Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Dracula Tape – review

Author: Fred Saberhagen

First Published: 1975

Contains spoilers

The blurb: The never before told story behind the legend of Count Dracula!

The story of the Count’s greatest love, Mina Harker, and the bloodthirsty vampire hunters whose cruel pursuit drove the master of the night to actions ever more ruthless.

The Count Dracula sets the record straight …

The review: When I reviewed Hotel Transylvania I mentioned another long series I had neglected, the first book of which I purchased for kindle so as to begin to catch up. That series was the Dracula sequence and The Dracula Tape is the first volume thereof. Now I was cynical, after all I have previously read Saberhagen’s novelisation of the 1992 Dracula movie. I was relieved therefore when this turned out to be a well written, idea packed book.

Now Saberhagen does take multiple liberties with Stoker’s original, for instance he makes Dracula definitively Vlad Ţepeş, but we know now that Stoker literally only borrowed the Dracula name and a footnote of historical background, and by making Dracula more susceptible to sunlight – not only trapping his form during the sunlight hours but also making sunlight more of an issue than Stoker did (though not so much as he cannot function in daylight).

The biggest change, however, is that Dracula becomes the hero of the piece, claiming the moral high ground and stating that his bad press came about through a combination of misunderstanding (Harker) and fanaticism (Van Helsing). In this version Van Helsing gets a particularly bad press, including the manslaughter (at best) of Lucy through ill-conceived blood transfusions without blood matching (which hadn’t been invented). In this way Saberhagen is able to answer many questions that the novel left open but also opens his own set of questions. Mentioning Lucy actually brings to mind an interesting fact. Saberhagen claims that her name means lightbearer, actually it is probably more accurately simply light (Lucifer, was lightbearer). This reminded me that Stoker, in Lucy’s death scene, stated that her hair was “sunny ripples”. Coincidence? Probably.

Saberhagen makes his vampire un-sexual (the act of biting is sexual but his male tackle is unresponsive) and also makes him Christian. Holy items do not affect him but he balks at their misuse. The host burning Mina was an hysterical reaction, one that put a mark on her forehead in the exact location of the scar Harker left on Dracula’s forehead.

I do not mind an author tying Dracula to Ţepeş, so long as they are not claiming that they are making something that flows directly from the original. Whilst passages of the original are cited word for word in this, Saberhagen does this as his character sets the record straight and, in this case, the novel is such a reimagining it is fine. A well written book and a good start to the series – one to look at if you want Dracula to be the hero not the villain. 7.5 out of 10.


JaredMithrandir said...

One thing you've missed is that Dracula is supposed to be an unreliable narrator, we're no necessarily supposed to believe him. This is most obvious in the sequel with Holmes when Dracula and Watsons accounts are compared.

There are people I've shown your article on Tepes too and still insist it is blasphemy to make Dracula not Tepes. They continually annoy me.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Jared

I have only read this volume so perhaps I'll pick up more on his unreliability when I get around to the following volumes :)

re the article, the reason I wrote it was due to a facebook debate where a person stated "Stoker based Dracula on Tepes". We debated and every point I made his response was "good point... I can accept that... Stoker based Dracula on Tepes" Eventually I pulled the arguments into the article.

However the sad fact is that no matter what evidence you offer some return to it like a mantra and, as I said in the article, in some respects it doesn't matter because they are now inextricably linked, thanks - in part - to authors like Saberhagen