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From Page to Screen: Bram Stoker’s DRACULA — Five Key Differences

On May 26, 1897 Irish theatrical business manager Abraham “Bram” Stoker gave the world its most eternal literary character: Count Dracula. Since the time of its publication, the book, much like the Bible (which, coincidentally, also features the story of an eternal character), has never been out of print. Although not a bestseller upon release, the book continued to gain popularity until it obtained the legendary status it now holds in modern literature.

There is no doubting the allure of the novel, which has made it ripe for revisionist thinking and constant critical study. One of the best known scholars of Dracula critical analysis is David J. Skal, co-editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Skal’s latest book, Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker — The Man Who Wrote DRACULA, is the first major biography of Stoker to be published in twenty years. He has mentioned he was quite surprised to discover how much material on Stoker has been available — “More or less in plain sight,” he explains, “and, for whatever reason, just not noticed.”

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According to Skal’s publisher, the book is an extremely in-depth tale of a man who was paralyzed the first seven years of his life:

In the most probing psychological and cultural portrait to date, Skal exhumes, examines and sheds surprising new light on the inner world and strange genius of the writer who conjured the most hypnotic horror character of all time.

I asked David if he would jump into this column to point out five major differences between the novel Dracula and its many film adaptations. He was more than happy to accommodate us… check out his commentary below:

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First, there’s Dracula’s physical appearance. Stoker imagined a horrible old man with a droopy Fu Manchu mustache and bad breath, who got younger as he drank blood, but never became attractive. Bela Lugosi was a matinee stage idol of his time.

The idea that Dracula is sexually magnetic, impossibly seductive, or that he’s been heartbroken for centuries over a lost love affair or dead wife… none of this came from Stoker (unless you start digging into his largely unconscious subtext, which is all about sex). The changes started when Dracula was adapted to the stage, and he had to be the kind of character who could plausibly ingratiate himself into upper middle class drawing rooms. Hence the tux, top hat and opera cloak, and all the unctuous Transylvanian charm. As much as Stoker thought his book might make a good play, he kept the title character offstage as much as possible, basically because he was a completely unpresentable monster. But the theatre and movies had other ideas.

A third point of difference, especially with more recent films, is the blending of Dracula with Vlad the Impaler. Now, the real Vlad was indeed known as “Dracula,” meaning “Son of the Devil,” and Stoker found out about this. But he didn’t find out much more, and doesn’t even seem to have known about the impaling proclivities of the fifteenth-century Wallachian prince… and, gruesome though Vlad’s war crimes were, his wooden stakes had nothing to do with vampire superstition. It was just the way he liked to kill real people.

A fourth difference between the book’s Dracula and the movie version is that Stoker’s vampire walked around in broad daylight. Vampires being destroyed by the sun is a completely cinematic invention, starting with Murnau’s Nosferatu in 1922.

Another difference between the book and film versions is that the character of Renfield is always presented onscreen as a hyperactive, hyperbolic young man whom the older Dracula dominates. In Stoker’s book, Renfield still eats bugs, but otherwise is a just a broken-down old man.


Something in the Blood is due this Halloween from Liveright Publishers.

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