Thursday, November 08, 2018

When Brave Men Shudder: The Scottish origins of Dracula – review

Author: Mike Shepherd

First Published: 2018

The Blurb: Gripped by the demon of inspiration, he entered into the mind of the infamous Count Dracula…

The year: 1895. The place: a remote Scottish fishing village. Bram Stoker is feverishly penning his cadaverous tale of vampire horror as his family look on aghast.

Everything was conspiring to produce those words of gore... everything. What were the supernatural influences he found in the village? Who was the mystic poet who dominated his restless thoughts? Why was the pagan world trying to communicate with him?

Family memories, maps, photographs and newly-opened archives provide the untold story of how Dracula came to be written. Long untold and now never to be forgotten, this is the tale of a book that shocked the world, a book that would make the brave shudder…

The review: Over the years there has been a faction, if I can call it that, which suggests that Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire was the inspiration for Castle Dracula and/or the direct inspiration for the novel. What Mike Shepherd, a resident of Cruden Bay, has done is take that concept and – through a variety of evidences looked into the truth of this.

It is well established that certain sections, or perhaps even the majority, of Dracula was written when Bram Stoker took his month-long holidays in Cruden Bay. The fact that he wrote two other novels set specifically in the area shows his love for the place. We also know that he had made plans for a vampire novel, which became Dracula, before ever visiting the village. Indeed, Shepherd's even-handed approach to this is revealed when he states “It’s part of local myth that the sight of Slains Castle inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. This is incorrect…” and goes on to explain the motif of the castle in pre-Cruden Bay notes. However, I think it is fair to say that its presence above the village will have influenced (consciously or subconsciously) and Shepherd reveals that Slains had (and the ruins still contain) an octagonal room – a feature specifically mentioned in the novel and that Stoker had visited the castle as a guest.

In truth, the uncovered information this volume contains about Dracula specifically (such as the octagonal room) could have been the subject of a journal paper. The book is expanded further as the author explores Stoker’s relationship with the location and draws in subjects such as his long love of the poetry of Walt Whitman. The book is then more about Stoker – man and author – than Dracula, his famous opus. This volume is expanded further still with details of the local area; historical, sociological and mythological, which I have to say were fascinating in their own right. Shepherd does offer much in the way of supposition, about the book and the man – but that is fine, as he is clear that it is supposition and is not possibility passed off as hard fact.

The writing style is chatty, enthusiastic and clearly filled with a passion for both the author he examines and the location. One piece of clarification, if I may, when addressing the novel Lady of the Shroud the author suggests “She appears to be a ghost”, but she was actually posing as a vampire. Given that this touches on the legendary creature of Stoker’s famous novel I felt it was a missed moment of connectivity – but very, very minor in the grand scheme. 7 out of 10.

In Paperback @ Amazon US

In Paperback @ Amazon UK

No comments: