Surprise, revisiting Dracula a marketing plan

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Dracula The Un-Dead By Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt Viking Canada, 448 pages, $32

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/10/2009 (4797 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dracula
The Un-Dead
By Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt
Viking Canada, 448 pages, $32

IT will take readers a few pages to realize this is a sequel by way of marketing, lacking the power and the resonance of the 19th-century original.

Dacre Stoker, great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker and former member and coach of the Canadian men’s pentathlon team, along with historian Ian Holt, who has also written the screenplay for the novel, daringly revisit the world of Dracula 25 years after it ends.

The cast of the original novel reappears along with some new faces: Quincey Harker, son of the iron-willed Mina and whisky-soaked Jonathan; Inspector Colin Cotford; and thespian Basarab.

The result burns the candle at both ends: it is tempting enough to read and bad enough to be controversial, striking a balance between sensationalism and mediocrity.

An example can be readily found in the first few pages. The novel begins with a bound and gagged woman who is stripped bare with a knife, chained upside down and whipped before having her throat cut for the pleasure of Count Dracula’s apotheosis, the murderous demon with Sapphic tendencies, Elizabeth Barthory, who has a "voluptuous feminine figure while projecting masculine strength."

The torturous scene is witnessed by silver-knife-carrying, opium-eating Jack Seward who, upon witnessing the girl’s murder, "curled a hand around his blade, squeezing until drops of blood seeped from between his own fingers." Narrated in the third person, we are then told, "Seward knew that he was witnessing true madness."

While Bram Stoker’s novel was racy for its time, it was considered so for its subtlety and ambiguity. Stoker and Holt have all but eliminated the need for the reader to meet the narrative half way.

Mystery and imagination are replaced with flat prose and lurid description. Cliché and pastiche are the remnants of the horror genre.

The novel draws on a century of popularization, especially the merging of Dracula with Vlad the Impaler by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu (authors of In Search of Dracula, 1972).

Stoker and Holt recreate Stoker’s world with a heavy hand. Copious amounts of vampiralia are bared in the rigging for anyone too close to the stage, and many chapters are filled with gimmicks, from aimless name dropping and history hopping to the almost unbearable inclusion of Bram Stoker as a character in the novel.

The strategy employed is so embarrassingly obvious that at one point we encounter Barthory talking to herself about the extent of her undead powers. The list reads like the back of a baseball card.

In contrast to the layered description of Dracula in the original, from his unusual physique down to his bad breath, the most vivid description of the monster we find here is simply "pure evil."

This is a banality so tired it would be all but lost on the reader were it not repeated so often.

Readers are bombarded with a dizzying array of forlorn descriptors. In the first 80 pages the two female vampires accompanying Barthory are described as soulless demons, she-devils, harpies, and banshees behaving like wild dogs on one page and wild cats on another.

Another irritant is the occasional but sustained avoidance of pronouns, so that a character’s name ends up being used repeatedly. One can count 16 references to "Jonathan" on a single page.

Buyer beware, this isn’t a novel of the "so bad it’s good" variety or "let’s all just see what they’ve done with the legend." All aspects of the production seem to be fraught with the suspicion of being a publicity stunt. We are told it is "the only sequel endorsed by the Stoker family." This hurts the narrative more than it should even when the fanfare about bloodlines and endorsement beg the comparison.

Kenneth MacKendrick teaches at the University of Manitoba’s department of religion, where he offers courses of study on the concept of evil in world religions. Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula is required reading in his first-year class.

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