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BOOK REVIEW:

Dracul

“For many of us, Dracula is a formative novel. A book we pick up as children or young adults and revisit as the years pass, a constant on the bookshelf, an old friend. In fact, it might be so familiar that the question of the story itself, how it came to be, hasn’t occurred to us. Yet, like Jonathan Harker’s journey in the classic novel, the events that led to publication are ripe with mystery.” Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker state in the Author’s Note to their new novel, Dracul.

What was Bram Stoker’s inspiration for writing Dracula? As the excerpt from the Author’s Note above states, that is a question rarely considered. And, yet, two recent books have explored the possible influences, and done so very, very differently. Robert Masello’s The Night Crossing poses that Stoker’s encounter with an ancient evil of possibly Egyptian origin while working at the Lyceum Theatre was the seed that grew into Dracula. And, now, Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker have released Dracul, a much more classically Gothic tale that involved not only Bram, but the entire Stoker family.

Bram Stoker was a frail child. He was bedridden, rarely left his small room in the attic and was tended to primarily by the family’s nanny, a young woman named Ellen Crone. Bram’s health had seemed precarious for most of his life with his family continually speculating if he would survive the day, the week, or the month. Then, suddenly, he was fine. Better than fine, he was in perfect health. Bram’s parents gave the credit for his recovery to the family doctor (and his liberal use of leeches!), but Bram and his sister Matilda have always felt that Nanna Ellen was responsible for his nearly miraculous recovery.

After a series of strange and violent events in a neighboring town, Nanna Ellen mysteriously disappears. As children, Bram and Matilda, wondered if there was a connection between the murders and Ellen’s swift and inexplicable departure. Years later, Matilda returns to Dublin from Paris to tell Bram that she saw Ellen Crone on the street and that she looked exactly the same as the day she left their home. Matilda is now also convinced that Ellen was somehow connected to not only the murders they heard about as children but also for Bram’s continuing extraordinary health. Matilda convinces Bram to join her in a visit to their older brother, Thornley, who is now a physician. Matilda and Bram explain what they witnessed as children, discussing Bram’s continuing preternatural good health and their current concerns regarding their former Nurse. Rather than dismiss their claims, Thornley relates his own odd experiences with Nanna Ellen and suggests that the three of them must find her to secure the answers they have desired since they were children. But it is entirely possible that some questions are best left unanswered.

In Dracul, Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great grandnephew, and internationally best-selling author J.D. Barker create a classic gothic horror story that provides an enjoyable, and horrifying, backstory for Dracula. Beginning while Stoker is a child of seven, it establishes the mysterious, and somewhat odd, caretaker for the family’s children, and then follows those children as adults as they unravel the mystery surrounding “Nanna Ellen,” simultaneously exposing a macabre horror that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Like the classic novel, Dracul is an epistolary tale, primarily being told through the journal entries and letters of the primary characters. The new novel is also an international adventure, as Bram and his siblings, chase the mysterious Ellen from Ireland all over Europe. Stoker and Barker create a sense of urgency and atmosphere that draws readers into a compelling set of circumstances that seem reminiscent of other like-tales while also seeming entirely new.

Bram Stoker, the author of what very well may be the ultimate vampire novel, Dracula, initially claimed that the story was based on actual events. The introductory line on his original manuscript read “This story is true.” But the publishers he approached were concerned about publishing a book about a vampire just a few years after the series of Whitechapel murders, especially since the killer had never been caught, and insisted on changes to the story. By the time Dracula was published in 1897, the first 101 pages had been removed, the epilogue had been considerably shortened and there were numerous alterations to the pages between. But what if Stoker was telling the truth? What if Dracula was indeed a tale of an ancient evil preying upon the unsuspecting? What were in the hundred pages that had been removed from the manuscript? Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker answer those questions. In an Author’s Note at the end of the novel, Dacre Stoker concludes this tale by describing his research into his family’s history, providing references to, and images of, archival documents to bolster the credibility of the story. By the end of Dracul, readers are going to want to believe that the story they just read is what was edited out of the classic novel they know and love – even if, at the same time, they desperately hope that it is not.

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