Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Watchmen

I finished this book ages ago and am now reading "The Last of the Mohicans", but of course, completely forgot to write about it here. Please pardon the tardiness.

I was inspired to pick this up after seeing the trailer for its film adaptation by dull, overpraised director Zack Snyder which is being released sometime next year. I had read in various places about it being one of the greatest comics of all time, it being one of the most unfilmable stories ever, and it being by Alan Moore. Of course, the last of these traits is what really motivated me to pick it up.

The story starts with the murder of The Comedian, one of the legendary team of heroes known as The Watchmen. A day or two after he is beaten up and thrown out of the window of his high-rise New York City apartment, the police began to investigate, but Rorschach, another Watchman and quite the black-and-white moralistic right-winger with a scarring past, decides to investigate the murder himself. In the backdrop of the prideful nuclear arms faceoff between the United States and Russia that is the Cold War, the mystery takes the story through the history of the rest of the team members such as Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre and others, the interaction between themselves and society, and a shocking hidden conspiracy boiling underneath it all.

This is definitely one of the greatest stories I've ever read in my entire life. Another literary jewel, and perhaps his most popular, by Alan Moore, "Watchmen" has a very in-depth but straightforward, magnificent plot and storyline. The characters, who are superheroes viewed through a much more realistic, grey-area lens rather than the problem-of-crime-solved-with-superpower perspective that comics are built upon, are meaningful with life and emotions passing in between them, questioning what it means to be a superhero or even questioning which morals are to truly be considered morals. The story within a story "Tales of the Black Freighter" which coincided with another individual plotline within the greater narrative, was also a small but powerful part of the graphic novel experience that gave it a world within a world feeling.

Here's my thing, though. Ozymandias, whose name is supposedly taken from the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem, is held by Wizard magazine to be one of the greatest villains of all time. The villains on this list come from all formats: film, book, comic, video game, whichever. Now, I don't know about this. Ozymandias worships power (or symbols of, such as Alexander the Great and Rameses II) and sees himself as one of the greatest beings ever, mentally rendering other people's lives to nil. Furthermore, his actions at the end of the story made me seriously question where he stood morally, as they had both great and terrible effects and he claims to have done them for the greater good of man. So, he is a bit of an interesting character with some intriguing complexity, but I would not say one of entertainment's greatest. Alonzo Harris from "Training Day"? Yes. Vincent from "Collateral"? Definitely. Agent Smith from "The Matrix"? Most certainly. Even Davy Jones from "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" should have some rank in the list. But I don't know about Ozymandias.

Regardless, I of course recommend anyone looking for an intriguing and epic masterpiece of a story to pick this up and begin it immediately. I certainly see this as one of those books that have to be read once or twice a year.

Monday, December 8, 2008

V For Vendetta

I started this graphic novel a little while ago after being completely blown away by the film, even with its misleading commercials and trailersnote below. But I stopped reading 1) because the artwork and drawings were too dark and rustic looking in their bold lines and pale, pastel colors. Perhaps this is something Alan Moore was aiming for (although I didn't really see why), but almost all of the characters, kind of, visually blended into each other and it was quite difficult to tell which character was who. 2) Because after about pg. 30, I didn't know what the hell was going on plot-wise. This was last year or somewhere around that area. A week and some change back, I had seen the trailer for Zack Snyder's (unfortunately) filming of "Watchmen", another well renown Alan Moore comic series and quite possibly what put him as a great artistic staple in the public eye. I was impressed by the trailer and immediately wanted to buy the graphic novel so that I could know the story ahead of time. But I felt....I don't know....incomplete. It would always hang over me that I didn't complete "V For Vendetta" if I were to just start reading "Watchmen" instead. Like I was running away from it or something. So, I bought "Watchmen" and dove head first into "Vendetta" to clear the conscience. Although the animation was still pretty crummy, I now don't understand what I got confused about plot-wise the first time around (I remember being confused about who is named who though). The story, most before the third act, was pretty straightforward and in-depth simultaneously. It is also one of the greatest stories I've ever read.

The story starts in the future, November 5th, 1997 (this was published in 1988). A young factory worker, Evey Hammond, hits the streets of totalitarian England in this oppressive, dystopian world ruled by Norsefire, the fascist government. She is starting her job as a prostitute, as factory work is not able to pay her bills. Upon approaching and soliciting the first man she meets, she finds, to her own dismay, that he is an undercover cop. Before a gang of policemen gather to rape and kill her, a mysterious figure in a conical hat, cape and Guy Fawkes mask appears, reciting lines from a Shakespeare play and dismembering the group before rescuing Evey. Up on a rooftop, the figure introduces himself as V before showing her Parliament being blown up right before her very eyes. From here, the fight for freedom begins.

V himself is an anarchist, and throughout the story he discusses the importance and meaning of an anarchic society, how exactly the totalitarian government oppresses society, and how the society just allows them to do it. Themes of past sins, hypocrisy, corruption and tyrannical order all also play important parts in the story. I remember seeing, around the time the movie came out (2006), titles and posts on imdb.com asking if it was ok to promote terrorism at a time like that, when America was still somewhat sensitive to 9/11, the Iraq War and xenophobia. And while thinking that this was an asinine sentiment at best, I admired the Wachowski Bros. (the producers of this film and the directors of The Matrix Trilogy) and James McTeigue (the director of this film) for putting forth a story that spoke of not letting the government restrict your freedom and life through fear and terror. V never takes his mask off (although, for the film, if you know the actor, you know exactly what he looks like), and the story uses this to symbolize that he is solely a representative of an idea, or of the ideal that every person should strive to achieve in their own rational ways. The message of the graphic novel is clear, and the story is highly entertaining and intriguing. I'd recommend to everyone.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Stranger


I once again have to apologize. I would've finished this book way earlier, but lately, on the train I've been spending more time with my iPod and at home have been spending more time with Family Guy and nanowrimo. It's a very thin novel, smaller than "Veronica Decides to Die". It's not as interesting or colorful (I don't know really know why I'm comparing the two), but it is still a good novel. It is considered a classic existentialist, absurdist
tracttreatise although Albert Camus himself said that he was not an existentialist. Themes of the value of life and it's meaning play very important roles, although I don't think I agree with what Camus says about life through those themes.

Meursault is an ordinary man with a job, a woman (or sexual partner, really), neighbors and a friend that he lives with and encounters on the daily basis. In the beginning of the book, his mother passes away, and he attends the funeral. The majority of the narrative after this is a contemplation on Meursault as a completely indifferent person to a world that just seems to drift by. This is until, one day, on an Algerian beach, Meursault confronts a nameless Arab, an enemy of his friend Raymond, and shoots him dead. From here on, through a trial of his murder, an examination of Meursault's character and his attitude towards morality is examined.

I had a passage that I was going to put up here, but it's at the end of the book and I thought it perhaps be better saved for the personal reading experience. But it basically summed up Meursault's view of life, a view in which nothing mattered since we would all, at one point in time meet our deaths no matter what we did. On a literary level, the feel and writing style of the book accurately portrays this view, as the story progresses and feels almost like a blur of characters and events that pass by. It almost becomes irrelevant as to whether Meursault engages with them or not, because it always just feels like he is the objective observer to life shifting and grappling with itself, even when it involves him.

Most of the problems I had with the book were not actually with the story itself but with what Camus was trying to say about fate and what matters, so this post wouldn't really be considered a review of the book. Meursault talks about how nothing really matters, not his mother's death, or the shooting of the Arab or anything. Because in the end, nothing is what we become. Back into the grave, perhaps a temporary life in memory, and then complete disintegration. In prison, a chaplain comes to him and tries to tell him to turn to God, but Meursault refuses, saying that he only had a little bit of time left in his life, and he didn't want to waste it on God.

Meursault eventually realizes that he had a hand in where he's ended up, and that fate was not control solely by some outside force alone. In him believing that there is no real, definable truth, only perspective, is also true. But with that said, he can no longer argue that nothing matters. Because what does matter depends on your own views or your personal aspirations. Had Meursault chose to accept God in his life, a new system of values and beliefs would've been introduced, and there'd be a world beyond earth to consider in his actions. Life seemed like a blur because he made the personal choice to deaden himself to it. An intellectual pursuit in the activity, attitudes, atmosphere, or spiritual life of the world around him would've awaken something in him at some point. Or so I believe.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veronika Decides To Die

I had finished this book much earlier than today, but I became busy with nanowrimo, some meetings, work and tiredness.

At any rate, I had signed up at meetup.com to go to a Reader's meeting of some sort and this was the book picked for the meeting. The meeting was only a week and a half away, and I've read thick books in shorter time than that, so I went to pick it up. "Veronica Decides to Die" by Paulo Coelho was only 210 pgs., with considerable gaps in between sentences and chapters that are only 1-2 1/2 pgs. long, so needless to say I finished it no time. But I will also venture to say that those circumstances are only a small percentage of the reason why I finished the book so fast, it was mainly because the writing, story, characters and thin plot combine to become an absolutely astonishing literary feat.

As the title of the book plainly states, the story starts with Veronica, a young girl in the "famously unknown" country of Ljubljana, Slovenia, wanting to end her own life by overdosing on sleeping pills 1) because she is at the end of her youth and from that point on everyday will just be a repeat of the last one and 2) everything was wrong in the world and there was nothing Veronica could do to turn it right, which made her feel powerless. After taking the pills and passing out, she wakes up in a mental hospital. A particular Dr. Igor, head of the hospital "because he thinks a lot before making a decision", explains to Veronica that she has done terrible, irreversible damage to her heart and only has a few days to live. It's from this point in her small fraction of living time that Veronica begins to explore the characters, feelings (emotional and physical) and events that make her question and doubt her own death wish.

Of course, being in a mental hospital, the theme of what it means to be insane/crazy is discussed from beginning to end. Theories about it's validity are put forth and Coelho intelligently interweaves the word into the context of various characters pasts, and shows what it means to them as well as what it will end up meaning to Veronica. The theme of "Impossible Love" is discussed: Preseren, a famous poet that has a statue created after him, had fallen in love with a little girl named Julia and only wrote poems to express his adoration for her. But never got her. Zedka, one of the patients in the hospital, had in the past gave up everything (including her own husband) to pursue a very unlikely relationship on the other side of the world with a man who was entirely too busy with his own life to take her seriously. This theme implied the feeling of despair, which also matched Veronika's situation.

The themes of transcendence, Slovenian independence, the financial perspective of the hospital, and the cause of insanity are also discussed in this remarkable narrative with intelligence and a certain accessible quality that is sometimes difficult to find in literary. They are all used to show a unique perspective of life at the brink of death.

" ' Then last night, I too asked myself what I was doing in this hospital.
And I thought how very interesting to be down in the square, at the Three
Bridges, in the marketplace opposite the theater, buying apples and talking
about the weather. Obviously, I'd be struggling with a lot of other
long-forgotten things, like unpaid bills, problems with neighbors, the ironic
looks of people who don't understand me, solitude, my children's complaining.
But all that is just part of life, I think; and the price you pay for having to
deal with those minor problems is far less than the price you pay for not
recognizing they're yours.' " (pg. 151)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fledgling


I had heard or read about Octavia E. Butler, (I don’t remember which, information comes from everywhere), and about her award-winning status as one of the few prominent African-American science-fiction writers. Unfortunately, “Fledgling” was her last novel before she passed away on 2/24/2006, and I think she was using this novel to set the groundwork for more intricate, plot-driven stories that would take place in that same world later on. But Butler did not get a chance to expand. This novel started off intriguingly, but ultimately goes downhill and doesn’t really resurrect itself. There is entirely too much “feel-good” and not enough conflict.

A little girl wakes up in the deep blackness of a cave. She has no memory of how she got there or who she is. After wandering into a nearby town and meeting Wright, a construction worker, she begins to remember basic things and pieces together that she is actually a 53-year-old vampire. They encounter a set of burned-down houses, which Shori theorizes she used to live in with her family, the charred corpses of whom she also finds amongst the baked debris. Shori and Wright then set out to find the beings responsible for the fire and her amnesia, and start to discover that the murderous plot runs much deeper than they thought.

After Shori wakes up, the plot weaved its tale by piecing together disparate elements, such as the relationship between Wright and Shori and her particular effect on him, her past, her existence as a vampire and the difference between her and the synonymously named creatures of old novels and films. Following this gave the book a fun, interesting Harry Potter-like effect. But, after Shori encounters Iosif, her father, the book goes into unnecessarily long explanations of history and less and less conflict. There becomes a point where almost everyone Shori meets likes her, and that feeling of encountering new mysterious characters and situations that make the story a toss-up go out the window.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on Butler’s books altogether (see Amy Tan). As I’ve said, I’m guessing that this novel served to open up the world of the Ina to the public, so that later novels could be more action-packed. I enjoyed Butler’s writing style and still wish to read some of her earlier works.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Clocks

I am a fan of the master mystery writer Agatha Christie. This is after reading "Murder in the Orient Express" and "And Then There Were None". "Murder..." is more strictly mystery logic while there's more drama in "And Then...". I've also attempted a third book right after those two. Those first two novels are fun, intellectual and evenly-paced. The detective Hercule Poirot is a quirky, energetic and sagacious character, and I bought "The Clocks" because it's advertised as a Poirot mystery. So, please keep this in mind as I say that it was awful. (Don't worry: no spoilers)

In "The Clocks", Inspector Hardcastle and Special Agent Colin Lamb investigate the murder of a man whose body is found at 19 Wilbraham Crescent, the house of a blind teacher named Ms. Pebmarsh. The only identification on the body is the card of an insurance agent named Curry, and it is surrounded by a bunch of clocks all set at 4:15. The body is discovered by Sheila Webb, a typist-for-hire at a Secretarial Bureau where her boss, Ms. Martindale, says that someone saying they were Ms. Pebmarsh called the bureau and asked for Sheila Webb specifically to come to that house. Ms. Pebmarsh denies ever making the call. The story begins.

Note that I did not mention Poirot.

I did not like this book for 2 reasons:

1) Although it is advertised as a Poirot mystery, Hercule Poirot himself actually shows up or is mentioned in, at best, 20 - 30 pages out of 253. I doubt if it's even that much. Perhaps it's my fault for not knowing what I was getting into; I like to just know the very basic bones of the story before entering it. Inspector Hardcastle started the investigation and I thought, at some early point, the perspective would switch to Poirot. The thing is, I waited almost the whole book for him to come and take over the investigation and he didn't. He spoke about his armchair solution ability to Colin Lamb: if given all the actual facts of the crime, he can solve it right from his living room armchair.............which he does.

2) They interviewed all of the people who lived next to 19 Wilbraham Crescent, and they all give the same testimony: what time Ms. Pebmarsh (who lives there) usually leaves and comes to her house. This is fine, except I have to read it over and over again per interview. Nothing ever changes or progresses. No one ever says "That's not true, I seen her come back at 3:40 and walk out with a bag!" or some variable of the sort. I mean, the interviews also served the purpose of showing and describing each of the suspects, but I'm pretty sure there was some way around that as well.

I like for there to be drama in my art as well as action. Neither one can overlap. A little while ago, the third book I attempted to read was "Nemesis", which was a Miss Marple mystery, and was bored to tears by pg. 55 or so. I just know now that I have to look up a bit of information about whose handling the Agatha Christie case prior to reading it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Book of Illusions

I first came upon Paul Auster's work in "Travels in the Scriptorium". The cover, which was of a white horse in a white, spotless room that has a table with various pictures and stacks of paper on it, caught my attention and a reading of the synopsis confirmed my purchase (the more unorthodox, the better chances of getting my money). I finished that book in three days and immediately sought out to read more of his works. After finishing some other stuff first, of course. "The Book of Illusions" is the second novel I've read from Auster. And while some dragging moments and passages that seemed completely unnecessary appeared here and there, Auster's mastery of language and subtle display of interconnecting ideas is again done fluidly.

David Zimmer, a college professor in Vermont, spends weeks and months drinking alcohol on his sofa, growing an unkempt beard and wallowing in his own misery and filth after his wife and children plummet to their deaths in a plane crash. One day, on television he catches a special about slapstick comedians who used to perform in 1920's black-and-white silent films. They talk about a film by one Hector Mann, and while watching one of this actor's comedies, something happens to David that symbolizes the harbinger of major change in his life:

"....it made me laugh. That might not sound important, but it was the first time
I had laughed at anything since June, and when I felt that unexpected spasm rise
up through my chest and begin to rattle around in my lungs, I understood that I
hadn't hit bottom yet, that there was still some piece of me that wanted to go
on living." (pg. 9)
After intensely researching and publishing a book about this actor who, at the climax of his stardom, left his Hollywood home sixty years ago and disappeared from the public eye forever, a letter comes in the mail. It's an invitation from a woman named Frieda, who invites David to meet Hector. From here, the main journey starts.

The character David Zimmer comparing film and literary (pg. 14):

"No matter how beautiful or hypnotic the images sometimes were, they never
satisfied me as powerfully as words did. Too much was given, I felt, not
enough was left to the viewer's imagination, and the paradox was that the
closer movies came to simulating reality, the worse they failed at
representing the world--which is in us as much as it is around us."
I, at first, wrote this quote down because I thought its content was brilliant. But upon looking at it again and thinking about the story and David's relation to Hector Mann and his films, I think the character might have been speaking about himself without knowing it. All is eventually revealed about Hector's life before and after his disappearance, and a lot of it bears resemblance to David's own life. But this is only unraveled as the protagonist digs deeper.

In a particular scene where David is being held at gunpoint by the character Alma, he speaks about feeling this....sort of....transcendance, where this rift in reality occurs and for a small period of time he lives as someone else though he doesn't know who. The laugh that hits David in the beginning and starts the story going becomes the catalyst for him to eventually discover, through the consequences of love, conquering fear, isolation, finding purpose for himself and other themes, that his life has been lived and Hector Mann is a way for David to look at himself from the outside and set himself on track again after tragedy. Perhaps the laugh itself was a version of that rift.

A lot of subtle but key things happen in the story, so it's difficult to attempt to pin down anyone or two or fives interpretations of subtext. But I will definitely say that there is coherence, both on the surface of the narrative and underneath it. This, combined with its accessibility makes the book definitely worth recommendation.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Saving Fish From Drowning

Good gungamunga, this book sucks. Or at least I thought so. Do not take my word on whether you should read the book or not; I didn't finish it. I couldn't. If it looks interesting to you, or you're already an Amy Tan fan, then go for it. I see that "The Joy Luck Club" got plenty of rave reviews, but I'm nowhere near inspired to even give that book a chance.

12 Americans, each, of course, with their own micro-drama, sign up for a tour through China and Burma with museum owner Bibi Chen, who is dead before the story starts. Stuck in what she describes as limbo with the ability to go into people's minds and influence them, she follows her friends through the tour in Burma where they're kidnapped by a tribe who believe one of the tour members is a deity called "Younger White Brother" that can save them from being killed and harassed by the military government.

I would have to guess that adventure ensues; I stopped at pg. 204 in the hardcover. This is around the point that the tribesman and the supposedly sacred tour member, Rupert, meet. But I couldn't go on. I could not withstand the cardboard cut out characters with dialogue on par with an episode of Dora the Explorer. I couldn't deal with the terrible balance between the narrative, information and vocabulary. Amy Tan does a good job of making the reader also feel like their on a tour by describing the value and history of various temples, sacred objects, hotels, cultures and foods that the characters visit, but this is all said through Bibi Chen's narrative, whose language is stiff and not very colorful at all. So when she talks about the lantana or scarlet hibiscus they drive by on the bus, or when she uses words like 'lagniappes' or 'schadenfreud', they stick out completely and look unnatural.

I couldn't deal with the teases of adventure Amy Tan would give, by having her characters enter what definitely looks like it would be trouble (one character follows some strange woman to some far-off corner in a Burmese street market, another character gets left behind by the tour bus and falls into the hands of strict, deadly soldiers), only for the situations to result in shockingly bland conclusions. Under normal circumstances, meaning in the case that the rest of the story was entertaining, I wouldn't have minded these scenes. But those bits that looked like they promised adventure were the only saving graces for the book.

The one thing I can say is that I liked the way Tan places the theme of drowning in various places of the story, such as Bibi Chen's past, the history of an ancient Chinese coffin and probably some other places later. But other than this, I'm glad Amy Tan has a solid fan base of her own. I don't have to worry about paying attention to her stuff.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Shalimar The Clown

Salman Rushdie’s “Shalimar The Clown” is such a sprawling and challenging read that, even though the physical book itself is only 398 pages, it feels like I’m reading about 4 novels in one. Throughout this, I can’t help but to be intrigued by the way his writing seems natural even though the vocabulary is so wide that there’s nothing but doubt that any human brain can remember all of these words (then again, there are people out there that memorized the whole Bible, but I don’t think that’s the same). He skillfully details all kinds of psychologies, emotions, and atmospheres with a vision that seems to humanize everything, inanimate objects included.

The book starts with India and her father, the American ambassador Maximilian Ophuls, meeting up at her L.A. apartment. Going out to eat for her birthday, Max shows up at her residence with a new driver named Shalimar. After a small scene where India senses weird vibes from him in an elevator, she spends the last two days with her father, before Shalimar takes a knife and slices Max’s throat so deep that the head barely hangs on. The novel then journeys back years and time zones to showcase how and why this happened.

Describing the character India’s view towards L.A., Rushdie pens: “In such a city there could be no grey areas, or so it seemed. Things were what they were and nothing else, unambiguous, lacking the subtleties of drizzle, shade and chill. Under the scrutiny of such a sun there was no place to hide. People were everywhere on display, their bodies shining in the sunlight, scantily clothed, reminding her of advertisements. No mysteries here or depths; only surfaces and revelations. Yet to learn the city was to discover that this banal clarity was illusion.” (pg. 5)

This touches one of the main themes of the novel, which is two spiritual forces, the Hindi mystical dragons Rahu and Ketu pushing and pulling the characters and places between them. It’s consequently also about how these characters strive to transcend their black-and-white predicament, and get destroyed in the process. The design almost seems circular in nature, as the story goes back and forth, into the pasts of the main characters Max Ophuls, India Ophuls, Boonyi Noman and Noman Sher Noman (Shalimar The Clown) and into their futures, and showing them entering and struggling to break through Rahu and Ketu over and over again. They break through, but the price of freedom rears it’s ugly head.

The two sided themes include:
India (the country) and Pakistan
Boonyi and Shalimar
Hindu and Muslim
Pachigam and Shirmal (fictional villages of India)
Lust and love
Tradition and Individuality
Tradition and Modernization
France (Ardienne, Lorraine, Strasbourg) and Germany
Past and Future
Surface appearance and Reality
Living and Dead
The Indian Army and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front

The other theme could be stated either as existing without existing, or transcendence, or shadowing, or echoes. As one of “Shalimar The Clown”’s genres is Magic Realism, a lot of subtle supernatural things occur in the story, and they connect the characters with one another through time and space. Some characters are one with it, some characters are puzzled by it, and some characters don’t question it at all.

- Shalimar, when he was a small boy, used to be kissed lovingly by his father, Abdullah Noman and hear “birdsong” whenever he was, just as India did when her father Max Ophuls was affectionate with her in the same exact way.
- Yuvraj and India sit near the Muskadoon (a lake that ran by the village of Pachigam) yards away from each other but feeling each other’s kisses and touches on their bodies, echoing the same connection that Boonyi and Shalimar have when they are children (sitting by the same lake).
- Firdaus Noman marries a man whose name, Mr. Butt or Bhat, no one can remember the precise pronounciation of, but is accepted into the community of Pachigam by way of the money he easily tosses to everyone. In the beginning, India (the character) is proposed to by a rich underwear model whose name changes constantly, even in his own memory (Joe Blow?, Jock Block?, Rick Flick?, Judd Flood?, Jay Flay? etc.)

This is quite the complex and in-depth book. Reading it sometimes made me wonder how Rushdie expected people to stay interested enough to finish. He has great writing skill and an extremely extensive vocabulary, but the story strays so far from its beginning that occasionally lost me and I had to put the book down and pick it up later. I am, however, glad I finished it, and after my brain is fully rested, I’ll pick up another of Rushdie’s works. Probably “The Satanic Versus”.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dracula

Bram Stoker displays himself as one of the early pioneers of blogging in his internationally reknown epistolary novel Dracula. The writing is incredibly detailed and the imagery is great. However, I must also say that after the story moved to the discussion between Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra, I was bored to tears. Completing that novel was a process of torture, due to the unnecessarily huge amounts of late 19th century melodrama. Not to mention that it takes obscenely long to get to any kind of real plot twist, which is why I cannot read “A Scarlet Letter” ever again. And I think this edition has grammatical errors, which I at first assumed was Van Helsing talking in his native dialect and accent, but the sentences don’t make sense (“…in the presence of such earnest purpose as the Professor’s, a purpose which could use the (?) to him most sacred of things,” (Pg. 180).

Surprisingly, I didn’t find too many major changes in between vampire portrayal here and in contemporary mainstream works that wasn’t reasonable. For instance, people in today’s films take all of the blink of an eye to transform into a vampire after they’ve been bitten. In Dracula, it takes Lucy Westenra from August 3rd to Sept. 20th. And I suppose the main difference is temporal context within and out of the story. Where as the film has at most 2 ½ hours tops to get on with it, the novel structurally has much more space to expand and explore. So, people must transform quickly in film so that the story can hurry up and tell itself. The book not only examines the transformation, but holds it as the central conflict (Godalming, Van Helsing, Dr. John Seward and Quincey Morris trying to regenerate her by giving her blood transfusions) for quite a few diary entries.

There’s the underlying theme of sexual repression in the novel. Dracula’s blood sucking, or the exchanging of blood altogether is a symbol of love-making or sex. In the scene I briefly mention above, Lord Godalming gives Lucy a blood transfusion in an effort to keep her alive after she’s been bitten by Dracula. He states that in giving her his blood, they have become married in the eyes of God, but he is completely unaware that all 4 characters have at some point given her some of their blood in an effort to save her. Although Van Helsing is well aware of what she is and what she needs to subsist as a vampire, he even comments on the insolent deduction of that whole mess:
‘“Just so, said he not that the transfusion of his blood to her veins had made
her truly his bride?”
“Yes, and it was a sweet and comforting idea for
him.”
“Quite so. But there was a difficulty, friend John. If so that, then
what about the others? Ho, ho! Then this so sweet maid is a polyandrist, and me,
with my poor wife dead to me, but alive by Church’s law, though no wits, all
gone – even I, who am faithful husband to this now-no-wife, am bigamist.”’ (pg.
151)

Renfield is one of the most entertaining characters in the book. An asylum patient at Dr. John Seward’s ward, Stoker makes good use of this character by having him act out, in a more bizarre and gruesome way, the “child-brain” of Dracula’s affirmation campaign. Dracula is called having a “child-brain” by Van Helsing because he’s in the process of discovering and developing his own powers and strength in the new land of London.

Renfield has a habit of eating animals given to him. He first takes flies and has spiders eat them. Then has the spider eaten by birds. The birds by cats, or he wanted cats to eat the birds but Dr. Seward would not give one to him. When he couldn’t get them, he ate them himself. His mentality was that he’d harness the power and the life of these creatures by eating them. This seems to be representative of Dracula’s sweeping consumption of Europe into his following, which Renfield has already entered prior to his first appearance in the story. But there’s a part where, even as an insane person, his logic is questionable, I think on Bram Stoker’s behalf. In relating his physical confrontation with The Count himself, Renfield states that he
“had heard that madmen have unnatural strength; and as I knew I was a madman –
at times anyhow – I resolved to use my power.”(pg. 241).

He has to confer with his own stereotype on how strong he is?

Dracula, the other most interesting character, is a God-figure in the book. Besides the obvious mentioning of him with capitol letters in mid-sentence (Him, He), the novel is about him spreading himself amongst the humans and turning them into creatures like himself (Christianity?). This especially comes out in Mina’s observation when Dracula first seeps into her room as a mist:
“Things began to whirl through my brain just as the cloudy column was now
whirling in the room, and through it all came the scriptural words ‘a pillar of
cloud by day and of fire by night
.’ Was it indeed some such spiritual guidance
that was coming to me in my sleep?” (Pg. 214)

Also in Renfield’s dialogue with Dr. John Seward:
“Then you command life; you are a god, I suppose?” [Dr. Seward asked as
Renfield] smiled with an ineffably benign superiority.
“Oh no! Far be it from
me to arrogate to myself the attributes of the Deity. I am not even concerned in
His especially spiritual doings. If I may state my intellectual position I am,
so far as concerns things purely terrestrial, somewhat in the position which
Enoch occupied spiritually!” This was a poser to me. I could not at the moment
recall Enoch’s appositeness; so I had to ask a simple question, though I felt
that by so doing I was lowering myself in eyes of the lunatic;-
“And why with
Enoch?”
“Because he walked with God.” (pg. 231)

And finally, after Mina has been bit, Van Helsing tries to keep her protected by placing a piece of Sacred Wafer (Wa[t]er?) on her forehead, but she screams in pain as it burns her terribly and exclaims
“‘Unclean! Unclean! Even the Almighty shuns my polluted flesh! I must bear this
mark of shame upon my forehead until the Judgment Day”’

So then, she is casts out of the holy light by Dracula and meant to bear the mark of her new Un-Dead life, which speaks a bit of Cain’s fate.

I usually like to read the classic novels to see what the original content is about after the characters and situations have been hit with so many twists and new perspectives in contemporary arts. Like Frankenstein, which is a great novel. But after coming across examples like this and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide”, I find the experiences aren’t always rewarding.