Stoker, Bram

About the Author:

 

Abraham Stoker was born in Clontarf near Dublin, Ireland on 8th of November, 1847.  He earned an honours degree from Trinity College, Dublin, where, as head of the University's Philosophical Society, he met and befriended Oscar Wilde.  Between 1878 and 1905, as well as writing, he worked as manager of the Lyceum Theater in London.  Stoker died on the 20th of April, 1912.

 

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:

3.5 out of 5

(2 books)

Dracula

My second favourite book of all time (after 'The Hobbit'), I cannot express properly just how much better off you'll be if you read this book.  It is a sad fact that, thanks mostly to Hollywood, Dracula is a name that no one really takes seriously anymore.  This means that a great number of people turn their noses up at Bram Stoker's masterpiece.  Truly their loss. 

Stoker uses the brilliant idea of constructing his novel from the various characters' diaries, journals, correspondence and, in the case of one of my favourite parts, newspaper articles.  This means that we as the readers get to read the events of the story through the very eyes of those in it and, more importantly perhaps, the story builds like a jigsaw puzzle as each character experiences a different piece.  This allows Stoker to build the tension in the story in a way that I've never experienced in any other book. 

The characters are wonderfully touching creations too, be it the emotional, but surprisingly strong-willed Mina; Jonathan Harker, who goes through Hell and returns galvanised; or my favourite (and clearly the author's, since he gives the character his own name) Abraham Van Helsing. 

The core of the story involves a disparate group of men finding the courage and the motivation to confront a power they know may be beyond them and in that sense, 'Dracula' touches upon the mythological cultural subconscious that would later be exploited by such great storytellers as J. R. R. Tolkien and George Lucas. 

As you'll have guessed by this review, I absolutely love this book and can't recommend it enough.  Really; if you read this you'll never be able to watch a bad Dracula movie again (I'm looking at you 'Van Helsing', and the insultingly-named 'Bram Stoker's Dracula').

5 out of 5

 

The Jewel Of Seven Stars

A mystery unfolds when an Egyptologist is attacked and left comatose in his home under strange circumstances.  Found in the Valley of the Sorcerers and brought to London, an Egyptian mummy may hold the key to life beyond death.

Much as 'Dracula' is lauded as the foundation of vampire stories as we know them (although Dr.  John Polidori  probably deserves that particular credit), this was the first novel to link the Egypt's mummies with the idea of resurrection from beyond death.  There is, however, a very good reason why you've probably never heard of this book before.

That reason is, sadly, that this book is pretty boring and totally fails to pay off at the end.  Where 'Dracula' is a masterpiece of atmospheric storytelling, building the mystery of the vampire count up slowly through inferences and indirect clues, here the build up is far slower and lacks any sense of atmosphere.  It doesn't help that the characters are almost wilfully obtuse, completely ignoring clues that are made painfully obvious to the reader so that, instead of feeling you're uncovering the truth with Malcolm, Margaret and company, you just feel frustrated that they're taking so long to put the pieces together.

There are, in fact, two different endings to this book and I purposefully bought the edition which includes both so that I could compare them.  Apparently when Stoker came to republish the book, the negative response to the original ending (published 1903) prompted the publishers to insist he rewrite it with a happy ending (released shortly before Stoker's death in 1912).  I had imagined that the publishers, much in the way movie studios do, decided that they couldn't sell a downer ending and just wanted a happy one tacked on to please the punters, leaving the original version as the purer and more artistic ending.  As it turns out, both endings are garbage.  None of the build-up of the story is paid off in either version, ending abruptly and without explanation.  The only significant difference is one ends with 'they got married' and the other ends with 'they all died'.  Both versions are equally unsatisfying.

Almost annoyingly, there are moments when the talent Stoker showed with 'Dracula' shines through and you get this brief glimpse of what could have been a far better novel.  One instance of this is the scene where the history of Queen Tera's tomb unfolds and the other is where Mr. Trelawny and Malcolm confront Margaret over her notably changed behaviour.  The author then seems to lose that threat and reverts to the tedious and frustrating style of the majority of the book.

A real disappointment for a lifelong fan of both gothic horror and Stoker in particular.  Although I can recommend the highly underrated Hammer horror movie (very) loosely based on this; Blood from the Mummy's Tomb.

2 out of 5

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