Author: Bram Stoker, 1887
Genre: Horror, Short Story
Format: Ebook, 199 pages
So, Bram Stoker, we meet again! Last time our paths crossed, we sat down to talk vampires. While Dracula was definitely a great book in theory, I could not help but feel underwhelmed when adventure was over. Perhaps I expected too much, or maybe I failed to realize that you were but a 19th century Irish author, and fancies of the time demanded you to stick to the stoic and somewhat dry writing. I loved the beginning where we saw skeptical Jonathan Harker venturing into Transylvanian mountains to meet mysterious Count Dracula. The horror that engulfed the hero when he realized the true nature of his host and the events that followed sent shivers down my spine. And the blood-chilling sequence of monstrous Dracula descending the castle’s walls like a bat convinced me not to open my windows at night! That is truly magnificent horror writing! Unfortunately, as the events brought us to England my interest burnt out a bit (except the excellent part on board of Dimitri). Somehow I could not enjoy the characters and their little marriage troubles. Women seemed too silly and overly dependent on men, and gentlemanliness around them was spilling overboard! Poor sheltered things… But what am I saying? I wanted to talk to you about your short stories, not reminisce about the times past.
The book opens with a smart marketing ploy – the alleged “missing” chapter of Dracula, – no doubt a great bait for the fans of your work. I have to admit that I too fell prey to the premise, not knowing much about the rest of your career. What waited for me inside was a familiar experience: the story felt like a real part of the book with its atmosphere and lore, and the characters shared the same traits (a skeptical educated Englishman among superstitious country folk). However, I would prefer to forget the count’s name in the title, because it would degrade Jonathan Harker as a sensible human being. He ignores the local guide’s warnings and travels on foot to an abandoned village in the mountains. There he witnesses a terrible storm and the dead rising from their graves that finally shakes his skepticism. It seems that the miraculous rescue in the end would finally change his outlook on the mysteries of life, yet we see him returning to his stubborn self in the novel, when he refuses to accept the innkeeper’s cross as a protection charm. If Dracula’s Guest was indeed conceived as part of the book, then why is our hero such an idiot? Mr.Stoker, let us pretend that the man in the story is a new character, who has nothing to do with Harker; then I can really enjoy it!
As we continue our discussion, we inevitably reach one of the best stories in the anthology – The Judge’s House. True, it is a bit clichéd with all its paintings coming to life, and evil rats, and hangings, but it is wonderful nevertheless. You made me believe I have walked the creaking floorboards of the gloomy house, and I have set next to the hero pondering over his studies while strange noises filled the dark night. Again, the protagonist is a typical young man from a privileged background who would rather believe in logic and science, but ends up in a remote rural place where superstition and spirituality set the rules. He laughs at warnings and ignores strange occurrences until of course he is being put into place by the powers beyond his control. I rather enjoy when characters like this guy get what they deserve, because seriously, the old woman told you the house was cursed, so don’t go in there! By the way, the judge was super creepy – one of the best ghosts I’ve encountered so far.
Another great story that follows next is Squaw. Once more I feel that the character gets what he bargains for, because only idiots throw stones at animals and feel no regret for hurting them. Then again, the guy is just a silly stereotype, whose pseudo-cowboy speech I can’t comprehend half of the time. If that doesn’t foreshadow his imminent death within a couple of pages, maybe his decision to play with the Iron Maiden will! This one is just asking for things to go wrong. Stoker, why do you insist on featuring characters I feel no compassion for? There is one more thing that keeps bothering me about this story – the woman who faints after every little thing! If places of torture make you sick, why are you visiting them in the first place? Also, other people see it more important to come to the aid of a fainting woman, rather than saving the guy who is about to have more holes than Swiss cheese. Other than these few annoyances the story is still great, and I will probably reread it multiple times in the future.
When it comes to other stories, I cannot say that I loved them all that much. They weren’t bad, but I would use word “forgettable” to describe them. As they are impossible to recall in great detail, I do not see the point of describing them here. Dear Stoker, why can’t I get enamored with your writing? There are some great efforts, but they fall short in the end. You always seem to start fresh and interesting, but soon your energy winds down and you loose me as your reader. It doesn’t mean, however, that I will never give you a chance again; on the contrary, I have already downloaded some of your other works on my Kobo. Perhaps something else (a little less famous) would capture me more. Wish me luck!