Tales of Despair: Eternal Blood

The Vampire – Philip Burne-Jones

I was one of the (probably many) goth kids who grew up obsessed with all things dark; lord amongst the demons and monsters were, naturally, the vampires. What a beautiful romance these creatures held; to live eternally, at the price of the blood of your fellow men and women. The visceral attraction of blood, warm and flowing, the bitter metallic taste, the swoon of the letting – these were the things that captured my mind.

With this came the gloriously evil tales – not only the fantasies of Nosferatu and Dracula, but the terrifying histories of Vlad the Impaler, and the Countess Báthory. Drinking, bathing, delighting in blood – all was dark, brooding, and beautiful. A natural part of this was the romanticism of the vampire, and I will hold my hand up and say that I watched many vampire movies – notably Francis Ford Coppola‘s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, long before reading of the literature.

Gary Oldman as Dracula (1992)

Francis paints a picture of a medieval man, tortured by war and death, renouncing god for eternal life upon the suicide of his one, only, true love – that he will await her forever, fed on the blood of men. And wait he does, until by happenstance, he sees her likeness in Mina, the fiancée of Jonathan Harker, a minor solicitor visiting his Transylvanian castle. Determined to fulfill his prophecy, he abandons Jonathan to his fate amongst the vampires of his castle, traveling to England in a desperate attempt to be with her. He meets with her, charms her, and seduces her – only to be torn apart again as she leaves him to be wed to Jonathan (resulting in one of the most memorable performances by Gary Oldman, weeping in agony over his loss of her).

Yet his work is done; she remembers him, and becomes infatuated, and begs him to transform her as well. And then, as she begins to change, Dracula retreats once more to his home. Now bound to him, Mina can think of nothing else, and Jonathan, now accompanied by the delightful Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, realize they must pursue and destroy the count if they are to save her. In the bitterest of endings, the wounded Dracula begs his long-lost love to give him peace, and – having lived to see he beloved one last time – he is put to death by her own hand.

First edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Little did I know how little – and how much – this romanticized tale had in common with Bram Stoker‘s brilliant and seminal novel from 1897. While the characters remain the same, their intentions, motivations and desires could not be more different. Strikingly told from the perspective of journal entries and newspaper clippings, the loose plot is similar – Jonathan Harker, the newly-appointed solicitor, traveling to Transylvania to aid the Count Dracula in finalizing his purchase of land in London, and to teach him the ways of the English. Gradually ensnaring Jonathan in his castle with the three vampiric sisters, Dracula comes to London – for the pure desire to live amongst the great population, and to feed at his leisure.

Dracula does turn Mina, but not out of any romantic desire – it is a punishment, revenge against the men who would destroy him. He uses her, tracks his foes through her visions. In doing so, however, he betrays his own intentions, and is eventually hunted down and destroyed.

By all accounts, Bram’s original text is heart-stopping and gripping; the format of its writing ensures the survival of no character, for there is no narrator. We are left until the very end to know, even, whether the party of vampire hunters have triumphed over the bloodthirsty Count. In some ways, Francis’ version is one filled with emotional torment, anguish and despair – to pine for a lost love for four hundred years, only to be denied a life with her in the final moments is a heartbreak of unsurpassed proportions. Yet Bram’s original tale is by far the most frightening, and reeks of an entirely different form of despair: the knowledge that you are fighting an all-encompassing evil, one that delights in the destruction of all men.

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