Review by Mike Finkelstein
I think at this point we should all know at least some version of the tale, but let's cover the basics of the story so that everyone is on the same page (no pun intended). Dracula opens with Johnathan Haker, a solitictor from England, on his way to the Borgo Pass in the Carpathian Mountains to meet with a new client, Count Dracula. His journey is peaceful for the most part, right up until the last village when the residents there seem afraid for Harker due to his final destination. He largely shrugs them off and is taken, via the count's carriage, to Castle Dracula. There he meets with the count, has a few strange encounters, and then eventually is abandoned by the Count seemingly for dead as the COunt makes his way (with his now legal paperwork) on a voyage to England. Harker then has to figure out a way to escape and make it back to England.
Meanwhile, Harker's fiance, Mina Murray, is staying with a friend, Lucy Westinra, on the English coast. After a ship crashes into the coast, strange things begin to happen with Lucy -- she starts sleepwalking and talking about strange visions she's had. At Mina's encouragement the two head back home to the city, but Mina soon as to leave as word from her fiance has finally gotten to her. He's in trouble, sick, and in need of her help. While she's gone, Lucy is courted by three men for her hand in marriage (Arthur Holmwood, John Seward, and Quincey Morris). Unfortunately, even though she chooses one of them, her life as a possible wife was not to be as soon enough she fell under a grave affliction. Despite the efforts of Seward, along with his friend and Dr. Van Helsing, Lucy could not be saved and soon enough died.
And yet, Van Helsing had a theory as to what was going on and, soon enough, he's convinced Sewards as well: Lucy had been killed by a vampire. When attacks by a perpetrator matching her description begin to occur, the men have to kill the foul, demonic version of the woman they all came to love. When Mina and Johnathan Harker return (now married), the same affliction begins to befall Mina, too. So the men have to find a way to find, and kill, teh vampire, even if it means chasing the beast all the way back to his castle to finish the deed.
I will not lie: I really hate this book. It has nothing to do with the story, the bones of which are actually pretty good. The bait-and-switch at the start of the book is interesting, with a tale that seems to involve Johnathan Harker finding a way to stop the evil count before the count kills the poor solicitor, becoming a tale of mystery, vampires, and an eventual chase across the globe. Conceptually I like the ideas the book raises for it's storytelling, and I could see a version of it where I really enjoyed how it all played out (heck, a number of the movies do a pretty good job adapting the bones of the story).
I also do like all the ideas Stoker had for the vampire. Taking a lot of the folklore and myths about the supposed creatures of the night that had spread for hundreds of years, Stoker merged them down into a cohesive set of rules the readers could follow. You know all the basics of garlic, holy items, stakes through the heart, and vampires struggling to cross moving water. Everything we take as a given about vampires started here. Tying the tale to a known mass murderer from past history, Vlad Dracula, is also a great stroke, giving the story weight and context. That's all brilliant.
The problem comes in the execution. My copy of Dracula was 350 pages and, for the amount of story in there, it felt about 100 pages too long. Large passages in the early going describe each and every detail of what Johnathan is seeing, what he's feeling, what the castle is like. On and on for 80 pages. His section starts to really pick up right near the end of the early going, only to then stop right before his big escape. Then it's back to the slow storytelling as we essentially reset. Now focused on Mina and Lucy as, once again, things slow to a crawl again and it doesn't really pick up for quite some time. Pacing is a big issue with the first half of the book and if things could have just been tightened I might have enjoyed it a bit better. At the very least it would have been over sooner and I wouldn't have complained about that.
I think some of the blame also lies in the way the prose is written. There's an oddly flourid wuality to Stoker's writing here that feels like he's expending a lot of words to say very little. There are a lot of repetative passages, people going on about how Mina is such a dear woman, a treasure, someone to be fought for. I got when the characters were saying the first time they said it, but by the eighth time they've emphasizing how important Mina is to all of them, as each man has taken her under their protective wing, I was just tired of it.
I recognize some of my issues were probably due to the writing style of the era. I'm not a classic literature reader (and if this book is any indication, I probably won't be), but the Victorian writing style is clearly not for me -- why say eight words when you can say four, and why tell a tale over 350 pages when it could easily be edited down to 250 with some judicious slice-and-dicing. Again, the bones of the story are really good, but the way it was written didn't work for me.
and on the topic of the era it was written in, I really hated how the male characters treated Mina and Lucy, but especially Mina. She proves herself, time and again, to be a strong, capable woman who can handle the dark things going on around her and has the strength of will to be a warrior in the fight against the vampire. Every time, of course, she's left out of the fray so the men-folk can go about the manly business. Worse, even Mina seems to rag on herself, telling herself that the fight isn't for her, that the men are there to handle the bloody business. She's just a woman so she knows her place. I really hated the way every character in the book, including her, looked down on the woman. These passages, in particular, bothered me more than anything else. Of course, the author was a man of the era he was writing for so maybe he thought this was just how women thought? I might maybe accept that as the reason, but it certainly doesn't make it any better, that's for sure.
So the struggles I had with Dracula are born out probably due to the era more than anything else. I've honestly tried three times to read this book and only because I made it a goal for this site to have a review of the novel up that I finally managed to finish the blasted thing. I want to like the story because I know it can work: there are plenty of adaptations (more or less faithful depending) that do a pretty decent job of making the source material work really well. It's just a pity that the original novel, as classic as it may be considered, it pretty awful on it's own.
The Differences Between Book and Movies
The first thing we really need to note is that there really hasn't been an adaptation of the sotyr that was truly faithful to the source material. The first adaptation was an unofficial one, the classic Nosferatu and, good as it is, it not only changes the main location of the story from England to Germany but also ditches the whole last section of the book, having the Count (her called Orlok) died at his new home in Germany.
This wasn't the first time the back half of the book was substantially altered, though, and the fault lies with Bram Stoker of all people. There were any number of unofficial adaptations of the original novel and Stoker wanted to try and put a stop to it, so he wrote his own, official stage play based on the novel. That play was then used as the basis for the famous 1931 adaptation of Dracula and, sure enough, the back half was ditched, likely because a big chase sequence would have been too hard and expensive to stage (and/or film) so Dracula dies in England. ("Dracula Dies in England" would make a great t-shirt.)
For here, the adaptations tend to pick and choose which of these details they use. Hammer Films moved the action back to Germany for The Horror of Dracula, which allowed them to ditch the ship sequences and also made is to the big chase sequence back to the castle could be done entirely via carriages. They also turned Johnathan Harker into a vampire hunter (although it doesn't go well for him in this version). I like this adaptation, but I'm in no way going to argue it's faithful.
Universal certainly didn't make future faithful adaptations, instead chooosing to continue using the stage play as their basis. The 1979 Dracula is absolutely fantastic, but the end chase sequnce is ditched again (this despite them filming sequences on the water). Also Mina and Lucy have thier names switched for no discernable reason (but hey, Lucy lives this time).
And then there's tne 1992 Columbia production of Dracula which is both the prettiest version of the story and well as the dumbest. An attempt is made to make the film the most faithful adaptation, except they gave Dracula this weird love-story angle with a past love he lost. A love, we should note, that looks just like Mina. We do get the whole chase back here again, as well as every other story beat in the novels with very few, minor changes. If it weren't for the fact that the actual dialogue is awful and the story is so faithful it's actually kind of dumb, this would be a great movie. Seriously, it's a very pretty production with some of the best costumes, sets, and practical effects ever done for an adaptation of this story. It's a pity, then, that the movie they came up with is so bad.
Although the absolute worst stinker of the set, by far, is Dracula 2000. The less said about that abomination (Dracula is actually Judas!), the better.