By Leslie S. Klinger
October 25, 2009
Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt
Dutton: 424 pp., $26.95
The ending of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (1897) has long troubled readers. Professor Abraham Van Helsing, the Dutch expert on the supernatural, repeatedly admonishes his band of hunters that to kill the vampire-king, they must "cut off his head and burn his heart or drive a stake through it." Furthermore, he warns, when the sun sets, Dracula has the power to transform himself into "elemental dust."
With that in mind, what occurs after an extended chase from England to Dracula's castle in Transylvania is puzzling: As the sun sets, Jonathan Harker and Quincey Morris attack Dracula with steel knives, one "shear[ing] through his throat," the other stabbing him in the heart, and the vampire's body "crumbled into dust." Did he die or choose to disappear?
Another enigma is the fate of Dracula's castle. In the typescript Stoker delivered to his publishers, its destruction is described in some detail. Yet in the published version, the castle "stood out against the red sky," unaffected by the fate of its master. Some cynics have suggested that the ambiguities of the ending, in particular the preservation of the castle, were the work of a venal publisher, eager to keep the door open for a sequel.
"Dracula: The Un-Dead" by Dacre Stoker, the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker, and Ian Holt is not that book. Although it comes billed as "the authorized sequel," it's unlikely that Bram Stoker would have ever authorized this work.
That's not to say that "The Un-Dead" (Bram Stoker's first choice of title for his own novel) is a bad book, just that no author would permit a sequel that baldly claims the original got the story wrong. This is no more a sequel than, say, a "sequel" to the Harry Potter books that reveals that not only was Professor Dumbledore secretly behind all the troubles but that he is still alive, while Voldemort, whom we mistakenly thought was evil, is also alive and ready to help.
There is much in the book for fans of "Dracula" to appreciate. The personae of Dracula, Jonathan and Mina Harker, Lucy Westenra, Arthur Holmwood, John Seward and Van Helsing are all here, and their depictions fit neatly with Bram Stoker's portraits. They've all aged since the original novel. "Dracula: The Un-Dead" is set in 1912, and the Harkers' son Quincey, now 24, is a principal player.
Although some scholars, notably the redoubtable Elizabeth Miller, argue that "Dracula" took place in 1893, the final "Note" of the narrative, written by Jonathan Harker, explicitly states that the events occurred "seven years ago." Because Dracula was published in 1897, the year 1893 is impossible to credit. Like Dacre Stoker and Holt, I believe that 1888 -- coincidentally the year of the recorded murders of Jack the Ripper -- is a much more likely date.
The authors definitely know their source material. There are references to people who appeared only in Bram Stoker's notes for the narrative. And yet, they have clearly based this "sequel" on extraneous material, importing legends of Vlad the Impaler and Countess Elizabeth Báthory -- the so-called Bloody Countess who may have killed hundreds of girls in late 16th and early 17th century Hungary -- while incorporating the idea, invented in the 1922 film "Nosferatu," that vampires are destroyed by sunlight.
They change the location of Seward's sanitarium and Dracula's English estate. Many of the sights and sounds of 1912 London are accurate, but some are not, and there are occasional anachronisms. The authors have also fiddled with history: Bram Stoker did not continue to manage the Lyceum Theatre after Sir Henry Irving ended his association with it, and Hamilton Deane did not try to produce a play from Stoker's narrative until many years after the author's death. But these are forgivable alterations for the sake of a good story.
And a good story it is. The action is swift and thrilling; the villain is not whom you'd expect but is evil and powerful nonetheless. The authors do not try to duplicate Bram Stoker's technique of moving the narrative along through newspaper clippings, journals, telegrams and other "objective" evidence.
They do, however, wisely repeat the original's approach of having multiple points of view, so that we see the impending doom even as the characters rush headlong into trouble. This worked effectively in "Dracula," and here it is equally powerful. Although, based on their earlier experiences, these characters know full well what manner of evil they're fighting, they look in the wrong direction, while the reader sees disaster in the wings.
So while it's not a sequel to "Dracula," "Dracula: The Un-Dead" is a fine book in its own right, one that pushes the story in unexpected directions while remaining true to the dark heart of the Transylvanian vampire-king.
Klinger is editor of "The New Annotated Dracula" and "The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes."
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times