BOOK REVIEW: DRACULA THE MODERN PROMETHEUS- by Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker And Rafael Chandler

Dracula: The Modern Prometheus is a monster mash up of the two most popular Victorian horror novels: Frankenstein and Dracula. Chandler carefully stitches the two bodies of work together to create something that isn’t just the sum of its parts, but a new being altogether. However, unlike with Dr Frankenstein and his original Monster, the result isn’t a hideous creation even its maker couldn’t love, but a wonderful gothic Victorian adventure (and love letter to the originals) which gives Dracula a consistent motive and transforms Mina from the secretary woman-worth-fighting-for/reincarnated love interest of Dracula (a popular characterisation from the film) into a commanding force to be reckoned with.

The writing style mirrors that of Bram Stoker’s original novel, except that it is told in third person prose rather than the original diary style. It is also devoid of Stoker’s near-fetishistic obsession with recording information,cringe-worthy accents and his Madonna / whore complex and condescending attitude to women.

This is a good thing t, as it keeps in with the feel of the original while making the reading experience more streamlined and less bloated overall. The only downside of this is that the first part of the book follows the original very, very closely with almost no deviation from the original.  For someone who’s studied Dracula in great detail  (and Frankenstein, too, for that matter), it was a bit of a slog to get through as I knew pretty much every point, every description, and I was waiting for the book to deviate from the original and find its own way.

However, it’s worth the wait as when we finally get to England  and begin with Lucy’s fate, the novel really finds its stride.

As well as combining the two novels into one narrative, another interesting feature of this novel is that it gender flips the Count and Frankenstein’s monster, Eve ( named so because Frankenstein is no longer her creator and ‘like Eve, she was apparently built from elements taken from other bodies.’)  Chandler also transformed  Mina from a secretary into a strong, independent women who bucked Victorian traditions by earning a career as a solicitor, travelling on her own and regularly cycling in get petticoats. Hilariously, in this independent, gender flipped re-imagining of the character, Chandler has her take John Harker’s place being terrorised in Dracula’s castle, when many scholars have noted that Harker’s position was a gender flip of the typical Gothic set up.

The changes to Dracula’s character and gender were interesting. In the original Dracula, the titular character didn’t really have a consistent character, motive or modus operandi. Most of what we know of his personality came from the film. Dracula was a concept rather than a character who was there to represent the fear of a threatening foreigner, untouched by the Enlightenment and changes of modernity but possessing the full power of superstition and magic from the past.

This Dracula, however, is a consistent and well defined character. I was worried at first, that she would be a very shallow distaff of the original, but she wasn’t; she was in fact the polar opposite to the original, as she does not just represent the force of the past, but possesses a brilliant scientific mind. A strong, imposing Lord of The Castle figure who’s fiercely sophisticated, ruthless, imperious, she has a clear motive: bring back her dead sister, Elizabeth, the only person she ever cared about, at any cost.

Eve, likewise, was a fascinating creature as well. Unlike with Bram Stoker who- though the unmatched master of gothic atmosphere- was a dreadful writer of character, Mary Shelley created brilliant characters in the form of Dr Frankenstein and his utterly tragic, intelligent and tormented Monster. Chandler wisely kept the monster it’s brilliant self, and seeing Dracula and the Monster confront each other and pit themselves against each other in a battle of monster vs monster in a story that is actually really good (unlike that Van Helsing film) is every Victorian horror fan’s dream.The two stories were wound together almost seamlessly and it turned into a brilliant Gothic adventure towards the end.

Like I said, almost. While the two works generally fitted together well, there was one gaping piece that didn’t work. In this version, Dracula took the place of Dr Frankenstein and created Eve as a prototype to bring back her beloved dead sister, Elizabeth. Okay, great, it’s a bit weird that the master of the undead is obsessed with resorting to science to bring back her sister, but asElizabeth died before Dracula became immortal  it makes sense plotwise (though not thematically). But the problem was that Dracula had the exact same reaction to her monster as the original Doctor, and Dr Frankenstein’s reaction does not make any sense coming from Dracula.

Famously, in the original Frankenstein Dr Frankenstein is terrified by his creation and continuously rejects his monster throughout the book because he’s hideous. Although his hatred was unjust and despicable, Dr Frankenstein’s reaction made perfect sense. The doctor was an ordinary human who had never seen anything supernatural before in his life. Although science was progressing, the doctor came from an age which was still deeply, deeply religious, where hell and demons were very real, and for most of previous history physical deformity was believed to be the result of demons and by a curse from God. So, when he saw his monster come to life in a hideous guise, it made sense for his old primal religious fears come to life, and his shock at seeing the impossible happen to grip him.

This exact same reaction, this same fear and disgust coming from Dracula? Ludicrous. It was jarring. Dracula was a demonic being who killed, and raised people from the dead on a daily basis- she was a valiant warlord who would have killed thousands; in half of her film representations she has Mr Burns hair or looks like albino Voldemort. Being disgusted by the monster’s appearance just because ‘eww, that’s not what I had in mind?’ Ridiculous- and considering which other historical she’s implied to have a close relationship with, Eve’s distorted body would have been in much better condition than the people she and her associate would routinely torture.

In short, seeing this demonic warlord freak out after the monster came to life- when she brings people back to life as monsters on a regular basis- didn’t work.The most immersion breaking bit was when Dracula employed religiously loaded language like ‘demon’ and ‘fiend’ to insult her.

What’s even more insane is the lengths Dracula goes to avoid working with Eve, as Eve is shown to be more powerful than Dracula and practically a human weapon. Yet Dracula refuses to work with Eve and insults her in the moments where she’s outnumbered; I would expect this suicidal behaviour from the original Dracula, the creature with no consistent method or motive, the creature parodied for being a senseless in Terry Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum, but this Dracula? This cunning, ancient Warlord who lead her people to victory for centuries? No, it was one of two major plot holes in this otherwise perfect combination.

The other was that the person who is implied to be the narrator was not present for the majority of the events.

But even so, though the novel has some logical flaws, none of them (except for its slow beginning) diminishes the reading experience or pulls you out of the story. Chandler has brought to life another brilliant creation as Dracula is an excellent and inventive retelling of the original, which keeps true to its tone (though not its themes, often for the better) and adds some decent characterisation to the mix. If you’re a big fan of the novels, or enjoy the films but don’t fancy the slog through the dense original, then I’d strongly recommend picking this up and powering through the opening.

RATING:

4 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

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