoker’s Dracula easily being one of my favourite books that I have ever read in my almost 30 years. I read Dracula for the first time in high school, simply for pleasure, when I was around grade nine. The reason was simple – it was a classic and I always liked horror movies, and after reading, the book influenced me significantly. I became fascinated with the horror genre, gobbling up the classic horror novels, along with modern classics like King and Koontz. Which let me into other genres, like thriller, science fiction, mystery, etc.

While Bram Stoker’s landmark novel didn’t create my love for reading, it stoked the fires and gave me a glimpse of everything I was missing from what had been published before. It also gave me my first lesson in narrative structure, as Dracula wasn’t like a normal book – it was told through a series of diary entries, letters, correspondence, recordings and newspaper clippings. It showed me that a novel didn’t need to follow the traditional rules of first-person or third-person. This helped me branch out in my own writing, experimenting with structure and flow.

Approximately fifteen years from my first reading Dracula, I still pick it up once every year or so and read it again, to get lost in the adventures of Jonathan Harker, Mina, Van Helsing and Renfield. While not without its problems and plot-holes, Stoker’s Dracula still has some mystical hold on me that I cannot shake. It has, and probably always will be, near the top of my list of favourite books.

Well, that and George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

The true myth

Books are extremely important to me, and they have been ever since I learned to read.

When my parents taught me (and my twin brother, Daniel), we took to it slowly, like a nervous cat testing the water. It took a while to get my brother and me interested in reading – for a long time, we were content being read to before bed.

But as my Dad has said numerous times since: “Once you started reading, you didn’t stop.”

As I started to read, I began to devour books so fast that my parents could not stock my bookshelf fast enough. So, I would re-read books over and over again, until the new shipment came in.

At school, I would plead with my parents to purchase a bunch of books from the book order forms for me, take books out of the library by the cartload and purchase books at the bookstore every time I was within running distance of one (which was often).

The more I read, the more I wanted to continue reading. I loved the escapism inherent to being transported to another world or life, the “a ha!” moment of a mystery novel, the well-crafted pun, etc. I became a reading machine.

In fact, I started reading adult books long before anyone in my class moved beyond The Babysitter’s Club and Goosebumps. My very first adult book was, naturally, Jurassic Park. And the books only got bigger and more complicated – such as Clan of the Cave Bear, Stephen King’s It and more. I started to experiment with different genres, narrative styles and themes, but always returned to two types: horror and science.

I relished the challenge of trying to understand what was going on in the universe that was created within my mind, and I honed my reading skills to the point where I became an extremely fast reader.

My passion for the written word could explain why I decided to go into journalism and why I am currently working on two very different novels and a short story in my spare time.

But it was not until university, where I took an English class on a whim, that I really learned what it was to investigate literature.

In that class, all about Gothic literature (naturally), we explored three types of horror stories – vampires, werewolves and witches. We carefully dissected one of my favourite books, Dracula by Bram Stoker, and the hidden literary agenda slowly began to unfurl. Suddenly, a red flower was not simply an ornamental thing, but it served a purpose. The random encounter with a character was part of a greater plan. The path of the hero was written out long beforehand. And while the characters, events and situations differ, a large majority of stories shared a similar structure – known as “The Hero’s Journey” (or the “monomyth”).

I’ve been wanting to write something about “The Hero’s Journey” for a while, but could not think of a “novel” way to do it (if you’ll pardon the pun). Then, I found a video on YouTube, and I realized that I could not do it any better, or in a more original way, than this video did with puppets.

It’s more common than you think – from Star Wars to the French Connection, from Harry Potter to Happy Gilmore. Watch and see!

My love of literature

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about reading for pleasure, without actually doing any of it myself.

Let me back up by saying that I am an extremely avid reader. I read the newspaper every morning, as well as countless blogs, press releases and articles for work. However, ingesting all this news has produced an unexpected side effect.

When I arrive home from work, it is difficult to pick up a book (or magazine or other such literature) and read for pleasure. It becomes a chore, which is something that reading should not be and never has been for me before.

I started reading later than other kids, which my parents say is not unusual for twins, since we also started talking a bit later than most kids (though my brother and I did have a “secret” language which we could both understand, but sounded like gibberish to everyone else … believe me, there’s video evidence of this).

But as my Dad is fond of saying, “Once you picked up a book, you never stopped.”

And I didn’t.

I inhaled books and progressed up the reading ladder quickly.

I started with children’s books, but quickly progressed to young kids, then young adults and finally to ‘adult’ books. By the point I was in grade 4/5, I was reading Michael Crichton and Stephen King books by the pound. I was a machine, who not only understood what I was reading, but did so quickly and enjoyed them.

It was shortly after grade 5 that I was on a “books that inspired the great horror movies of yester-year” kick that included Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Picture of Dorian Grey and more, and read what was to be one of my favourite books ever – Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Vampires always held a weird fascination with me, and it was only natural that I would eventual read the classic novel. And to my surprise, I enjoyed it so much that I would continue to read it multiple times a year.

What still stands out from that initial reading is the fact that it was written differently, in the form of diary entries of the main characters. It was not the traditional style of narration, and it made me feel like I was reading a secret that I should not be. Add the fact that it initially unfolded like a mystery, possessed an interesting cast of characters and had subtext that requires multiple readings – I was hooked.

My copy has been so enjoyed over the decades that I had to buy a new copy when I took a course in university entitled “Horror and Terror: Variations in Gothic.”

While Dracula remained my favourite book for a long time, many books joined it in being repeat reads, including a wide variety by Stephen King, as well as the Harry Potter books, every Sherlock Holmes story/novel, the Lord of the Rings, etc…

But then, many years later, my sister suggested to me a tiny little book that I had heard of in passing but never really considered. Since she usually never steers me wrong, I went to Chapters and picked it up and polished it off within an hour or so.

The story was simple enough: the oppressed rebel against their oppressors and believe things will be different, but the new government slowly but surely devolves into a very similar beast.

I am, of course, talking about George Orwell’s masterpiece, Animal Farm.

It is a short read from the mid 1940’s, clocking in at about 110 pages or so, but it remains relevant, interesting and holds true even 70+ years later. Disguised as a fairytale about animals taking over their own farm and forming a new society, it is actual a morality fable about the corrupting nature of power, communism and greed.

You could write dozens of papers about what Orwell talks about, and probably many have, but the cultural subtext is not even what interests me the most. What I enjoy about the book are the interactions between the animals, the foreshadowing and the belief that if we would just look a little harder, animals are not so different than us after all.

These books, Dracula and Animal Farm, remain a constant highlight anytime I read them, like re-visiting an old friend or recalling a fond memory of love long lost.

They are far from perfect – Dracula drags on at points, characters vanish and reappear with no explanation (except for Dracula, who has supernatural powers and can actually do that) and leaves many plot threads dangling at the end that you could make a scarf. And Animal Farm is so short that it is a stretch calling it a novel and the symbolism is so blatant at points that you want to shout, “I get it Orwell, communism and oppression is bad, would you please move on?”

And yet, I love the books I re-read, and I always enjoy them, whether I have days to lounge around and take my time or speed read through them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my bookshelf is calling me … I wonder what I should read next. Any suggestions?

C’est l’Halloween

Well, Halloween is coming. It’s always been a favourite holiday of mine, as the concept and mythology behind it is so intriguing. It started my life-long fascination with that which cannot be explained. Being a trained scientist, I look for answers based on observations. However, the supernatural defies explanation. The mythology surrounding Halloween and demons and angels is utterly fascinating. Just look at the TV show Supernatural, it is just great.

Now, one of my favourite books, is Dracula by Bram Stoker. This book has enraptured me since the very first time I read it. I read it maybe once or twice a year, it is THAT good.

It deals with the archetypes of good vs. evil, and yet the evil is not quite defined. The evil, in Count Dracula, can be looked at in many different ways. Some see him as the personification of evil, others see him as a pure male, or a female/male hybrid, or even, the expression of wants and needs.

And once, in an essay back in fourth year, I compared Dracula to a blood-dwelling virus, like HIV. What can I say? I’m a Biology major, through and thorough.

One of the biggest dilemma’s about Halloween, is that of what to be. What do you dress up as? Something fun? Something evil? Or, do you dress up as what you wish to be?

I’ve dressed up as everything from Superman, to Captain Hook, to an escaped mental patient.

And plus the MOVIES! Horror movies are a morbid hobby of mine. Try to scare me, I dare ya! I haven’t been scared in a long time, as I have become desensitized to violence and gore, just something that happens when you have seen as much blood, guts and dissections as I have. I cannot remember the last movie or TV show that I was scared during, other than the Exorcist when I was a kid.

One thing which always gets me though, is that of a SURPRISE ENDING. Give me something unique, something original, something I have NOT seen before.

The best example is that of the movie SAW. The first one, the ending basically dropped my jaw. I had to watch the ending AGAIN… twice. And then, as soon as I could, I went to my brother and told him to WATCH IT.

David – Daniel, watch this NOW!
Daniel – Why? I don’t want to.
David – Daniel. Seriously. I was left speechless
Daniel – Really?
*After the movie is done*
Daniel – *SILENT*
David – And?
Daniel – WOW
David – I KNOW
Daniel – That was great, amazing, awesome.
David – The best ending I have ever seen!

If you have NOT seen it, PLEASE do. It’s not overtly bloody or violent, it is a psychological thriller and horror movie. And I implore you, do not seek out spoilers about the ending, it will ruin the experience.

Lastly, I was thinking about Halloween and I came up with this. I hope you enjoy it!

And lo and behold, there was darkness brought upon the world.
As the sacred night reared it’s ugly head,
the veil between that which is real and that which is imaginary, was at its weakest.
It is the day where darkest dreams become reality,
fear becomes hope, identities are shrouded in mystery.
That who we are becomes shrouded by masks, revealing that which we wish to be.
What is your dream? What is your nightmare?
Can one be reconciled without the other?
Their existences are intertwined, one cannot exist without the other.
Good. Evil. Dark. Light.
One shall triumph, but the victory is short-lived.
The sun will beat back the rampant darkness, but, like all things,
the sun must set.
The darkness will rise again, only for the circle to repeat itself once more.
Ka (or destiny) is a wheel, it’s purpose is to turn.