"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scary beyond all reason


Bram Stoker's novel, archaic as it is in language, is the scariest thing I ever read. And folks, I've read quite a few Stephen King novels. I would describe them as gruesome, but not as frightening as the tale of that Transylvanian count. Perhaps it's the brooding nature of the writing - it is Gothic horror. At any rate, I remember reading this book at my desk on my lunch break and having someone sneak up behind me.

I won the gold medal in the high jump that day.

The story of how it was written is kind of fascinating. I'd tell it all here, but if you pop over to the Wikipedia article, it's a nice summation with a lot of references for you to waste your day chasing. By the way, did you know that Dracula translates to "the dragon" - or in contemporary times, "the devil"?

The story is told in letters and journals from the main participants: Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward, Mina Harker, and of course, Dr. Van Helsing. Van Helsing's entries are interesting because apparently English is his second language and his writing is stilted to show his difficulties with the process ("Now to the historical, for as Madam Mina write not in her stenography, I must, in my cumbrous old fashion, that so each day of us may not go unrecorded.").

For a writer, this can be a great risk, but Stoker makes it work. If you're a writer, you might want to study this and see how he did it.

It opens with Jonathan's journal, detailing a trip to Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania. We aren't told why he's going, and the trip is creepy with a capital OHMYGOD-GET-ME-OUTTA-HERE. Dracula is described here as a "tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to toe."

Not like this guy:

Or this one:


Never mind.

Dracula becomes intent on spreading his Un-Deadheads beyond his small village and taking over England. Interestingly, he relies on turning young women into vampires and having them do his work. Kind of like Charlie's Angels, except not. Despite his rather dull description, the Count seems to have a certain erotic charm. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Seward's diary, detailing Mina Harker's story to her friends:

* * *

With a mocking smile, he placed one hand upon my shoulder and, holding me tight, bared my throat with the other, saying as he did so, "First, a little refreshment to reward my exertions. You may as well be quiet; it is not the first time, or the second, that your veins have appeased my thirst!" I was bewildered, and, strangely enough, I did not want to hinder him. I suppose it is a part of the horrible curse that such is, when his touch is on his victim. And oh, my God, my God, pity me! He placed his reeking lips upon my throat!

* * *

Yeah, the editors didn't mind all the exclamation points back in the day. I encourage you to read it, especially since tis the season for ghosts and goblins and all things scary. And if you see someone reading it, feel free to sneak up behind them and see how high you can make them jump.

What's the scariest book you've ever read?

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