I first read Dracula in the tenth or eleventh grade; I still own the Signet paperback edition (which makes it almost 30 years old). It started a loveI first read Dracula in the tenth or eleventh grade; I still own the Signet paperback edition (which makes it almost 30 years old). It started a love affair with the vampire that had me reading some really crappy stuff in my late high school/early college years. It also had me reading some very good stuff - Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Suzy McKee Charnas, Les Daniels, etc.
When I saw that one of my libraries had it in a Playaway version (read by Robert Whitfield), and I was looking for something to listen to in the car, I checked it out.* I haven't finished auditing it yet but I have come to the conclusion that - regardless of the competence of the reader, and Whitfield isn't bad - Dracula is one of those books best read in silentio sed non clara (my apologies to Dr. Lofstedt on my mangling of the Latin). Reading to oneself, you can skim over the mawkish insufferability of Van Helsing** or the suffocating machismo of "the men," as they try to protect Mina from the unspeakable horrors of Dracula's machinations.
On the other hand, read aloud, you catch things that over familiarity with the text makes you miss (similar to my experience listening to The Silmarillion a few years back) so, overall, auditing the book has been a positive experience.
Though you may not end up liking it, Dracula is one of those genre classics that a fan has to read at some point. Like Tolkien's LotR in the fantasy genre, it set the standard by which vampire fiction is measured or which authors rebel against.
* Despite the season (it's October 31 as I write these words), I didn't consciously pick it up in homage to Hallowe'en. If this were March, I still would have checked it out.
** Anthony Hopkins nailed the good doctor in Coppola's filmed version; if only the director had been as perceptive in casting nearly every other role....more
I'm rereading this based upon Stephen's review so if I do not appreciate it more, it will be entirely his fault :-) ___________________________________I'm rereading this based upon Stephen's review so if I do not appreciate it more, it will be entirely his fault :-) _______________________________________
In The Case of Charles Dexter Ward HPL ventures a novel-length story about his Elder Gods and one man’s tragic fate when he delves into mysteries better left unexamined. Charles Dexter Ward is the scion of a well established Providence family who begins investigating esoteric matters and discovers that an ancestor, Joseph Curwen, was killed by a terrified town when they discovered his unhallowed necromantic studies.
The reader doesn’t actually spend a lot of time with Charles Ward. Instead HPL tells the story through the boy’s doctor’s attempt to find out what happened to him. HPL’s strength as a storyteller does not reside in memorable characters but in the ability to evoke an atmosphere of mounting horror and despair, and he does that very well here. You can feel the terror Dr. Willett experiences when he’s trapped in the lightless vaults beneath that ill-omened Pawtuxet farmhouse where Curwen raised up monstrous entities from Outside:
But Marinus Bicknell Willett was sorry that he looked again; for surgeon and veteran of the dissecting-room though he was, he has not been the same since. It is hard to explain just how a single sight of a tangible object with measurable dimensions could so shake and change a man; and we may only say that there is about certain outlines and entities a power of symbolism and suggestion which acts frightfully on a sensitive thinker’s perspective and whispers terrible hints of obscure cosmic relationships and unnameable realities behind the protective illusions of common vision. In that second look Willett saw such an outline or entity, for during the next few instants he was undoubtedly as stark mad as any inmate of Dr. Waite’s private hospital. He dropped the electric torch from a hand drained of muscular power or nervous co-ordination, nor heeded the sound of crunching teeth which told of its fate at the bottom of the pit. He screamed and screamed and screamed in a voice whose falsetto panic no acquaintance of his would ever have recognised, and though he could not rise to his feet he crawled and rolled desperately away over the damp pavement where dozens of Tartarean wells poured forth their exhausted whining and yelping to answer his own insane cries. He tore his hands on the rough, loose stone, and many times bruised his head against the frequent pillars, but still he kept on. Then at last he slowly came to himself in the utter blackness and stench, and stopped his ears against the droning wail into which the burst of yelping had subsided. He was drenched with perspiration and without means of producing a light; stricken and unnerved in the abysmal blackness and horror, and crushed with a memory he never could efface. Beneath him dozens of those things still lived, and from one of the shafts the cover was removed. He knew that what he had seen could never climb up the slippery walls, yet shuddered at the thought that some obscure foothold might exist. (pp. 102-03)
And this is a description of the relatively empty vaults found in 1928; nothing at all like these same vaults from 170 years earlier when the men who descended into those hellish catacombs emerged unable to speak about what they had seen and heard – the only account of the venture coming from the journals of a man who remained above ground.
I’ve got the entire Ballantine collection of HPL’s stories sitting on my bookshelf but poor Charles Dexter has languished there while I favored its brothers such as The Lurking Fear or The Doom That Came to Sarnath. It took Stephen’s review mentioned above to prompt a reread and I’m glad that I did.
So, Stephen, you may not have steered me to a tropical paradise, but I did manage to avoid any literary ice bergs....more