Stoker on Stoker: Celebrating History on Bram Stoker’s Birthday

Dacre Stoker, great nephew of Bram Stoker, visiting author speaking at UNG Cumming campus.

Bram Stoker was born on November 8, 1847, in Dublin, Ireland, to a world that was dark and gothic and primed for vampires. Bram suffered from an unknown illness through his childhood, but it complemented the gothic reality of life. Ireland suffered from severe famine and illness, not just in his childhood, but his mother’s as well. She would recount the famine and illness of her own childhood to Bram since it was his favorite bedtime story. Her stories included mass graves whose inhabitants weren’t always dead.

As an adult, Stoker gained a love of the theater and the dramatism that went along with it. He was close friends with Henry Irving and managed Irving’s Lyceum Theatre in London. Bram would research dialogue and culture for the plays, to ensure they were as accurate as possible.

Dacre Stoker is Bram’s great-grandnephew. He decided to follow in his Great-Uncle’s footsteps, and spoke to UNG late September. Dacre’s research provides many clues into Bram’s mind as he wrote Dracula. Bram’s childhood experiences created a dark story, and combined with the skills from his adult career, his story seemed too real.

Dracula is an epistolary novel, meaning it’s written like a journal or diary, making the events more personal and intimate. Bram heavily incorporated current scientific discoveries, such as blood transfusions and the phonograph, and made them essential to Dracula’s defeat. Bram’s theater skills gave him the research and ability to create convincing identities for his characters, cementing the worry that Count Dracula and his undead court were real.

Meeting Dacre Stoker after he spoke at UNG Dahlonega campus.

Dracula possess such well-crafted details, and Dacre’s work helps readers see their favorite vampire in a new horrific light. Bram’ forgotten journal, written between 1871 and 1878, was discovered and published in 2013. In his presentation, Dacre showed many never-before-seen notes about Dracula. Included was an early character page. We saw the early development of Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing’s characters, but we also saw the moment of discovery where Dracula became Dracula. The Count’s description resided at the top of the page, and as Bram worked through the other characters, he found inspiration. The vampire’s previous name was struck, and “Dracula” was written across the page.

Dacre’s research led him to write Dracula’s first authorized sequel, Dracula: The Un-Dead, along with Ian Holt. The novel follows Quincey Harker, Jonathan and Mina’s son, as worry grows that Count Dracula is not truly dead.

If you get the opportunity to, we highly suggest meeting Dacre Stoker and listening to his talk. It’s a rare moment in history to see the creation of folklore, and Dacre’s hard work makes Bram’s life accessible to each vampire-fan, even if they don’t have their own fangs.

Books of Fright

Halloween has arrived, and what better way to get into the spooky spirit by reading scary books! Here are some stories that are sure to send shivers up your spine, and have you looking over your shoulder everywhere you go. Happy reading!

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow-Washington Irving

Ichabod is a teacher and choirmaster at the little town of Sleepy Hollow. When Ichabod woos a rich man’s daughter, he must lay low because Brom, who is also in love with the rich man’s daughter, is after him. When Ichabod is invited to a party, he comes across the Headless Horseman, and must flee, terrified for his life.

House of Leaves– Mark Z. Danielewski

In this maze of a book made up of unconventional format, such as unusual page layouts with some pages only containing a few words, House of Leaves tells the story of three family members: a blind old man, a young apprentice at a tattoo shop, and a crazy woman. The family faces unexplainable changes in their home, and eventually come face to face with the darkness at its core.

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary– M.R. James

This collection of eight short stories captures the suspense and horror which defines good ghost stories. The wit and erudition of these eight classics keeps the reader on their toes, and teaches them be wary of every creak in the night. After all, you can never be sure about what lurks behind you.

Dracula– Bram Stoker

Jonathan Harker, a London lawyer, travels to Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase an estate in England. Initially impressed by Dracula’s politeness, Harker is soon wary of Dracula’s ability to communicate to wolves in his huge castle. He quickly realizes he is a prisoner in Dracula’s castle, and must find a way to survive this demonic creature of the night.

The Shining– Stephen King

Jack Torrance is hired as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, eager for a fresh start, and ready to reconnect with his family and work on his writing. As winter begins to set in, the Overlook Hotel grows more sinister. Danny Torrance, Jack’s five-year-old son, is the only one to notice as the hotel’s horrific past begins to consume them all.

The Tell-Tale Heart– Edgar Allen Poe

This story is told through a nameless, mysterious narrator, who does not sound half as sane as he claims. As we hear about the murder he had committed, there is a beating that grows louder and louder, echoing in the mind. It’s the still-beating heart of the victim under the floorboards, where our nameless narrator buried the dismembered body.

Coraline– Neil Gaiman

When her family moved into their new home, Coraline Jones knew things were weird. But weird doesn’t describe a mysterious door with a brick wall behind it. Weird definitely doesn’t describe the mysterious tunnel that takes its place. When Coraline goes through, she finds herself in another house, one just like her own. But this perfect world is hiding something dark and sinister, and Coraline might be too late to stop it.

A Stranger in the House– Shari Lapena

Newlyweds Karen and Tom Krupp happily live in upstate New York, but one day, Karen gets into an accident and loses her memory. When they return home, Karen notices things in the house have been moved. Nothing is quite right, and she realizes someone’s been in the house. This psychological thriller makes you doubt everything you know about your own life.

The Night Circus– Erin Morgenstern

This circus appears with no warning; no announcements or advertisements to display it, and it disappears as quickly as it comes. Only open at night, the circus tents hold amazing sights within, but the Night Circus holds a dark secret., and the performers must pay the price.

Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep– Jack Prelutshy

Instead of bedtime stories, read a dozen horrific poems to keep you up at night. Ranging vampires to ghouls, these poems cover a variety of creepy stories that will scare even the bravest individual.

Family Man, Bite Me, and Outfoxed

Written by Matthew Pardue

As promised, today we have three comics by Dylan Meconis, a freelance artist and writer who’s worked on a lot of publications according to her FAQs page, but is best known (by me, anyway, which is what counts) for her webcomics. I’ll review them in the same order they were made, because I can’t think of a more creative way right off-hand.

Bite Me! is first (that exclamation mark is going to annoy me thanks to Microsoft Word’s capitalization settings, so this is the only time you’ll see it). You may already guess just by the name that it’s about vampires; to Meconis’s credit, she started this back in 2000 before the vampire craze really took off (with the exception of Anne Rice, anyway, but at this point accusing people of copying her is like accusing them of ripping off Dracula). More to her credit, it’s a comedy, and a good one too, so she mostly parodies the dark-and-seductive-stalkers-of-the-night business. Her undead characters also gleefully describe themselves as agents of Satan rather than taking a woe-is-me attitude about it (a change that would have livened up Twilight a fair bit).

It’s set in the French Revolution, because Meconis is a history buff and she looked at that time of inequality, aristocratic corruption, starvation, violent social unrest, and mass executions of tens of thousands, then did the only sensible thing and made it the backdrop of a comedy.

Original at: http://www.bitemecomic.com/?p=508

That’s Lucien (the mostly-serious one, insomuch as someone who died thanks to chickens can be serious) and Claire (the funny one who may be just a little crazy). They meet largely by accident, but something happens to stick them together. Not that Claire minds about her new life, quirky woman that she is.

Original at: http://www.bitemecomic.com/?p=581

Their story is short and self-contained; I just read it from start to finish in about two hours while also answering emails and keeping an eye on the Red Bull Stratos base jump (which finally got cancelled after long delays, damn it). As such, it’s a quick and easy comic that could pass a slow afternoon and get you interested in Meconis’s next work, Family Man.

I still don’t get the name. If she’s referring to the main character, Luther, then the title doesn’t make much sense. He starts off staying in the family home but soon leaves to take a job offer; none of his relatives have walked on-screen in a good five years. Don’t let that number mislead you; Family Man seems about as short as Bite Me, actually. It just updates rather casually. Normally one new page comes out each Friday, but Meconis has to take breaks now and then, usually because she injures her drawing hand. The plot also has a pretty slow pace. You might not like that; Bite Me moves along much faster, has more action, and is already finished. Family Man spends a lot of time foreshadowing and hinting (for example, werewolves have been promised since the start and they’ve only recently been revealed), so you need a little patience to get into this story.

Anyway, the details. Luther leaves home to take a faculty position at about the only university that’d tolerate him; that’s what happened when you studied theology in the 1700s and switched to atheism during your dissertation. It tended to make you unpopular with the other professors (and just about everyone else). Weirdly, Luther’s religious leanings don’t stop him from still enjoying the subject matter, not to mention teaching it.

Original at: http://www.lutherlevy.com/?p=127

If a story about academic politics sounds thrilling to you, then you’re in the right place (which is good, because you won’t find many others that’ll suit you). Well, academia and werewolves, like I mentioned earlier. It’s a strange but admirably creative combination, like cheesecake and bacon. Sure, it looks weird on paper, but until you try it, how will you know?

Assuming you like history and have the patience for a genuinely slow plot, though, Family Man is a great comic (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidently written Family Guy during this review). The art, characters, and story are considerably more sophisticated and realistic than Bite Me; I recommend reading the archives with the Notes page in another tab or window so you can see all the thought and historical accuracy that goes into this thing. Meconis also realizes that her story doesn’t exactly fly along at breakneck speeds, and she graciously reminds her readers of who certain characters are or what an earlier plot point was when we haven’t seen either in a while, something that you may remember me wishing for with Schlock Mercenary.

On a side note, two characters (possibly three if you count a brief, wordless appearance in the epilogue) carried over from Bite Me to Family Man. Meconis has said a few times that we shouldn’t expect many similarities. Some aspects are deliberately opposite, according to her. That’s kind of a shame, because I like Luther’s older self in Bite Me.

Original at: http://www.bitemecomic.com/?p=502

Onto the third webcomic, “Outfoxed.” This one’s much shorter (as you might’ve guessed from the format of the name if you’re one of my literary people), only twenty-two pages not counting the cover, so you could read the whole thing in a matter of minutes. It’s a nice little fairy tale with some very thematic shading; the shadows are probably my favorite thing about it.

Original at: http://www.dylanmeconis.com/outfoxed/04.html

I can’t say much without ruining the story, since it’s so short, but the basis is that the laundry woman saves a fox from the hunters. From there, things get strange. Meconis herself describes it by writing, “The old saying goes ‘be careful what you wish for,’ but this fable suggests it’s a good idea to be careful of what other people wish for, too. Even when they’re not people.” I think she puts it pretty well.

So that’s the basics of Dylan Meconis: a clever history writer who draws well and does more research for her stories than any reasonable person would attempt. Regardless of the order I used here, I recommend reading “Outfoxed” first, since it’s so brief, then going to Bite Me. If you like both of those, then you might enjoy Family Man too. If not, then strap electrodes to your head and zap your brain until you do like it, because they’re all three great stories that at least deserve a chance.

Oh, I only now remembered the disclaimers as I edit this before posting it. Bite Me is surprisingly tame for vampires in the French Revolution (aside from people occasionally shouting about the dark angels of Satan and such); its violence is pretty easygoing and played for laughs even if you see some blood. On the other hand, Family Man is weirdly more adult despite the formal academic setting. A dead rabbit gets graphically sacrificed in detail, and there’s some nudity (historically accurate nudity between consenting, well-adjusted adults with explanations of the social norms surrounding their relationship, which I guess makes it downright educational). And “Outfoxed” briefly shows a naked guy with a strategically-placed speech bubble for censorship. Unless the thought of Luther’s chest hair disturbs you too deeply, you should still check out the comics.

Here are the first pages of Bite Me, Family Man, and “Outfoxed.” Read them. Read them all.