“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

"Dracula" by Bram Stoker — Kimia Wood “Dracula” is known as the original vampire, and the word evokes a cornucopia of images and lore.

But what is the original actually like?

Published in 1897, this Victorian classic delivers a compelling story of horror and love, featuring one of the most spine-chilling monsters of all time.

The Style

As Red from “Trope Talk” will tell you, part of the magic of the story is the style. It opens with the diary of Jonathan Harker, a newly minted lawyer traveling to Transylvania for business with a mysterious count.

This first act is admirably effective, as Jonathan progresses from describing the lovely scenery, to relating the curious superstitions of the townspeople, to his nerve-wracking first meeting with the count on a midnight mountain road.

The first-person immediacy of the narrative lets us feel Jonathan’s plight even more strongly as he realizes his imprisonment in the count’s vast but empty castle – and the diary form allows a mix of “this happened in the past” and “this is what I’m going through now or hope to accomplish” that forces the reader to engage with his harrowing experience on a moment-to-moment basis.

Fade to Black, Scene Transition…

We leave Jonathan’s diary on a cliff-hanger to read the letters between his fiancé Mina and her best friend Lucy. Mina, of course, is looking forward to her marriage to Jonathan (and concerned that his trip to the continent is taking longer than anticipated), while Lucy is flattered (yet also embarrassed) to have been proposed to by three charming young men in one afternoon (Number Three being her own heartthrob…and, once she accepts his offer, her fiancé).

Seem like a tone shift? It is in many ways, but the shift from Dark Gothic to Sweet Romance makes the transition back again that much more heart-wrenching. The girls’ perfect happiness (and their idyllic vacation at the seaside) cannot last…and when Count Dracula makes his grand entrance in England, the creeping sense of foreboding is that much more acute because of the shift in narrator and perspective.

Self Awareness

This sense of hearing the story from the eyewitnesses, with newspaper clippings and telegrams and hastily jotted notes written in trains and carriages, actually enters the story when the party is assembling the data they have on Count Dracula (the better to fight him) and uses the diaries and notes of their company to assemble a dossier of evidence.

I think this is a cute acknowledgement of the writing style…and after all, how would I be reading the private journal of a vampire-eyewitness unless someone compiled it for the benefit of posterity?

Patriarchal Romance

One of the things I adore about this book is that every single person is an adult. Maybe not all of them are super bright – after all, they fall for the stupidity of not sharing everything they know because “it’s too terrible for you to know, dear!” allowing Dracula to victimize one of them.

But I love how the romance is tasteful, self-sacrificial, and mature. Lucy’s three suitors all donate blood to her during her “mysterious” sickness where she abruptly loses most of her body’s blood during the night (when the window is left open…ahem). The two unlucky suitors hold no ill will toward the favored Number Three (and future Mr. Lucy), but rather do all in their power to assure her – and his – happiness.

Jonathan and Mina are pathetically in love with each other – to the point that they practice the old “withholding information for the other’s good” trope. On the other hand, the plot forces them back to full disclosure and honesty with each other, at which point they tell each other everything (with plenty of tears and declarations of love).

“I’ll never tell you about Transylvania unless I have to – it would be too horrible for you, dear!”

“I’ll never ask you about Transylvania unless I have to – I never want you to relive that horror, darling!”

Guess what becomes necessary?

Guy Power

What do I mean by “patriarchal” romance?

I mean the boys all rally for the protection of their women-folk and get their evil-fighting heroics on for the sake of those in need! This is not about “getting some,” since both girls are already committed to relationships – the two unlucky suitors, and Dr. van Helsing (see below), and the girls’ chosen protectors all band together to defeat the monster because monsters done need defeatin’, and they want to spare their beloved ladies as much pain (mental, emotional, and physical) as possible.

This is called “sacrificing your own needs for the needs of others” and it’s what Real Manhood is all about and I love it.

Girl Power

The counterpart of this is that it high-lights the specific strengths of our female protagonists.

Mina, for instance, has been studying shorthand (the better to assist her husband in his lawyering) and so she keeps a journal of all her experiences on vacation with Lucy. This comes in very handy when they need to piece together what exactly is going on – which she does along with Dr. van Helsing (see below).

Maybe she can’t race about the country on steamships and horses, and maybe she can’t physically counter Count Dracula herself, but her organization skills, logical deduction, and cool-headed smarts are a vital addition to the team. This highlights the particular strengths of women – without trying to cram the gals into black leather and force them to compete on the men’s playing field (which wasn’t really a thing in the 19th century, thank goodness).

Celebrating Female Innocence

Lucy’s strength of character is her sweetness and charm. Sure, she’s got three men (and counting) in love with her – but it’s her innocence and purity, not just her physical beauty, that attract them. In fact, far from wanting her as an object or plaything, they all desire her well-fare even more than they desire their own happiness.

Contrast this with the female vampires, who use their sex appeal and “voluptuousness” as a snare to lure their victims in. When Jonathan is almost caught by them, it’s unclear how much of his fascination is animal attraction and how much is out-right vampiric mind control!

As opposed to Lucy, whose modesty, kindness, and friendship make beauty a facet of her personality, the vampire female uses her womanly attributes as a weapon to get the blood she thirsts for…revealing her to be no different than the monstrous Dracula.

Dr. van Helsing

The most awesome character is Dr. van Helsing, a Dutch psychologist and physician with an adorable German accent who is called in when Lucy starts exhibiting her “mysterious” anemic illness.

While the doctor is sweet, gentle, conciliatory, and good-natured, he’s also the only person who realizes what’s happening – and promptly starts strewing garlic flowers everywhere and blanketing the place with gold crucifixes.

While even he is hampered by the trope of “don’t tell her mother what’s really going on lest we shock her into cardiac arrest,” let me just say I adore it when sweet old guys are the ones who know everything.

Maybe he can’t rush around on horseback armed to the teeth like the youngsters can, but he can Barney-Collier with some holy wafer like nobody’s business…and he’s got the spiritual and legend-savvy expertise the team needs to vanquish this embodiment of evil.

The Villain

Speaking of the villain, the book does an excellent job keeping him shadowy and menacing…with just enough hints to remind us of his evilness without overdoing it.

I was surprised that we didn’t get an explanation for how he became this way, or why he chose to be a cursed undead horror…but then again, maybe he didn’t choose it, but was cursed by a bite just as he cursed those he bit.

The powers of the vampires in this incarnation are clearly evil, from hypnotism and mind control to regaining youth and vitality from the blood of their victims (especially children – they love to eat small children).

While Dracula can control rats, flies, wolves, and bats – and transform himself into various forms – he is also constrained by specific rules that keep him from being omnipotent…and make him defeatable (for example, he can only cross water at the tides, can only transform at dawn, noon, and dusk, and must return to a box of holy earth to recover his abilities).

Spiritual Themes

An important theme in the book is that these undead are cut off from God. When their friend is raised as a vampire, the team must kill the creature not only for the sake of the other victims – but for the sake of its own soul.

Yes – the horror of being sucked on by a vampire goes beyond merely losing your blood…goes beyond being locked to your vampire-dad in a disgusting pact of mind-linking…even goes beyond rising after your death to restlessly roam the earth and inflict this curse on others, including your own loved ones.

The horror of the vampire even extends to being cut off from the God who made you, and banished from the presence of the Christ who died for you. (Yes, the book explicitly states the basics of the gospel, which is pretty cool.)

While the theology of this skirts dangerously close to the Muslim belief that something someone else does (even after your death) can affect your salvation, the way the characters repeatedly throw themselves on the providence of God (explicitly and specifically) and trust God to bring them through this harrowing experience is inspiring and thrilling. It brings the whole story to a deeper level.

And it also makes the catharsis that much sweeter for the vampires that are staked, beheaded, and stuffed with holy wafers. The hunters describe expressions of peace and release on the cursed ones’ faces before they crumble into dust…the dust their bodies should have been long ago, but for this horrible curse.

As truly repulsive as Bram Stoker makes his vampires – eating small children and gorging themselves with blood – he also makes killing them a mercy…and inspires pity for these wretched, darkened creatures who are cut off from the source of Life and the purpose of their existence: their own Creator.

And after all, your neighbors might not be ravenous, undead monsters…but they’re probably lost and cut off from God, and we should pity them and seek to set them free. Not with a stake and kukri knife, but with the Gospel of Jesus and the Sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God).

Whoo! Now I’m getting chills.

Classic for a Reason

Yes, there are parts of the book that are obviously products of its Victorian time period…but at the same time, the slower-paced parts and the lighter tone help to contrast and intensify the skin-crawling horror of the darkness and mystery (there are parts that get a chuckle-out-loud!).

Enough with the sexy vampires! Let’s go back to the source, and experience the explicit themes of light versus darkness, good versus evil, kindness versus cruelty, sacrifice versus selfishness, that made this book something that deserves to endure.


July 2 – July 23

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is available as a FREE ebook from Project Gutenberg, or from Amazon (paperback or Kindle), Barnes&Noble, Kobo (ebook or audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Join Kimia Wood’s mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

“The Book of Were-Wolves” by Sabine Baring-Gould

It’s easy to “poo-poo” were-wolves as superstitious just-so stories, invented by our ignorant ancestors.

Baring-Gould, while not convinced human beings physically transform into wolf bodies, nevertheless has taken a scholarly, detailed, and anecdote-filled look at this phenomenon. Along with his scientific, 18th-century respect for facts, he brings the Christian insight into human nature to his subject (he’s more famous for writing Onward Christian Soldiers).

The resulting book is fascinating, profound, and sometimes disturbing…both by what it says about were-wolves, and by what it says about ourselves. Continue reading

“The Collins Case” by Julie C. Gilbert

"The Collins Case" by Julie C. Gilbert — Kimia Wood — Christian Despite having a “Mystery/Thriller” cover and blurb, this book is actually a “Christian/Inspirational” story. If I had known better what to expect, and if the pacing had moved faster, I might have enjoyed this much more.

Slow Start

The story is ham-strung from the very beginning, where for the first chapter and a half, the only conflict is that Rachel Collins is unequally yoked – married to an unbeliever.

The scenes of the “happy little family” living their lives and unaware of the calamity awaiting them is a classic writer move to get readers to connect to the characters. Unfortunately, I had recently read the blurb and knew they got kidnapped – and I was aware of the author-ly tricks at work – and so was very un-invested.

If I was advising the author, I would suggest beginning with Mr. Collins coming home and discovering melted groceries on the counter, his wife’s car in the garage, her phone on the counter, and his family nowhere to be found. (This scene already exists, but is sapped of tension since we’ve already witnessed his family be snatched.) This kind of scenario is visceral enough to connect with readers without the lead-up…a lead-up that lost me before the plot even began. Continue reading

Jesus—Word Made Flesh

Around that time Caesar Augustus sent out an official order that every person living under Roman rule must be registered in a public record. This first happened during the time that Quirinius was governing the province of Syria. So everyone had to go to his family’s hometown to be registered. Joseph also traveled to his family’s hometown, along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. Because Joseph was a descendant of King David, they left the town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee and traveled to the region of Judea, to the town of Bethlehem, which is also known as the city of David. Joseph and Mary went there to be registered in the public record. When they arrived in Bethlehem, there was no place for them to stay in a place where visitors usually stayed. So they had to stay in a place where animals slept overnight. While they were there the time came for Mary to give birth and she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in wide strips of cloth and laid him down where the food was kept for the animals inside the barn.

Jesus—Word Made Flesh — Kimia Wood — Jesus

Mom’s “Christmas” nativity (Precious Moments ceramic), which has come out with the decorations for as long as I can remember. When we had a mantle, it always lived there for Christmas.

That night, there were some shepherds who were taking care of their sheep in the fields near Bethlehem. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to them. A bright light shone all around them, showing the Lord’s glory. So they became very afraid. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! I have come to tell you good news, which will benefit all people and will make you all very happy! Today, in the city of David, a baby has been born who will save you from your sins! He is the Messiah, the Lord! This is how you will recognize him: In Bethlehem you will find a baby who has been wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a feeding place for animals.”

Suddenly a large group of angels from heaven appeared and joined the other angel. They all praised God, saying,

“May all the angels in the highest heaven praise God! And may there be peace on earth among people who are pleasing to God!”

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Plastic and wood créche, that sat under my grandma’s tree every Christmas for the kids to play with. When she went home to be with Jesus, I inherited it.

After the angels left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “We should go right now to Bethlehem to see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about!” So they went quickly and when they had found the place where Mary and Joseph were staying, they saw the baby lying in a feeding place for animals. After seeing him, they told everyone what had been told to them about this child. All the people who heard what the shepherds said to them were amazed. But Mary kept thinking about all the things she had heard and carefully remembered them. The shepherds returned to the fields where their sheep were. They kept talking about how great God is and praising him for all the things that they had heard and seen, because everything happened exactly like the angels had told them.

Eight days later, it was the day when the baby was circumcised, and they gave him the name Jesus. This was the name the angel had told them to give him, even before he was conceived.

When the required number of days for their purification had gone by, according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph traveled up to Jerusalem to dedicate their son to the Lord. It had been written in the law of the Lord, “Every male offspring that is the first to be born will be set apart to be holy to the Lord.” The law of the Lord also said the parents of a newborn son must offer as a sacrifice: “two turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

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Hand-carved créche from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At that time there was an old man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. He did what was pleasing to God and obeyed God’s laws. He was eagerly waiting for God to send the Messiah to encourage the Israelite people, and the Holy Spirit was directing him. The Holy Spirit had previously revealed to him that he would see the Lord’s promised Messiah before he died. When Joseph and Mary brought their baby, Jesus, to the temple in order to perform the rituals that God had commanded in his laws, the Spirit led Simeon to enter the temple courtyard. Then he took Jesus up in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Lord, you have made me content and I can now die in peace according to your promise.

I have seen the one whom you sent to save people,

the one you prepared in the midst of all the peoples.

He will be like a light that will reveal your truth to the Gentiles, and he will bring honor to the Israelite people.”

Jesus’ father and mother were very amazed at what Simeon said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Jesus’ mother, Mary, “Note what I say: God has determined that because of this child, many Israelite people will turn away from God, and many others will turn to God. He will be like a sign to warn people, and many people will oppose him. As a result, the thoughts of many people will be made evident. A sword will also pierce your own soul.”

There was also in the temple courtyard a prophetess named Anna who was very old. Her father Phanuel was a member of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for seven years and then her husband died. After that, she lived eighty-four more years as a widow. She was always serving in the temple area and worshiped God night and day. She often fasted and prayed. At that very moment, Anna came up to them and began thanking God for the baby. Then she spoke about Jesus to many people who were expecting God to redeem Jerusalem.

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Hand-carved wooden Philippine nativity – normally displayed year-round at our house.

After Joseph and Mary had finished doing everything required of them by the laws of the Lord, they returned to their own town, Nazareth, in the district of Galilee. As the child grew up, he became strong and very wise, and God was very pleased with him.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. So when Jesus was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem for the festival as they always did. When all the days for the festival had ended, his parents started to return home, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know he was still there. They assumed that he was with the other people who were traveling with them. After walking a whole day’s journey, they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days, they found him in the temple courtyard, sitting in the midst of the Jewish religious teachers. He was listening to them teach, and he was asking them questions. All the people who heard what he said were amazed at how much he

understood and how well he answered the questions that the teachers asked. When his parents saw him, they were very surprised. His mother said to him, “My son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been very worried as we have been searching for you!” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I needed to be involved in what my Father does?” But they did not understand the meaning of what he said to them. Then he returned with them to Nazareth and he always obeyed them. His mother kept thinking deeply about all those things.

As the years passed, Jesus continued to become wiser and he grew taller. God and people continued to approve of him more and more.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!


Text comes from the free Unlocked Dynamic Bible, Luke chapter 2, which is FREE and used as a translation source text around the world.

“Christmas Carol” Sings the Eternal Song

This is a re-blog from last year, but the points it makes are still true this year! And if you still haven’t read Dickens’ classic work, now’s a great time. Better yet, if you haven’t read the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2 or Matthew chapters 1-2, it’s available for FREE here – and here…and here or here (for Mac). What’s your excuse?

And if you go see the new movie The Man Who Invented Christmas, let me know what you think! WORLD Magazine gave it a recommendation!

Three Things to Think On This “Holiday Season”

51ycpilxgcl If you’re like me, you’re pretty familiar with the mythos of A Christmas Carol, but have never actually read the original. This year, I remedied that.

Charles Dickens’ original story of rich, cantankerous, “Bah-Humbug” Scrooge, the ghosts of Christmas, and the joy of celebration is available on Project Gutenberg and on Amazon as free ebooks (or as an audiobook!), so there’s no barrier to enjoying this classic tale.

As I read Dickens’ version of the story, three things jumped out at me.

Scrooge is still a sympathetic character.

Yes, he snarls at carolers, deals rigidly with his clerk, and Bah-Humbugs the charity collector, but his actions are so over-the-top he is not really villainous. His evil, uncharitable nature is more a caricature of real-life tyrants than otherwise. Further, in the visions of the Ghost of Christmas Past, we glimpse the back-story that led Ebenezer to this point, offering a counter-point to his self-insulated misery.

Everyone (bar grumpy Scrooge) is full of “holiday spirit.”

From the cheery Christmas fruits on the shelf, to the grocers working Christmas morning, to the customers bubbling with good humor toward each other, everyone shows Ebenezer the general aura of “good cheer” that supposedly characterizes the season.

How about us, in the modern world? Did you banter with the people waiting with you in line? Were you cheerful toward your waitress, when you were eating out to celebrate and she was working her feet off on a holiday? Did you show Christmasy compassion and kindness toward your check-out clerks, your annoying uncles, that out-of-control kid in the mall?

Sharing “good will” certainly includes bestowing donations on the “work-houses” of our day (a la Christmas Carol) but it involves so much more than that. I admit it’s difficult, in the midst of extra hours, presents, coordinating vacation plans, and all the rest of the bustle, to remember an upbeat attitude, but it seems to me sort of the whole point. The new-made Scrooge does {SPOILER} give generously with his money, but he also starts giving smiles, greetings, well-wishes, and time – he frivoles at his nephew’s party, leaves his office to enjoy the Christmas-day streets, and invests not just money but time and himself in a relationship with his clerk’s family.

Did anyone else have trouble remembering to be generous with ourselves this year?

Everyone goes to church.

There’s no indication Scrooge’s Christmas day was on a Sunday, but when the church bells ring, everyone sallies out to their ecclesiastical duties (cheerfully, of course).

In 2016, Christmas Day was also Sunday, which is highly fitting. On Christmas, we remember when God the Son came in human flesh as a defenseless baby; on Easter (and, technically, every “first day of the week”) we remember that His purpose in coming was to die on the cross, a sacrifice for our sins, and to rise again, defeating Death forever.

How many people struggled with whether or not to go to church that morning? How many churches cancelled services so people could “be with their families,” forgetting that worship of God was the whole point of Christ-mass?

Yet, in the London which Charles Dickens portrays, everyone gladly follows the bells to the church – Ebenezer Scrooge included.

Forget “Christmas Movies” – Do Your Christmas Reading!

If your only experience of this classic is an abridged children’s version, or one of the movie versions, or vague cultural references, it’s worth it to pick up this Christmas classic and consider the allegories, lessons, and themes it celebrates for yourself.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

God bless us, every one.

Get More Than You Pay For With Free Books

Get More Than You Pay For With Free Books

Over the past year or so, I’ve been downloading and reading free ebooks from a number of sources – partly because I have a weakness for free, partly because I want to find greats reads for you that you don’t have to shell out a penny for!

But sometimes “you get what you pay for”. Sometimes a book is free because we wouldn’t slog through it for any other reason.

Is that the rule? Are the reading-gems the exception? I’ve dug back through my review archives to figure out which books are worth reading (and worth paying for, even if I didn’t have to).

Note: All deals are listed as of this writing. Authors naturally have the prerogative to change how they charge for their works. By that same token, some books that I loved but couldn’t list because they didn’t qualify might become free again later 😉! Continue reading

“Conception Control” by Phillip Kayser, PhD

What is the Biblical basis for forming a family? Does the Bible provide principles for a Christian couple’s sex life and the conceiving of children? Conception Control: Avoiding Antinomianism and Legalism seeks to answer these and other questions from a Biblical perspective.

While its medical detail isn’t suitable for everyone, and while I didn’t agree with all of the Scriptural applications, it was an interesting, thought-provoking read. Continue reading

“Eugenics and Other Evils”

 G.K. Chesterton was a prolific writer and giant of religious thought around the turn of the 20th century, and his works on theology and philosophy, while from a Catholic perspective, continue to ring true today – even for us Evangelicals.

While I have primarily read his fiction (the semi-fantastical The Man Who Was Thursday; the thought-provoking Father Brown series), I found Eugenics and Other Evils full of his characteristically fanciful turns of phrase and complex, allegorical illustrations. While I didn’t always follow his argument (and while I didn’t always agree with it when I did), his unique perspective (observing the Eugenics movement when it was in an earlier and more intellectual stage of its life-cycle) is worth reading.

As he says, “Eugenics itself is a thing no more to be bargained about than poisoning.” Continue reading

“Hazardous Duty” by Christy Barritt

A Cautionary Tale for Writers

 Surfing Amazon one day for “Christian mystery” (or some similar keyword) I came across this book about a crime scene cleaner who finds evidence that the police missed – and it was free! I downloaded it, eager to start reading, and went to load it onto my e-reading device.

BLAM!

File is locked with DRM (digital rights management), meaning I couldn’t read it on my Nook (it’s a Kindle/.mobi file), nor on my dad’s Kindle (device registered to him, book registered to me).

Almost a year later, I did finally get to start reading (because AT&T got me a smartphone, long story short)…but needless to say it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Gabby St. Claire is a professional crime scene cleaner, and an interesting enough character. The perky go-getter type, with an interest in chemistry and forensics, she uncovers evidence in one of the houses she’s cleaning that seems to shed light on a murder investigation.

She then immediately jumps to a conclusion, and pursues that conclusion through the rest of the book. Most sleuths pursue a mystery: she pursued her conclusion…and guys. Continue reading

“The Mysterious Affair at Styles”

 The very first of Agatha Christie’s detective stories, Mysterious Affair at Styles was a breath of fresh air – air scented with ancient country mansions, rich but foolish old ladies, a rogues gallery of extended family, poison, wills, minute yet vital clues, and, of course, an intelligent detective to bring it all together. Continue reading