Monday, October 20, 2008

The new Annotated Dracula – review

Author: Bram Stoker

Editor: Leslie S Klinger

Published in this format: 2008

Contains spoilers

It seems strange to be reviewing this volume as readers of the blog will know that I have looked at Bram Stoker’s seminal novel as a piece of classic literature, here. However this is a review of the volume and, specifically looking at whether you should be buying this when versions of the book abound cheaply.

This isn’t the first annotated version of the book, Leonard Wolf annotated the volume in the 70s. I don’t have that version but Klinger references Wolf in his own annotations. So what do you get?

You get a large version of the book, hardback and beautifully bound with illustrations, a forward by Neil Gaiman, essays and somewhere in the region of 1500 annotations with the text (as well as an annotated reproduction of Dracula’s Guest). The strange thing about the annotations is that Klinger has worked from the principle that the events were true and that Stoker edited the ‘Harker papers’ and then for some reason (potentially on approach by Dracula as he wasn’t actually dead) obfuscated the events. This is potentially why the dating of Dracula is so difficult. Speaking of which Klinger subscribes to the idea that the novel is set either in 1888 or in 1889 and that details such as the death of Charcot (1893) were added by Stoker as part of the obfuscation – he cites the coda (7 or 11 years – by Stoker’s notes – after the events) as problematic but does not consider that, within his theory, Harker’s coda could be invention.

Klinger used a similar method, i.e. work from the idea that the fictional was factual, when he annotated the Sherlock Holmes stories and whilst you may not subscribe to the theory (as it is clearly preposterous) it doesn’t prevent the notes from being insightful and interesting – though occasionally a sigh might pass through your lips.

Other than this, how are the notes? Is this the ultimate edition of Dracula? Frankly it is a fine edition but there are some problems. Not the least there are a few inaccuracies. For instance there is a picture of Ingrid Pitt, cloaked, during a discourse on Carmilla with a legend that claims it is from The Vampire Lovers it isn’t, rather it is from the House that Dripped Blood. That might be the result of a inaccurate researcher acting on the editor’s behalf.

However in one of the annotations Klinger suggests that in the lore of Buffy the Vampire Slayer anyone bitten by a vampire becomes one. That is patently not the case and it was clearly stated in the Welcome to The Hellmouth pilot that an exchange of blood was necessary and the subject does come up through the show's 7 seasons. Fair enough, Buffy isn’t the subject of the book but it is mentioned so should be correct and it only takes a 30 second search of wikipedia to clarify.

All that said, the mistakes are few and far between – there was another, for instance, that mentioned Harker when it was clear Seward was meant and that is about all I can recall having read the volume in entirety – but they are there and shouldn’t be if this is going to be the authoritative volume.

The other problem is in the nature of the annotated novel, in that the notes are copious and generally very interesting. One reads an annotated volume for the annotation as much as anything else. However if you have not read the novel before, or if you just fancy a straight read through, the notes are distracting, break up the flow and can damage the dramatis. My advice would be to have the annotated version and a non-annotated version, as I have, and each would serve its own function.

For anyone who has not read the novel I would recommend reading it without annotations first but then go back and read it in this format as it adds a great deal to the experience. After all how else would we know, in a complete blast of trivia, that the number of Whales brought to Whitby from 1767 to 1816 was some 2761, along with 25000 seals, 55 bears, 43 unicorns and 64 seahorses (from chapter 6, annotation 13)?

There are a couple of errors, true, but the volume is lovely, the quality of illustrations and binding make it sumptuous and it is truly a joy to have on the bookshelf. 9 out of 10 (volume and not novel).

Edit: 30 December 2008. Following correspondence with, it has to be said a very pleasant, Leslie S Klinger, I have been informed that the book will have its errata ammended so that the caption in respect of the Ingrid Pitt picture will read along the lines of: "Ingrid Pitt, who stars as Mircalla Karnstein in 'The Vampire Lovers'" (shown here in a scene from 'The House That Dripped Blood,' Amicus Productions, 1971).

There will be an errata for the annotation were Seward is accidentally identified as Harker.

Finally the Buffy footnote will be changed to “Buffy lore follows this model. In the opening episode, it is explained that there must be an exchange of fluids between the vampire and victim to cause ‘turning.’ However, whether due to network standards or a deeper understanding, no such exchanges are ever depicted onscreen. This lore is confirmed in a later episode, ‘Graduation Day, Part Two,’ when the ensouled vampire Angel, who has fed on Buffy’s blood, assures her friend Willow that she won’t ‘turn’ because she didn’t drink his blood.”

As the errors I mentioned have been addressed I felt it important to mention it within the review, hence this edit. I don’t believe the errors were so integral that I lowered the score due to them and thus the score remains the same.


Anonymous said...

I have been to Whitby frequently in the past few decades... but never saw a unicorn or a seahorse. Perhaps i should have gone in the sixties!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hey Crabstix - there are certainly plenty of unicorns and seahorses in the wonderful curio shops in Whitby... I suspect, however, that in context the unicorns were narwhales... as for the seahorses, I'm not sure a I can't see a whaling fleet paying much attention to the common seahorse, so perhaps it was a name for a large sea creature at the time.