Dracul by Dacre Stoker And JD Barker
Most avid readers will be aware of the famous novel, Dracula, penned by the Irish author, Bram Stoker and first published in 1897. But how many will know of what prompted Stoker to write his enduring tale? In Dracul, the great-grandnephew of Bram, Dacre Stoker, and his accomplice JD Barker, present their fictionalized (?) account of the events that inspired one man to write what has become one of the most influential books of all time. Ask a primary school child about Dracula and they will tell you all about him. Ask them about Jesus and they may stumble. Conclusion? (Let Mark Chapman try to shoot Dracula…)
When a mysterious and beautiful woman, Ellen Crone, arrives at the Stoker home outside Victorian Dublin seeking employment, she is immediately hired as nanny and becomes indispensable to the young family. She is especially taken with Bram whose life she saves during his breech birth, and is affectionately regarded by his siblings, Thornley, Thomas, Matilda and baby Richard. Bram grows to be a sickly boy of seven living on the outskirts of the Irish capital, confined to his attic room to preserve his failing health. No one has been able to properly diagnose his chronic disease and no one but Ellen can treat him effectively.
But Ellen is strange. The Stoker family know nothing about her. When Bram becomes even more ill after an episode, Ellen immediately takes sole care of his treatment but appears haggard and much older after. Bram recovers and eventually nanny Ellen regains her former youthful appearance. As the children grow, both Bram and his older sister, Matilda, begin to wonder what secrets Ellen carries. When she again saves Bram from what was a certain death due to his illness, he recovers, this time stronger than ever. His night vision is now preternatural, his speed increased, as is his strength. Bram remembers little about his treatment by Ellen save some vague and disturbing dreams that make little sense.
When Ellen happens to be outside hanging out washing, both Bram and Matilda quietly enter her bedroom to see if there are any clues to who she is. What they find leaves them flummoxed. Ellen does not sleep in a bed. Instead, she rests inside the box that holds the mattress. It is full of soil worms and bugs. There are no other signs that Ellen is ever in the room, even though she shares it with a peaceful baby Richard. The pair of youthful sleuths find hidden newspaper cuttings covering the sudden and strange deaths of local people, and begin to fear the worst about their beloved nanny.
It is at this time that Ellen flees the family without explanation or goodbye. The two children know only that she has a tenuous connection to the ruins of Artane Castle, close to where they live. During a nighttime visit there, they find a box full of soil and body parts, some of which appear to be still alive. But when they return with their father, the box has gone and the tower is empty. Ellen has left their lives. Or has she?
The years move on and Bram grows to be a man. He is twenty-one and working as a civil servant in Dublin. His sister, Matilda, is a renowned artist just back from a visit to the continent where, in Paris, she swears that she saw Ellen. When Matilda tells Bram, it emerges that she has continued her fascination with Ellen Crone. Matilda has amassed a collection of material relating to her former nanny over the years which seems to suggest that Ellen is a creature of supernatural abilities. Bram is skeptical, but agrees to assist his sister in further investigations. Thus begins a blood-curdling adventure that takes the Stokers from Dublin to Whitby in England, and on to Munich in search of answers to the disease that has apparently infected Bram and threatens his entire family.
As the story of Bram’s life unfolds in one thread, we are also presented with another in which Bram is holed up in a room with something obscene barricaded behind a door. He has covered the walls with mirrors and crosses. He has put paste, made of communion wafer and holy water around the doorway. He uses white roses to keep the creature inside the enclosed space. He is armed with a rifle but feels it to be of little use. Outside, huge wolves roam and mist quickly pours forth as a dark gentleman emerges to watch Bram’s endeavours. Back and forth the story goes, from his past to his present, the room to his adventures with Matilda, as the reader is swept along on the tide of mystery and terrible incident.
Dracul is a prequel to Dracula, and a clever one at that. The premise is that Bram Stoker was motivated to write Dracula by actual supernatural events in his past when he encountered the forces of darkness including the storied Count himself. It’s an interesting approach to a much-covered tale. The story is based upon actual characters and events from Bram’s past. Ellen Crone was the Stoker family nanny. They did live outside Dublin. The siblings are listed as is. Bram was a very ill child who had something of a miraculous recovery and became an exceptional athlete at Trinity College before going on to work as a theatre critic, a career mentioned in relation to him in Dracul.
There is also the appearance of Arminius Vambéry, a Hungarian spy and traveller who is an actual person. In Dracul, Vambéry is an expert on vampire lore, the equivalent of Van Helsing in Dracula. The Hungarian was known to have travelled extensively throughout Europe and to have regaled Bram Stoker with his dark stories. Whether or not he actually hunted vampires is another matter, but the possibility plays very well in this novel.
Dacre Stoker is manager of the Stoker estate. He has access to many of Bram’s original documents and letters. Of note is the afterword to this novel in which Dacre points out that in the original manuscript of Dracula, the book began with the words, This story is true.
OK, Rebel Voice accepts that it’s a clever mechanism to pique the reader’s interest, and one which has been deployed many times since. However, Dacre Stoker takes this statement and runs with it, quite a distance as it happens. He tells us of how 101 pages were cut from the original manuscript at the insistence of the publisher. The fate of Count Dracula was changed as was that of his castle. Tens of thousands of words had disappeared. Many of the characters from Dracula were based upon real people from Bram’s life, although their names were changed. The conclusion reached by Dacre (tongue-in-cheek perhaps?) is that Bram Stoker believed that what he wrote in Dracula was true. Hmm…
Getting back to Dracul, as Bram and Matilda make progress in their queries, they run afoul of a devilish man who has appeared on the streets of nighttime Dublin. His agenda is unknown. However, the demonic and powerful figure seems to have a malign connection to the sickness experienced by Thornley Stoker’s wife, Emily, who then disappears into the darkness. The three Stokers, and Vambéry, find themselves heading to Whitby in England in an attempt to save Thornley’s wife. It’s there that they discover the truth about Ellen Crone, and her alleged victims. They also discover the identity of the stranger. They wish they hadn’t.
The final confrontation between the forces of light and those of darkness takes place in the Village of the Damned, allegedly a real place in Germany. Here is where the battle-lines are drawn and the truth made real as Count Dracula himself appears, to wrest control of the situation for his nefarious purposes. Rebel Voice won’t give away the ending, but will say that events have been cleverly manipulated to allow for a sequel or two (can’t blame them for that).
Dracul is a very good read. It does provide some fascinating insight into the life of one of the most famous authors of them all. They say that the best way to tell a lie is to mix it with the truth. Dracul does this masterfully. We get Bram’s life with a twist. Of note, and additional to the information about the 101 missing pages, is that the original manuscript is currently in the possession of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. In 2017 Allen allowed the two authors of Dracul to look at the original, Dracula: The Un-dead manuscript. However, they were obliged to sign a non-disclosure agreement about what was contained in the pages. They did, however, get a look at notes scribbled upon them. They confirmed that the Allen manuscript begins at page 102, with the number crossed out and renumbered 1.
Dacre Stoker claims that Bram sent out copies of his full manuscript (with the missing 101 pages) to a number of publishers before it was eventually published by only one. His contention is that somewhere, lying in a room of old papers, is a full version of Dracula, as yet unrevealed to the world. Tantalizing? You bet.
The characters in Dracul are consistent and believable. They hold the attention, as do the various vivid settings. Bram’s actual home is included in the story as are certain other buildings around Dublin and, of course, Whitby Abbey, which is also included in Dracula. In Dracul, the authors suggest that Bram got his interest in the supernatural from his nanny, Ellen Crone, both in their story and in actuality. She was said to have entranced the sickly Stoker with tales of Gaelic monsters and legends, thus instilling in the boy a love for the macabre.
The pace of the plot is excellent, and there are enough turns to prevent the reader from getting bored. Dracul cannot be said to be yet another piece of production line drivel in the vampire genre. It’s an original.
Bram Stoker was cremated and his ashes placed in an urn in Golders Green Crematorium in north London. Dacre suggests that this process was completed quickly as Bram was afraid of becoming one of the undead. So is Dracula simply a wonderful, Gothic horror story written by an Irish theatre critic and manager? Or is it a factual account of the early life of the man who was to later pen Dracula, a man who believed in the undead until his – thankfully – dying day? Rebel Voice asks that you hold from making a decision until you have read Dracul.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. This is a highly original and clever story that plays upon actual events and threads them with a sizeable amount of supernatural content. It is informative regarding Bram Stoker‘s life, whilst also giving the reader a great story of blood, death, resurrection and love. It may surprise you just how much you enjoy it.