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Bram Stoker and Dracula
The character of the most famous of vampires, Count Dracula, was born in the novel ‚Dracula‘ by Bram Stoker:
And at last we saw before us the Pass opening out on the eastern side. There were dark, rolling clouds overhead, and in the air the heavy, oppressive sense of thunder. It seemed as though the mountain range had separated two atmospheres, and that now we had got into the thunderous one. I was now myself looking out for the conveyance which was to take me to the Count. Each moment I expected to see the glare of lamps through the blackness, but all was dark. The only light was the flickering rays of our own lamps, in which the steam from our hard-driven horses rose in a white cloud. We could see now the sandy road lying white before us, but there was on it no sign of a vehicle. The passengers drew back with a sigh of gladness, which seemed to mock my own disappointment. I was already thinking what I had best do, when the driver, looking at his watch, said to the others something which I could hardly hear, it was spoken so quietly and in so low a tone, I thought it was „An hour less than the time.“ Then turning to me, he spoke in German worse than my own.
„There is no carriage here. The Herr is not expected after all. He will now come on to Bukovina, and return tomorrow or the next day, better the next day.“ Whilst he was speaking the horses began to neigh and snort and plunge wildly, so that the driver had to hold them up. Then, amongst a chorus of screams from the peasants and a universal crossing of themselves, a caleche, with four horses, drove up behind us, overtook us, and drew up beside the coach.
I could see from the flash of our lamps as the rays fell on them, that the horses were coal-black and splendid animals. They were driven by a tall man, with a long brown beard and a great black hat, which seemed to hide his face from us. I could only see the gleam of a pair of very bright eyes, which seemed red in the lamplight, as he turned to us.
He said to the driver, „You are early tonight, my friend.“
The man stammered in reply, „The English Herr was in a hurry.“
To which the stranger replied, „That is why, I suppose, you wished him to go on to Bukovina. You cannot deceive me, my friend. I know too much, and my horses are swift.“
As he spoke he smiled,and the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth, as white as ivory. One of my companions whispered to another the line from Burger’s „Lenore“.
„Denn die Todten reiten schnell.“ („For the dead travel fast.“)
This excerpt of the diary of Jonathan Harker, telling of his journey to Count Dracula’s castle, gives an impression of the evil forebodings of what is to come. Although ‚Dracula‘ was by no means Bram Stokers only novel, it is the one that is most well known and the one he is famous for. His creation of the powerful vampire Count Dracula became so famous as to be a mainstay in popular culture and the myths and legends around vampires. It forms the basis for a lot of stories, movies and legends about vampires in general and Dracula in particular, and through its popularity, most of the characters have acquired a literary life of their own – Van Helsing, most notably.
One of the reasons that this novel has proved so successful and still maintains its popularity, is the style in which it has been written: diary excerpts, letters, newspaper clippings, log-books, all written by a group of different people, that all sound, even while being completely fictional, quite realistic. While this gives the story depth and credibility, the fact that the reader knows more than the narrators throughout most of the book, makes it full of a suspense that has the reader sitting on edge.
When, for example, Mina Harker writes in her journal of uneasy dreams, of feeling languid and tired, of a strange wound on her throat, yet is reluctant to tell her husband and the other men who are tracking Dracula throughout London, it is hard to sit still and read on, knowing all the while that the vampire has her in his thrall, while the men out to hunt him do not know of the danger.
Bram Stoker, who published the novel in 1987, spent several years researching European folklore and the myths and legends around vampires. His experience as a newspaper journalist taught him his detailed, realistic style of writing, while his work as the manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London gave him the experience for the drama and flair of the story. Before Dracula, he’d already published four novels, all in the then popular style of a romantizised and gothic horror story.
Dracula can be read online, for example on the Project Gutenberg, and anyone interested in the person of Dracula or the legends of vampires is well-advised to read this novel of horror and suspense and become acquainted with the its characters and myths.
Snow White – the fairy tale
One of the most popular fairy tales in the Western world, Snow White was the first to be turned into an animated colour movie, and the first full-length Disney movie ever, in 1937. That movie is now a classic, as the story itself has been for centuries. It goes so far that the dress this Disney Snow White wears has become iconic in itself, a synonym for ‚princess‘.
The folk tale as told by the Brothers Grimm
The first mention of the story in written form dates from 1812, when it was put down in the collection of fairy tales by the German brothers Grimm. Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm, authors, linguists and folklorists, travelled to many villages and small towns in rural Germany, collecting folk tales and writing them down to form their famous collection of ‚Household and Fairy Tales‘. ‚Little Snow White‘ formed part of that original first edition and the Disney version has stayed quite close to it, although the Grimm’s version does not feature light-hearted songs or (rather silly) names for the dwarves.
Other ways in which the famous Disney version differs from the Grimm’s original are most obvious towards the end. Snow White is not awakened by a kiss, but rather through a servant’s clumsiness in carrying the glass coffin: he stumbles and the coffin falls, thereby dislodging the bit of the poisonous apple from Snow White’s throat, which brings her back to life, allowing the prince to make his declaration of love. The step-mother also doesn’t get off lightly in the orginial: she is made to dance at Snow White’s wedding in iron slippers that have been heated in the fire until she falls down dead.
Different versions of the fairy tale
Snow White’s story was not only told in Germany, however: many different versions existed all across Europe, and although the names and some of the accessories change (a ring for the poisoned apple, the moon for the mirror, etc.), the basics are the same:
- an older woman, jealous of a younger woman/girl’s beauty, out to destroy the competition
- the attempt to kill and/or abandon the girl, either through herself or a servant
- the girl’s rescue by a group of males (dwarves, knights, dragons, et. …)
- three attempts of the female adversary to take out the girl
- the apparent success at the third attempt, usually with a poisoned item (apple, ring, etc. …)
- the rescue at the last minute by the hero and the consequent marriage of the heroine and hero
- punishment for the (evil) older woman
Because the story is so well-know, so popular and has such a deep resonance in so many cultures, it has also very often been used in popular culture, either very openly and obviously, or as the hidden, underlying plot of a story that superficially seems to be about something else. Many modern adaptations, film versions and derivative stories exist of Snow White, keeping the classic tale alive and carrying it into the 21st century.
Snow White and the Huntsman
The movie Snow White and the Huntsman, an adaption of the fairy tale, starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, came out in early 2012 and was highly anticipated. Despite the fact that the movie only has the most basic plot points in common with the original fairy tale, watching the movie is a wonderful experience, not least because it’s a visual joyride, packed with intricate details of a dark, dangerous, war-like world, interspersed with visions of a green, lush, light-filled peace.
Ravenna, the evil stepmother, so coldly and superhumanly perfect, is almost painful to watch in her beauty, and she offsets Snow White’s very human, very natural, very warm beauty. Indeed, the story insists that her beauty comes from being pure and innocent – having a beautiful soul.
Snow White is not only beautiful, she is also kind and courageous. To help the Huntsman, who is about to be defeated by a troll (a huge, scaly, roaring monster), she jumps out from her hiding place and although she has a sword, she does not even attempt to hurt or even kill the troll. Instead, she roars back at the troll, ‚fighting‘ it on its own terms – resulting in one of the few really funny scenes of the movie.
And despite all expectations, it works: the troll, probably surprised by her action, calms down and even lets her touch it. Snow White demonstrates her kindness in many small ways throughout the story, making her something special in the rough, dark world that her father’s kingdom has become during her imprisonment.
It is no wonder that not only her childhood friend, William (played by Sam Claflin) is smitten by her, but also the Huntsman, a loner and trouble-maker, and the fierce Dwarves are willing to follow her and give their lives to protect her.
Not only humans, however, recognize in Snow White the person who can rescue the country and defeat the evil Ravenna. Nature itself acknowledges her as she wanders into a secluded glen, where animals and fairy creatures live in peace and harmony. The White Stag, a legendary personification of nature, appears and the men who watch her are surprised and touched to see it bow its head to Snow White.
With her devoted followers she finally makes it to the Duke’s castle, where she rallies the men and woman collected there to follow her into a battle to take back their world from Ravenna, her stepmother. The ensuing battle, and the focus on the fight between Snow White and Ravenna, is another visually beautiful scene. Which ends, as all fairy tales do, in the defeat of evil and the triumph of innocence over greed and egoism.
The movie is a joy to watch and it transports the viewers into a visual, sensual world and lets them take part in a story that is both touching and well told.
all photos taken from the official website
Tales of the fantastical, the magical, the supernatural have always been part of popular culture, be it in the form of folk or fairy tales or as part of literature, and later also movies and TV series, urban legends and modern adaptations of old stories, computer games, children’s stories, etc. Fantasy and magic in all their forms and aspects have a firm place in popular culture.
Some characters of fantasy and legend have stepped out of the pages or stories where they were originally born and have acquired a life of their own, reappearing regularly in books, movies, urban legends and tales of any kind. These characters range from personifications (The Grim Reaper, Mother Nature, …) to personalities such as Dracula, Zeus or Snow White.
Every culture has them: magical beings, fantasy creatures – whatever you want to call them, they are there. Protective or creative ones, such as nature spirits, or those that pose a threat and need to be either placated, bribed or kept at bay. Some resemble humans, some are more like animals, some co-exist with the human world, even interacting with it, while others… well, they don’t.
Mythology is the study of myths – sacred stories involving supernatural beings and forces, that narrate the beginning of the world and the people, explain rituals and rules and historic events. Myths deal with gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines.
Fairy tales, or folk tales, are the stories around the magical characters and creatures of a culture. They tell narratives of normal ‚folks‘ whose lives get touched by something magical, or who have to fulfill a special task or find an object that connects them with the magical or the supernatural. They are not connected to any specific historic events or times, rather, they take place in their own, vague ‚once upon a time‘.