Dracula has become a commonplace figure in the modern fantasy genre, so cliché and barbaric that the horror has been sucked right out of the character. I’m not a fan of horror in any medium— I regularly skip on scary movies in favor of anything else that is playing and let my friends enjoy spending $12 scaring themselves — so I figured Dracula would be an amusing and somewhat cheesy book to read as I waited for the snow to dispel. I was wrong. Count Dracula, as both a book and a character, is terrifying. And it’s not because he feeds on the blood of lovely young maidens or traps a man in his tower so he can learn about England. It’s not because when awoken from his sleeping in his coffin or angered in any way, his eyes glow red. He is terrifying because he tricks the young maidens into coming to him as they sleep, causing them to sleepwalk to their death while completely unconscious; he’s nightmare-worthy because he traps a man named Jonathan Harker in his castle and removes all means of communication from him, intercepting Hail Mary letters to gypsies outside and forcing Harker to write new letters that say all is well. Essentially, Dracula is terrifying due to the degree of control he exerts on others – and the amount of control he takes away from anyone else. After putting down the book, I finally realized: put in the barest of terms, Count Dracula is a control freak.
How is this literary figure nearly as iron-fisted as a dictator? Well, first of all, Dracula’s main goal is to rule to world (yes, cue crashing lightning and cliched evil mustaches here, of which both are mentioned in the book). On the small scale, he has a set plan in motion to infiltrate London and create a host of vampires that he doesn’t want to waver from. (Thus, his insistence on boxes of Transylvanian dirt — as a vampire, he cannot walk on land that is not considered his home — being delivered exactly as he commands to his new residence in London is easy to understand.) Likewise, the strict schedule he keeps — sleeping during the day, doing all business at night — and lack of reflective decorum within his house stem directly from the weakness his inhuman nature inflicts upon him. “He is not free,” a vampire expert named Dr. Van Helsing informs the heroes at one point, “Nay, he is even more prisoner than the slave of the galley, than the madman in his cell. He cannot go where he lists…His power ceases, as does that of all evil things, at the coming of the day.” Thus, some amount of control also comes from a sense of survival. Just as a cancer patient would eliminate all sources of mold from the house to avoid becoming deathly ill, so Dracula must take utmost precautions and control everything he comes in contact with to ensure he will not be destroyed.
Secondly, he seeks power and glory. During a conversation with the hero, Jonathan Harker, Dracula winds himself up about his supposed ancestors, who included Attila the Hun, saying, “What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?” The Count’s preference for living in the past fuels his attempt to reverse the world back to the medieval ages (which, of course, would probably makes things quite easy for Dracula — if everyone went around killing each other again, he could swoop through battlefields and drink blood until he was positively gorged.
So, there you have it. Dracula has evolved into a control freak for a multitude of reasons: because he wants to rule the world, and ruling the world takes an extraordinary amount of organization; because he aspires to be like his war-mongering forefathers, who commanded with iron fists over their territories; and because being a vampire means you have to be strict about yourself (or else you burst into shiny bits of light and dust) and control those around you in case they do something silly like poke you with a piece of wood. Now I’ll try to avoid pretty much anything that has an even slight connection to the horror world. Maybe I’ll try a light comedy next…suggestions are welcome!
By Allison Willard
Image from http://bedfordbookconnections.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/a-century-of-cover-for-dracula/.