Tuesday Terror! Dracula by Bram Stoker read by Greg Wise and Saskia Reeves

Get out the garlic!

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

If Jonathan Harker had only wasted some of his youth watching Hammer Horror films instead of studying to be a solicitor, he’d have known that a visit to Transylvania to meet a mysterious Count in his Gothic castle probably wasn’t going to turn out well. And if Lucy Westenra had accompanied him on those youthful trips to the cinema, she’d have been less likely to leave her window open when a large bat was flying around outside.

It’s years since I last read Dracula, and I enjoyed it considerably more this time round, maybe because I’ve been reading lots of Gothic horror over the last few years and am therefore more in tune with the conventions, or maybe because Greg Wise and Saskia Reeves do such a great job with the narration.

My major reservation about it is that it’s far too long in places, especially at the beginning and end, where for long periods of time nothing much happens except everyone writing up their journals in an angst-filled and overly dramatic style, filling page after page with nauseating glowing admiration of the other characters’ many perfections. But the bulk of the book in between is excellent, with some true Gothic horror and the occasional bit of humour to prevent it all becoming too overblown. As with any hugely influential classic, it’s quite hard for a modern reader to feel the full impact of how original and terrifying the ideas in the book would have been to contemporary readers. So many of them have become clichés now – jokes, even – such as the crucifix-wielding and the garlic, and so on. And because that feeling of originality is missing, it becomes easy to start nit-picking, especially on those occasions when the action slows to a crawl. (See below.)

However, there are other parts of the book that don’t seem to have been recycled quite as often in subsequent vampire culture (in my extremely limited experience), and these add a lot of interest. The lunatic Renfield is actually scarier than the Count in my opinion, because he’s fully human and mad, rather than a monster. His fascination with flies and spiders is enough to give me the creeps even before he starts eating them! His philosophy that devouring living things will give him extended life has just enough insane logic to make it frightening and of course ties in to the vampires’ blood-sucking.

The Count’s Gothic castle is wonderfully done, as is Jonathan’s growing realisation that all is not well, followed by his discovery that he can’t get away. I was rather sorry to leave the castle and return to England, although I liked the humour in Mina and Lucy’s correspondence. Mina starts out as a great female character, strong, intelligent and resourceful. Sadly, she is turned into some kind of angelic idealised female victim in the end, constantly banging on about the men being so gallant and full of honour, while they kneel to her (literally) on more than one occasion, as if they are worshipping her perfect womanhood. Oh dear! She becomes nearly as vomit-inducing as some of Dickens’ more sickly-sweet heroines at times!

Greg Wise and Saskia Reeves share the narration. The whole book is presented in the form of letters and journal entries, so Wise reads all the ones written by men, while Reeves does those written by women. This means that sometimes they have to “do” the same character, where, for instance, Mina and Dr Seward both relate conversations they have had with Dr Van Helsing, the vampire expert of the group. It seemed to me that Wise and Reeves did very well at co-ordinating these characters, so that they both gave Van Helsing the same accent and speech pattern, for example. At first it was discombobulating to hear Reeves “do” Mina, closely followed by Wise recounting Mina through someone else’s “voice”, but it soon all gels and works very well. I thoroughly enjoyed the audiobook presentation.

After all the long, long story, the ending is oddly abrupt, and not nearly as chilling as some of the earlier parts of the story. And that’s because… well, spoilers below, because I need to have a bit of a rant! So if you haven’t read it yet, I’d suggest you stop reading my review now, and read the book instead. Despite some flaws and pacing problems, it’s a great read – although not the first vampire novel, certainly the most influential on subsequent vampire culture.

* * * * *

Spoiler-filled nit-picking rant!

OK, look, fine, vampires are scary – I get it. But they’re also so ridiculously easy to defeat that I can’t imagine why any of them survive longer than a night! Let’s examine a few of their design faults…

1. Garlic. I mean, seriously, you wear garlic round your neck and you’re safe? Well, why on earth didn’t the Transylvanians just do that, then, instead of letting Dracula and his harem prey on their children for generations? I mean, I’m not the biggest fan of kids, but there are limits! And, more to the point, once our little group knew that Dracula was in the vicinity and liked to prey on women, why in heaven’s name didn’t Mina invest in a garlic necklace?? Think of the trouble that would have been saved.

2. Communion wafers. So all you have to do to make a vampire homeless is sneak a communion wafer into its coffin while it’s out? Too easy!

3. Crucifixes. Need to use your garlic for your pasta sauce? Never mind, just wear a crucifix around your neck and you’re invulnerable to even the wickedest vampire. I guess it must be like masks – people were simply too lazy/stupid* (*delete according to preference) to wear them…

4. Bedtime. Vampires have to sleep while the sun is up. Assuming you haven’t already spoiled their bed by sticking a communion wafer in it, this gives you many, many hours each day when the vampire is completely unable to defend itself. Handy for the human, but not such a great thing for the vampire.

5. Death. Stake through the heart, cut off the head – job done. I refer you back to bedtime above. Since the vampire is helpless for most of the time, why do any of them survive once the secret of how to kill them is known? And known it must be, or how could Van Helsing have known what to do? And that leads me to another point – how did Van Helsing know so much about vampires anyway? Suspicious, if you ask me…

So I couldn’t really feel that vampires present much of a real threat to humanity, unless there’s ever a world-wide garlic shortage.

Still a great book, though… 😉

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

47 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Dracula by Bram Stoker read by Greg Wise and Saskia Reeves

  1. I finished this yesterday and fully agree with all you said, tho I enjoyed it less this read than on my first go. I listened to an audiobook version with Tim Curry together with the Husband, and by the end we found ourselves making fun of everyones Perfect view of each other. It has got great moments, but many repetitive and dull ones as well in between dragging it all down. And we found the ending very anticlimactic. The Husband even said ‘wait, that was it? He is dead now?’ You are right that it is hard to imagine how it would have been for readers at the time though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like our reactions were very similar! it always makes me laugh how authors of that time made their characters out to be so perfect, especially the women. You just can’t imagine a contemporary book doing that, can you? The ending was incredibly anti-climactic – I couldn’t really remember how it ended, but I was expecting something far more dramatic! However, I must say the narration was so good it carried me through a lot of the dull stuff – I suspect I might have struggled more with it if I’d been reading a paper copy.

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  2. I read this for school when I was eleven, and because I was an extremely cowardly child (with no exposure to horror tropes, even in parody form) it scared the wits out of me. I still have to abandon any books that have vampires in, no matter how benign, because it made such an impression! You are right though that it’s far too easy to defeat them and they just all showed a general lack of common sense in dealing with the situation…

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    • I was much older when I first read it, and had seen lots of the old vampire films, some of which were scarier or seemed so at the time. I did find bits of this very scary, though, especially when Jonathan was trapped in the castle! But if he’d only known how easy it was to kill them, he could have been home months earlier. 😉

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  3. I’m glad you enjoyed this re-visit so well, FictionFan. Some books do not hold up to the test of time, but I honestly think this one has a lot to offer, even after all these years. You make a well-taken point that it’s important to look at stories like this through the eyes of the people who’d have read them when they first came out. I sometimes think about that when I read older novels with characters we might think of as almost clichéd today, but who were quite original types in their day.

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    • Yes, I think the original should always get extra points for just being the original, even if later authors maybe improve on the ideas. I’m not sure I’ve read any vampire stories that really do improve on this one, though, although I’m no expert on the subject! And although poor Mina becomes too idealised in the end, I love Van Helsing – a very original creation, I think, and the Count is excellent too in the castle scenes at the beginning. A very enjoyable revisit!

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  4. Ah yes, your review has brought back memories of the issues I had with Dracula when I read it. It did seem to sprawl quite a bit in places, and I remember becoming somewhat skunnered with all those letters and diary entries about the numerous men proposing to Lucy. I never quite got the hang of what was so special about her, and I would agree Mina became the archetypal Angel of the House, which was a shame, as she started out as vaguely interesting. The suspense and atmosphere were brilliantly done though, and I can certainly see why it has remained a classic despite its flaws.

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    • Haha, I often wonder what men saw in these drippy heroines who infested so much literature of that era! Saskia Reeves managed to make the letters between Lucy and Mina quite humorous, maybe more so than I’d have found them on the page, and Greg Wise brilliantly brought out the suspense and horror in the castle scenes. This is one of those rare ones where I’m sure I enjoyed the audiobook more than I would have enjoyed re-reading a paper copy. Definitely a classic – not many books have had such a huge influence on an entire genre!

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  5. I’ve been “currently reading” this all year, because the slow parts make me dreadfully bored but I do love everything else about it! Many of the quotes and the action scenes make it worthwhile to want to finish reading. I was also just reading an Instagram post by someone who was interested in how the public of Bram Stoker’s time viewed blood transfusions, and how that element of the “horror”, while still shocking today, is not shocking in the same way as it was when Dracula was published.

    And I totally agree that a vampire’s limitations (bedtime, garlic) are extreme weaknesses – why don’t the characters in books ever take advantage?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s very true about the blood transfusions – I’ve seen it pop up a few times in older horror stories, so it’s clearly something the readers of the time must have found disturbing. A bit the way we do, maybe, with the advances in things like face transplants or corneal transplants. No doubt they’ll become commonplace in time, too. Although I usually enjoy paper more than audiobooks, I did feel Greg Wise and Saskia Reeves got me through the duller parts because I enjoyed their performances so much.

      Haha, I know! I feel Dracula was lucky to survive as long as he did… 😉

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  6. I first read Dracula back in high school (yes it was required reading) and really enjoyed it, though the points you brought up are hilarious. 😃 I’d love to hear Greg Wise and Saskia Reeves read it!

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    • I was an adult when I first read it, and had seen some of the old films so kind of knew what to expect. But despite the duller bits, the scary bits are so good and the suspense and atmosphere are so well done. Greg Wise and Saskia Reeves did a great job, I thought – I hope you get the opportunity to listen to them sometime! 🙂

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  7. I do mean to reread this, as I first got through it sometime last century and suspect I did a lot of skimming! Having more recently read Polidori’s classic The Vampyre and one or two semi parodies (Joan Aiken featured one in her Wolves Chronicles) I rather fancy a return to Stoker’s classic when many of the tropes came into their own. I liked your analysis of the weak aspects of the plot!

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    • I suspect I’d have skimmed some of the endless praise of Mina’s perfections if I’d been reading it, but it’s so much harder to skim in an audiobook! This is so much better the The Vampyre, but I think my favourite is still Le Fanu’s Carmilla – I’ll be re-reading it soon since I’m in the middle of a Le Fanu anthology, so I’ll see how it compares, but my recollection is it’s shorter and tighter, and has much more of the sexiness that has become so much a part of vampire culture…

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  8. It’s a shame the beginning and ending are so long, isn’t it? But it’s fairly easy to see why this is a classic, and I think the audiobook version might be the way to go. (It’s easier to daydream in the “boring” parts when you don’t have to read them, ha!)

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    • Yes, it’s a common failing of older books (and lots of new ones too!) to have far too much padding that simply slows down the story. But I enjoyed the narration so much it helped me to get through the duller parts, and both of them were great at the more dramatic, scary bits!

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  9. As with many unread Classics, I have been meaning to read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” since I was in college. That aside, I’m still in two minds about reading my first audio book by any author. It’s as if there’s a solid wall between me and audio books. I enjoyed listening to poetry in the past.

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    • I still struggle with audiobooks unless the narration is very good, which happily it is in this one. But I find re-reads easier to listen to because it doesn’t matter so much if my attention dips and I miss bits. I never really think of audiobooks as an alternative to books – it’s more like watching a film or TV adaptation for me, fun as much for the performance as the story…

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  10. Haha great review, FF! I pretty much loved or was bemused by all the same points you raised, but it is still a great book. I particularly love the parts with Renfield – I think he is sadly overlooked and demoted in most adaptations to ‘just’ a madman or comical sidekick. I think I maybe need to check this audiobook out! 🧛‍♂️

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    • Thank you! 😀 Yes, I feel Renfield was a major part of the horror and doesn’t really get enough attention in adaptations. I also love the bit with Jonathan in the castle – that feeling of being trapped with a menace he didn’t really understand! I loved the narration – I thought they were both great and complemented each other well. I hope you get the opportunity to listen to it sometime! 😀

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  11. I’m glad you (mostly) enjoyed revisiting this classic! I only read it for the first time two years ago, but found it to be great fun. The Count is totally different from the other vampires I’ve known (as in True Blood. Twilight, and Anne Rice’s LeStat).

    I get what you’re saying with your rant, too. But as I always tell my husband when he comments on something like that early on in a film…if everything was done sensibly or logically, then the movie would be over in ten minutes!

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    • Haha, so true! But I do think vampires make it particularly easy to destroy them – it’s as if they’re not really trying… 😉

      I haven’t read much contemporary vampire lit, but I think a lot of it is supposed to have been more influenced by Le Fanu’s Carmilla, where the vampire is much sexier and it’s all much more clearly about seduction and lust than it is in Dracula. I was actually surprised at how little of that aspect there is in this one – clearly my memory of it had been influenced by other vampire stuff.

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  12. I haven’t read this since high school but you’re making me want to reread it! I do remember Renfield being very creepy and the growing tension of Jonathan in the castle being quite good.

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    • It stands up well to re-reading, I think – there was quite a lot of stuff I had completely forgotten about over the years, and it was fun to go back to see how the whole vampire thing began – or nearly. I think Carmilla came first.

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  13. This was a fun review to read. I had to read Dracula for a literature course – the first part was chilling but once Van Helsing got in on the act it went downhill and I could cheerfully have thrown the book into the nearby swimming pool.

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    • It’s not often I say this, but I think listening to the audiobook really helped with this one. I enjoyed both their performances enough that it helped me to get through those duller patches. But skimming would work too! And the good bits are really very good… 😀

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  14. I’ve never thought to read Dracula, with my fairly blasé attitude to horror, and to vampires specifically. If I ever do, it’ll definitely be this audio version. I loved your sceptical spoilers, much more fun for me than Dracula I suspect.

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