Welcome back to The Nocturnal House, Snarklings! Thank you to everyone who read the first post, commented, or linked to it. Also, thanks to several comments posted on that first post, I have tracked down a copy of Fred Saberhagan’s The Dracula Tape and added it to my enormous, teetering to-be-read pile. (No, I’ve never read it before. Don’t give me that look! It always slipped through the cracks for me, I don’t know why.)
This visit to The Nocturnal House is still related to Dracula (Vintage Classics), though, oh yes. Let me introduce you to one of my favorite vampire books, and probably my absolute favorite in terms of Dracula “spin-offs”:
Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman.
Imagine, if you will, that when the Fearless Vampire Hunters confront Dracula in Mina’s bedroom at Purfleet asylum, they don’t drive Dracula away. Instead, Dracula defeats the Fearless Vampire Hunters, goes on to court the widowed Queen Victoria, marries her and becomes Prince Regent, and ushers in a new era of vampires living publicly and a fashion for vampirism across Europe. And that is just the back story!
The main plot of Anno Dracula centers around the Jack the Ripper murders, with the twist that all the murdered women are vampire prostitutes, offering sex or the chance to be turned into a vampire.
“‘Come on and kiss me, sir.’
I stood for a moment, simply looking. She was indeed a pretty thing, distinctive. Her shiny hair was cut short and lacquered in an almost Chinese style, sharp bangs like the cheek guards of a Roman helmet. In the fog, her red lips appeared quite black. Like all of them, she smiled too easily, disclosing sharp pearl-chip teeth. A cloud of cheap scent hung around, sickly to cover the reek.
The streets are filthy, open sewers of vice. The dead are everywhere.”
Some of the people you’ll meet: Charles Beauregard, investigating the Ripper murders on orders from the Diogenes Club, a shadowy cabal that oversees the interests of the Empire;Genevieve Dieudonné, a 500+ year old vampire girl who was once a follower of Jeanne de’ Arc but is now working at the Whitechapel clinic run by; Doctor Jack Seward, who gave up running his Purfleet Asylum in the wake of being defeated by Dracula, and can’t forget his part in the destruction of Lucy; Lord Arthur Godalming, who decided the best way to deal with the rebirth and destruction of his fiancee and the fanged new world order was to become a part of it; Prime Minister Lord Ruthven, another elder vampire, who turned Lord Godalming; Miss Penelope Churchward, Charles Beauregard’s fiancee, who has plans involving fashionable immortality; and Miss Kate Reed, aspiring journalist suffragette, and long-suffering friend to Penelope. Not to mention a cast of other people drawn from Victorian-era fiction and history and cameos and walk-ons by vampires from almost every book and movie you can name.
Those vampiric walk-ons and cameos are part of the reason I love Anno Dracula so. It’s a game of hide-and-seek for fans of vampire fiction, and every time I re-read it, I recognize a new person or figure out a new reference. Montague Summers shows up, for heaven’s sake, in an off-handed reference to the medical science of vampires! (You know, Montague Summers? The infamously eccentric English scholar who wrote The Vampire: His Kith and Kin, one of the seminal non-fiction books about vampires? Here, this is from the biography about him:
“During the year 1927, the striking and somber figure of the Reverend Montague Sommers in black soutane and cloak, with buckled shoes — a la Louis Quatorze — and shovel hat could often have been seen entering or leaving the reading room of the British Museum, carrying a large black portfolio bearing on its side a white label, showing in blood-red capitals, the legend ‘VAMPIRES’.”
Look, just humor me, and go look him up.)
Does this mean you need to be a Serious Vampire Fiction Scholar to enjoy Anno Dracula? No, not at all. The in-jokes and nods to other works are a bonus for us vampire aficionados, but are just that: a bonus. You don’t need to catch all of those references to find the book a fun read. In addition to the twisting plot to find and stop Jack the Ripper, there’s the mounting unrest and tension between the warm, still-living masses and the vampires who have been placed at the top of the social and political order (fueled by the swaggering, bully-boy tactics of Prince Regent Dracula’s Carpathian Guards), and a fascinating look at what Victorian society would be like if it suddenly had vampires in control.
“In the gloom of the afternoon, new-born gentlefolk paraded themselves on Hampstead Heath, skins pale, eyes shining red. It is quite the thing to follow fashions set by the Queen, and vampirism — although resisted for several years — has now become acceptable. Prim, pretty girls in bonnets, ivory-dagger teeth artfully concealed by Japanese fans, flock to the Heath on sunless afternoons, thick black parasols held high.”
“A new-born couple cooed over an especially fine coffin, large enough for a family and ostentatious enough to cow a provincial alderman’s wife into a fit of silent envy. The other premises displayed an array of jewel clusters and rings in the shapes or insignia of bats, skulls, eyes, scarabs, daggers, wolfsheads, or spiders; trinkets favoured by that type of new-born who styled themselves Gothick.”
“They favoured shroud-like dresses, thick cobweb veils, scarlet lips and nails, waist-length coils of glossy black hair. Their beaux followed the fashions set by Lord Ruthven; high-waisted, immodestly tight trews; floppy Georgian cuffs; ruffle-fronted shirts in scarlet or black; ribboned pompadours with artificial white lightning-streaks.”
(Yes, I giggle knowingly every time I read this particular section. Being able to recognize your adopted clichés and embrace them to you even more tightly is important, dammit.)
Anno Dracula is the first of three books in Kim Newman’s look at the vampire world; its successors are The Bloody Red Baron and Judgment of Tears: Anno Dracula 1959. Johnny Alucard, what is (I hope!) the next book in the series, is due out in 2012, and I am eagerly awaiting it.
Sequels or spin-offs to Dracula are almost their own sub-genre of vampire books. On the shelves of my vampire book case alone, in addition to Anno Dracula and The Dracula Tapes, there’s Freda Warrington’s Dracula the Undead which was written long before and is far superior to the wretched and disappointing “official” sequel of Dracula the Un-Dead by Dancre Stoker and Ian Holt, (I’m serious, I don’t know if I can properly articulate my loathing for that book without hand gestures and facial expressions. My apologies to those of you who liked it.), Renfield: Slave of Dracula by Barbara Hambley, Mina: The Dracula Story Continues by Marie Kiraly, and Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula: Or, The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count by Loren D. Estleman. As I said in our first visit to The Nocturnal House, my favorite dark count casts a very long and bat-winged shadow over the vampire genre.
Do you have a favorite Dracula sequel or re-imaging? Talk about them in the (moderated, just like last time) comments!