I was always terrified of Dracula, and revisiting the novel all these years later, I can see why. While the storytelling can occasionally be melodramatic, for the most part it is effectively told and genuinely creepy. We spend time developing character and atmosphere before any carnage occurs, and so when bad things happen, we genuinely care who they happen to, and a lot of this stuff is genuinely creepy. Dracula quite frankly seems unstoppable: a ruthless, calculating opponent who is always one step ahead of his pursuers and whose powers seem inexhaustible. This guy is friggin’ terrifying.
But why on earth did I read Dracula when this is a mystery blog? Well, the reason is elementary: I wanted to read a few novels where Sherlock Holmes does battle with the legendary king of the vampires. And so I wanted to read this novel, remind myself of the plot, and see how various authors’ takes on Dracula stack up with the original. It was also a perfect opportunity to listen to a fascinating audiobook – and although I have nothing original to add about the book itself, I think my comments on this audio production might interest readers.
Some of the best audiobook readers I’ve ever heard joined in on this project, such as Simon Vance reading the letters of Jonathan Harker. The top billing, however, went to Alan Cumming (Dr. Seward) and Tim Curry (Van Helsing). Cumming does quite a bit of reading, but Tim Curry barely shows up at all until you get to the exciting climax at Castle Dracula. But to make things worse, when the other actors do a voice for Van Helsing, they can’t transmit that quality that only Tim Curry’s voice has, especially when he’s busy doing a Silly Accent – some of them just do a high-pitched lisp, which is basically Tim Curry’s anti-voice.
But when Curry does show up to read something, boy is he a delight! He’s just so damn perfect as Van Helsing, and the only reason they didn’t make him play Dracula is because we never see the Count’s side of the story, so the only Silly Accent available was Van Helsing. And Curry throws all his energy into the part. It’s delightful.
Alan Cumming also does a terrific job in the role of Dr. Seward. There’s no Silly Accent to report here for Cumming, but he does a fine job transmitting Seward’s emotions, fears, and doubts. He witnesses some terrible stuff, including the death of his lady love, but he must soldier on bravely for her sake and this pains him. Cumming transmits that quality beautifully.
In general, the actors really immerse themselves into their various roles, and that helps to set the atmosphere. The story Dracula doesn’t quite hold the power it once had, after years of campy cinematic performances and portrayals. Many have tried to counter this. Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula tried to restore the character to his dark origins by really ramping up the novel’s sexually charged content. It worked… sort-of… but I found it a pretty uncomfortable film, especially the rape. My audiobook tried a different approach, with a group of narrators who were cast for their individual roles. I don’t think the director rolled some dice and then said to Alan Cumming “How about being Dr. Seward, then?” Everyone feels right in their individual parts, and it helped to suck me into the story and briefly made me feel like that kid who refused to go into the basement for months after reading Dracula.
In my defense, it was a scary-looking basement, especially when you knew Count Dracula was down there waiting for you.