“Enter of Your Own Free Will”

Following last week’s theme of our love of literature, I thought I would devote this week’s post to my all time favorite……………….

It is still the scariest book I have ever read, and I read a lot of books.  That is saying something as it was written in 1897. It gave birth to an icon, a legend, a goldmine of adaptations, movies, television shows, plays, songs, and parodies.  Like another creation of almost the same time, one who smoked a pipe and a wore a deerstalker hat, and re-invented logic itself, it defined and commented on a culture, a country, and a people. It probed deep into some dark places of the sub-conscious that not a lot of people were comfortable going to, especially in the nineteenth century.   It was based on a real person in a real castle, and it put an obscure land into the popular imagination. And it gave birth to the greatest bogey-man of them all. It is, of course, Dracula by Bram Stoker, a work of pure genius.

I read it first as a young child. It scared me then. It scares me now. But I have never stopped going back for more.

It is fascinating in that the entire narrative is structured through the individual journal entries and letters of the characters. Jonathan  Harker writes in his journal ; his wife, Mina keeps one herself and writes letters to her dear friend Lucy Westenra, who writes back; Lord Holmwood, Quincy Morris, and Dr. Seward are friends and correspond to each other, and then, of course, there is Van Helsing who also gets his turn at relating the mysterious events that unfold. The Count may be the only one who doesn’t get a chapter, excepting perhaps the doomed Renfield, but the Count doesn’t need one; his presence, his malignancy holds sway over the entire story.

As Harker, a young barrister travels to Castle Dracula to present papers relating to the Count’s recent purchase of a property in central London,  he travels through a foreign countryside steeped in superstition and legend. He being a modern man of business doesn’t hold much account to stories of The Evil Eye and the Un-Dead, but rest assured, he is soon convinced otherwise.

Meanwhile, the good people back in London wait, unknowingly for the arrival of the Count.

It is a book filled with delicious sounding names:  The Borgo Pass, Bukovina, and Bistritz. Even the food and drink sound mysterious;  Tokai, the regional brandy, and Impletata, a dish made with eggplant and forcemeat (I have made it without the forcemeat – whatever the heck that is, and it is wonderful).

It is a book filled with images that sear themselves onto your brain: a coach pulled by horses that seem to breathe fire, the castle itself (“Enter freely of your own will”), the sound of the children of the night, wolves at the Count’s beck and call (“what beautiful music they make),  strange sparkling lights that transform into three voluptuous and hungry women, a gypsy pleading for the return of her child who has gone missing, in the castle’s courtyard, its fate a repast for said women, a mirror with no reflection, a empty ship arriving in London harbor with only the captain strapped to the steering wheel, a lone wolf jumping off that ship right before it is boarded by the people ashore (guess who?); the Boofer Lady, moving silently through a darkened graveyard, easily slipping between the cracks of a vaults locked door, a sea of rats emerging from dust itself.

On it goes, one image after another, all wonderfully brought to life by the master, Mr. Stoker.

It, of course, was written in Victorian England, and the concept of a powerful man being able to have his way with a beautiful woman wasn’t exactly a commonly exhibited occurrence in literature (though there are exceptions), but to make the man a non-man, the epitome of Evil, well that really shook up the populace.  It was said Stoker was insane; how could a healthy normal man imagine such scenes of debauchery and lust? Well anyone who has read about the underside of Victorian England knows debauchery was an everyday kind of thing, but it wasn’t spoken of in good company and Lord knows the Queen would not have approved (see how she reacted to the real-life activities of one Jack the Ripper).  But Stoker’s story touched a nerve, some very interesting and erotic nerves, and word quickly spread. Though it was not what we would call a best seller, it would become one in later years, and really got some attention when Hollywood took a shot at it. And they have been making Dracula movies ever since.

Above all it is an adventure story, shrouded in horror, but with a sound foundation in what makes any good rousing yarn (think Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.). It is a story of friendship, of loyalty, of duty, of perseverance, and a belief in a righteous God. And it has some pretty riveting action sequences.  It is pretty much everything in my book, the near perfect novel if such a thing exists. I read it once a year, every October and each time it reveals yet a new layer of literary beauty. And every year as I read it before going to bed, it fills my imagination with seductive specters of the unknown; and truth be told on not a few occasions it has given me some A1 nightmares!

It is that scary.

But it is lyrical as well. Just listen to the music these words make:

“No man knows till he experiences it, what it is like to feel his own life-blood drawn away into the woman he loves.”-Dr. Seward

But my very feelings changed to repulsion and terror when I saw the whole man slowly emerge from the window, and begin to crawl down the castle wall over that dreadful abyss, face down, with his cloak spreading out around him like great wings.” –Jonathan Harker

Friendship is a priceless gift, that cannot be bought or sold, but its value is far greater than a mountain made of gold. For gold is cold and lifeless, it can neither see nor hear. And in time of trouble it is powerless to cheer. It has no ears to listen, no heart to understand, it cannot bring you comfort or reach out a helping hand. So when you ask God for a gift, be thankful if he sends, not diamonds, pearls, or riches, but the love of real true friends. Thank you my friends for being in my life!”-Mina Harker

I could go on, but I won’t. What I will do is to implore you to read this most special of books. You will not regret it.

Nightmares and all.


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