Writing a sequel to Stoker’s classic

It’s been a long year (exciting when it comes to my son and wife, but otherwise close to dull). My blog has been rather quiet over the past year. I’ve just been busy and, frankly, unmotivated to write anything over here.

So, how do I solve the doldrums that come about from a year like this? Easy: Make something.

The thing I’m going to make is a sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I know, I know. I’ve read (and watched, when it comes to movies) a lot of sequels and adaptations, too. Some were well done (I’m fond of Terence Fisher’s Brides of Dracula), some were not (Dracula 3000, anyone?). Some would have been better as standalone works (Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt’s Dracula the Un-Dead comes to mind), and some had to twist a few things from the original story for the new story to work (such as Marvel Comics’ The Tomb of Dracula and Dracula Lives!).

I want to do something different. I want a logical sequel that doesn’t try to shoehorn the characters from the original story into it and something that doesn’t retcon Stoker’s original story in order to make the new one work. I will try to stay as true to Stoker’s text as possible. Thus, when I started this project, I had to set down specific ground rules to write by within this world. They are:

  1. I am using the text of the 1897 edition, not the 1901 Icelandic version. If you prefer to view Stoker as the “editor” of the book and not its author, I will likely disappoint you in the following statements. Stoker wrote Dracula and his influence over it continues to this day (I, for one, do not subscribe to the idea that the “author is dead” and think Barthes, were he alive, could go hang himself).
  2. The book’s world is not our world. Consider it a parallel or mirror or alternate world/universe or whatever you may like, but the book’s world is not ours.
  3. I consider the book’s world akin to the world of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. In Watchmen, superheroes exist and are a fact of life for the inhabitants of the world. Since that’s the case, there is no entertainment with superheroes in it. If this book’s world is a sort of a “Stygian Earth,” one where monsters exist (no matter how little- or well-known that fact is), then their entertainment would tend not explore that side of imagination. It allows for the readers (and the characters) to let go of the 20th century presumptions of the sub-genre and walk into this piece as something more fresh and new, unconstrained by the past century’s burdensome vampire conventions. I can shed the poor Lugosi imitations (“I vant to suck your blood!”), the cinematic conventions (no more destruction by sunlight!), and the romanticizing of the vampires over the past 40 years (Interview with the Vampire, Twilight). We bring ourselves right back to the first square after Dracula.
  4. Stoker himself may have existed in the book’s world, but Dracula does not (nor does any of Stoker’s other fiction). As such, Bela Lugosi will never play Dracula on stage or screen. Christopher Lee and Frank Langella will never feel the bosoms of their prey pressed up against them (nor, for that matter, will Amanda Donohoe slink around on-screen to a snake-charmer’s song).
  5. The journals, diaries, notes, and letters (the originals and Mina’s transcriptions) are in the book’s world. They are in a private collection and very few people know of them, but they exist. In that regard, Dracula’s text is preserved in this world and can be read (more or less) the same way we would read it.
  6. Since I’m accepting Stoker’s book doesn’t exist in this world but the events within it do, then I need to accept all of his book, warts and all. That means, for example, the Borgo Pass is not the very welcoming and scenic vista a real world traveller would see, but the great, treacherous gash in the mountains Jonathan and the others encounter. Or, even though Van Helsing believes the Count to “have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk,” Count Dracula is ethnically Székely (the real Vlad Țepeș was Wallachian) and possibly not Vlad (or, in the book’s world, perhaps Vlad was Székely and not Wallachian). Significantly, whether Count Dracula and Vlad Țepeș are one and the same has nothing to do with this story (and, really, that question has little to do with Stoker’s story either… it’s merely window dressing). Again, the world in the book is not our world, and for that reason there’s little need, in my mind, to reconcile Stoker’s mistakes with their factual equivalents. The book’s world is its own darker version of ours, and thus can work with rules, people, and locations that are slightly different than ours and I’m not looking to fix Stoker’s mistakes when I can simply be telling my own tale.
  7. The events in Dracula take place in 1893. Elizabeth Miller has made an excellent case for the alignment of the dates and general events in Stoker’s book for taking place in that year. Regardless of the actual publication date, Miller makes it clear the book takes place in 1893, which means Jonathan wrote his note at the end of the book in 1900. Since, as I wrote above, Dracula never existed in this book’s world, we needn’t worry about Stoker and his editor’s lack of proper continuity.
  8. Our esteemed and/or contemptible Count is not in this book (nor will he be in anything related to this book). I am of the thought the reader witnesses the destruction of Stoker’s Dracula in November of 1893 each time we read the book. Count Dracula is gone, nothing more than swirling dust in the (fictional version of the) Borgo Pass now. Outside of his influence upon the surviving characters, there is no bringing him back as a presence in the story, regardless of the number of young, curvy ladies with deep cleavage (à la Hammer’s string of vampire movies from the 1950’s to the 1970’s) who may be thrown at his corpse. (Note: This is not to say I have an interest in doing away with the aforementioned young, curvy ladies with deep cleavage in the course of this story. I enjoy Hammer’s vampire movies immensely, even the bad Dracula ones from the 1970’s. I think the Hammer movies made it okay to interject overt sexuality into a story about vampires, and that is for the better. I just won’t be using young, curvy ladies with deep cleavage to resurrect the Count.) Stoker describes a look of peace on Dracula’s face in the split second between Quincey Morris and Jonathan Harker’s blades pressing into his flesh and his subsequent disintegration. He wants this. This final destruction is what he craves, but cannot give himself. Dracula desires his final death. He has been trotted-out innumerable times over the past 114 years… I say we give the Count a much needed rest.

Those are the basic ground rules. I’m sure I will come up with others as I move along.

With those ground rules down, it was time to explore something much more fundamental to the idea of doing a sequel to Dracula: Can a sequel to Dracula work when a pivotal character from the first book doesn’t come back in the next book? Let’s be honest: How does Wide Sargasso Sea work without Jane, but Heathcliff doesn’t… even with Heathcliff himself in it? How come all of the sequels to Stoker’s Dracula (and I’m leaving out Newman, etc., since they change the story of the original book and create alternate history) always have him return?

No doubt the authors of those books see the ability to mine those characters for more story. Dracula has become such a major part of the public imagination that his character practically begs for the blood of young, curvy ladies with deep cleavage so he can continue to terrorize the descendants of Abraham Van Helsing. By creating such a villain, Stoker made himself immortal (without having to succumb to vampirism himself). But, what so many don’t get, is Dracula is not about Count Dracula. He’s a rather minor character. The story is more about the band and their character growth, not the vampire’s desire to prey upon the well-endowed ladies of Victorian England. But, more so than the band, Stoker’s book is truly about the fear of the unknown. The fear of the other. It’s truly about Victorian England slowly losing its grasp on power and fearing the rising influence of the peoples in eastern Europe. It is a book of classic horror that hooks itself into the western mindset of superiority over, and fear of, the backwoods, and backwards, peoples to the east.

The book also uses a very popular convention later overly used and pummeled to death in late 20th century slasher movies. The convention of the “proper” girl being tempted, but ultimately surviving, and the girl with the more libertine impulses succumbing to the evil is used to an extreme in Stoker’s piece. He uses the word “wanton” to describe both Dracula’s brides and Lucy at points throughout the book, painting them as outside of societal norms and as sexual beings, unconstrained by acceptable relationships (the three brides share Dracula, and Lucy has three suitors and later Dracula). Thus, Lucy and the brides, because of their basic dismissal of Victorian morals for women, are sexual predators Stoker is looking down upon. Mina, dear, sweet Mina, is very clearly held up as a paragon of Victorian womanhood (even going to far as to completely eschew the concept of the “New Woman”). Stoker wrote Mina so that she knew her place (so to speak) and, thus, survive the temptation to wantonness that the brides and Lucy embraced.

He also touches on class in his book. Jonathan and Mina, being the forthright and good people they are, are moving up in the world through hard work and doing things the right way (well, and Mr. Hawkins’s well-timed death doesn’t hurt). Lucy, on the other hand, is a bit of a gold-digger, and that, along with her “wanton” ways, dooms her from the start.

So, aside from class, Dracula, in the end, is about two things: 1) xenophobia and how the west is just better off staking the east’s old world traditions in the heart and moving on; and 2) keeping women (and their sexuality) in their proper place. Dracula is, at its heart, a very proper Victorian English book (written by an Irishman…!) that reinforces proper Victorian English ideals.

And that’s the point where I think other sequels to Dracula fail.

A sequel to such a work has to either build upon, endorse, repudiate, or entirely supplant the original ideas. Just having the original characters running around, flashing crosses around while trying to save the young, curvy ladies with deep cleavage of England from Dracula (yet again) isn’t a compelling story. It might be enjoyable to watch, but it’s ultimately insubstantial.

It’s time to walk away from Dracula being in a sequel to Dracula. So, with no Dracula stalking the pages of a sequel, where does it go? As far as I can tell, no one has tried a direct sequel without the Count in it somewhere, but I believe a blank canvas of a character was handed to us by Stoker at the the very end of the book.

Quincey Harker.

Quincey Harker’s been explored in a few pieces before: Marv Wolfman used him (as “Quincy” Harker, presumably for copyright and trademark reasons) in the old Tomb of Dracula series from Marvel as a modern-day (for then) version of Van Helsing. Kate Cary used him as more of a villain in her Bloodline books, and he was also in both Freda Warrington and Stoker & Holt’s sequels as a child and young man.

The issue I take with that is Quincey, the character, comes across entirely under-utilized by Warrington and Stoker & Holt (Wolfman and Cary use him to much greater effect, but I think there’s more to him than either of them went into, either). Quincey has had a heritage thrust upon him that neither he nor his parents asked for. I’ve never bought the idea that Jonathan and Mina kept Quincey in the dark (as some of the sequels point to; it’s an easy way to rehash and summarize Stoker’s book if things need to be explained to Quincey at some point). In Jonathan’s note at the end of the book, Van Helsing makes it very clear that there is much for the then-young Quincey to learn about that time (and about his mother’s role in particular). In many ways, Quincey is a late Victorian John Connor (from The Terminator) in how he has been given no options in his life. He is the son of vampire hunters, vampire hunters who destroyed an old and powerful vampire, and his parents’ friends are already making plans for him in the very young years of his life (as well they should… being the child of the Harkers means he will incur the wrath of those who want revenge).

So, Quincey Harker will be the central character in a story that picks up 45 years after the original. I am lifting Stoker’s idea of telling the story using the epistolary convention, which lends itself beautifully to a blog. Following queues from both Max Barry’s Machine Man serial in 2009, and Michael Gordon’s very entertaining (and currently ongoing) “Bite-Sized Dracula” Twitter & blog serialization of Dracula, I think a serial release makes the most sense. I could write it all now and release it as a single volume, but I think Bite-Sized Dracula has helped to reinforce that an epistolary novel, released serially, does an excellent job building suspense on the part of the reader.

You will be able to read my book for free (both as it is posted and afterwards). If you really end up liking it, there will be ways you can help support me monetarily (and there will be book-related incentives for those who do support the project). At the end, I will bundle it all up and self-publish it (both physical and ebook) as a collected work (including an edited version of this post serving as either an introduction or an afterword).

What can I tell you about the piece right now? It begins just after Quincey’s birthday in 1938 as three individuals come looking for him in the Pampas. And you will get to meet them on November 2, 2011, when I start releasing The Heritage serially at quinceyharker.com.