I went to the bookstore recently and noticed that the shelves were loaded with vampire novels, so I decided it was time to read the granddaddy of them all and see what all the fuss is about. I must admit I still don’t especially understand the attraction, although I did find the book fairly enjoyable. The story centers around a group of six people — five men and a woman — who band together in order to thwart the schemes of the evil vampire Count Dracula, who has recently moved to London in order to widen his area of evil influence and bring more victims under his spell. Dracula, of course, adds to his ranks by drinking the blood of innocents, who then become vampires when they die; his enemies, our heroes, fight him using the traditional anti-vampire weapons — garlic, crucifixes, and stakes through the heart.
The book is very traditional — mostly because it in many ways created the tradition, I suppose! It is told entirely in the form of letters, journal entries, and a few newspaper articles or official reports. This format gives the author plenty of opportunity to explore the characters’ personalities, but he doesn’t take advantage of this, leaving all the characters fairly flat. The main impression I received from the letter/journal storytelling format was confusion, with five largely undifferentiated narrators all mixed together. This didn’t really muddle the plot, though, which was straightforward and simple.
Aside from its very obvious good-versus-evil plot (with a focus on the evil), the book contains all the trappings of Christianity, and a lot of the talk, too. The traditional weapons of choice against vampires include crucifixes, which the evil creatures cannot abide, and pieces of the blessed Host. (My Catholic friends inform me that this is very offensive. The character who countenances it is portrayed as religious and having received special permission to do this, but I doubt such permission would in reality be granted.) The characters all talk about trusting in God, and increasingly as the book progresses they reference His control over everything and place themselves in His hands. There are even quite a few references to Christ’s redemptive role.
However, I felt that all this content was more traditional than true Christianity, because of one central component of the plot, which is this. When a vampire victimizes someone, he or she is automatically condemned to damnation — to be a vampire, which is basically synonymous with hell in the characters’ minds and in actuality, since it is the state of a damned spirit — unless the predator is killed. Therefore, some characters in the book, who have fallen under Dracula’s fatal attraction, are as a result living with the knowledge that if they die, they will be damned, in spite of all their wish to the contrary. This means that a person can have faith in God, trust Him, wish with all her heart to do what is right, and still be facing damnation. It seems that God can’t do anything about it. (The human characters, on the other hand, can — if they can kill the predatory vampire before the victim’s death or skewer the victim afterwards.) I found this very central element of the book disturbing and most certainly not Christian. The author didn’t seem to see any contradiction between the characters’ assurance in God’s ultimate control over everything and the helpless situation of the women victimized by Dracula.
Content warning: Obviously, blood is rather prevalent in the book’s plot, and there are quite a few gory or otherwise disturbing scenes. In addition to this, one minor character eats animals (flies, spiders, and birds). Vampires’ power is portrayed as seductive — they always feed upon persons of the opposite sex — and although there’s nothing sexually graphic about it, a couple of scenes between vampires and their victims are especially nasty because of the seduction element. (How zombies are supposed to be sexy is beyond me, but whatever.) All in all, though, the book isn’t objectionable in this area, although gore is present and suspense abounds.