HOWARD JACKSON says horror genre classics Frankenstein and Dracula were ahead of their time
‘Poe is nowhere.’
This is not a cool student wanting to impress the class. Dracula was first published in 1897 and the mother of Stoker knew a hit. ‘No book,’ she said, ‘since Mrs Shelley’s Frankenstein or indeed any other at all has come near yours in originality, or terror – Poe is nowhere.’
Fame to be transcendental needs to be either global or eternal. Dracula and Frankenstein have achieved both. The books are best sellers and widely read but their appeal is now rooted in myth and two powerful icons. The movies become more interesting when they appear. The books are different. They combine myth, primal fear and challenging thought.
Over half a century ago a comic book series called Classics Illustrated introduced my generation to the famous names of literature – Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Wilkie Collins, Stephen Crane and H. Rider Haggard. These American produced comics had dollar signs on the cover. Such literary heresy was beyond Britain back then.
I remember reading the Classics Illustrated version of Moby Dick and thinking that the destructive giant white whale must have always been there, waiting in the imagination of everyone. I was a child and I confused fate with history. Later, as an adult I read the book and discovered that Melville had doubts about writing such a tale. Once written, publication had not been automatic. The publishers and the writer had nearly sidestepped destiny.
Frankenstein and Dracula should have occurred in reverse order. The vampire novel dealt with medieval fears and the novel about the creature anticipated 20th century technological will. But both books had an eye on the future which is why Van Helsing needs an American ally, Quincey P Morris. Both books are against ego and ambition and argue for self-control and humility. Indeed, the strength of the heroes in Dracula depends on their self-denial. The absence of these qualities in the hero of Frankenstein is why the book leads us to a tragic end. Frankenstein unlike Van Helsing dreams of immortality for all and fame for himself.
In Frankenstein we are reminded what happens amongst men who are free of women, men who are free to create their own children. In Dracula, Stoker warns about the nature of women who abandon Christianity and surrender to carnal impulses. The books anticipated the sex and gender politics that have dominated modernity. They also predicted modern addiction and the desire for ecstasy. Frankenstein is a narcissist compelled to seek glory and the vampire needs blood.
They represent the workaholic who wants power and money and the addict seduced by oblivion. Stoker and Shelley imagined two villains who would wreck the tranquillity of the more modest existence of simpler times. Maybe there is no history only fate which is why Christopher Lee looks so alike Henry Irving, the actor that inspired Bram Stoker when he created Count Dracula. To understand fate, all you have to do is live long enough. The novel Moby Dick did, and so have Frankenstein and Dracula.
HOWARD JACKSON is the author of Treat Me Nice Elvis, his music and the Frankenstein Creature. He is also one of the contributors to Frankenstein Galvanized which is edited by Claire Bazin. Treat Me Nice and Frankenstein Galvanized are published by Red Rattle Books, which can be followed on Twitter here