Halloween and Dracula make for a perfect pair and as the scariest of seasons looms, a new gothic horror novel written by a blood relative of Bram Stoker will drink in the essence of 19th Century Europe and the true origins of the beloved fanged fiend.
Released today by Putnam Books, Dracul, is penned by Stoker's great-grandnephew, Dacre Stoker (Dracula: The Un-Dead), with acclaimed crime thriller sensation, J.D. Barker (Forsaken, The Fourth Monkey), and it's an absorbing addition to the Dracula canon fully authorized by the late Irish author's estate.
Written in epistolary form as was the original novel, this exquisite prequel to the landmark 1897 classic was inspired by the actual notes and arcane texts left behind by Bram Stoker and centers around the young author in multiple time periods. Dracul is a supernatural thriller that reveals not only Dracula’s true origins but also Stoker’s curious backstory, and the enigmatic woman who connects them.
Set in 1868, we begin with a 21-year-old Bram Stoker alone in a desolate tower facing down an insensate evil. Armed only with blessed crucifixes, holy water, and a Snider-Enfield rifle, he prays to survive the longest night of his life. Desperate to document for history what he has encountered, Bram scribbles down the frightening details that led him here...
As a child constantly ill, Bram endured his early days bedridden in his parents' Dublin home, tended to by a mysterious young lady named Ellen Crone. When a rash of strange deaths break out in a nearby village, Bram and his sister Matilda detect a pattern of inexplicable behavior by Ellen. These oddities deepen until Ellen suddenly vanishes from their lives. Years later, Matilda travels back home from school in Paris to inform Bram that she's seen Ellen, and that the horrors they thought were ended are only beginning.
Instantly gripping, beautifully bound, and meticulously researched, Dracul, will chill you to the bone with its nightmarish narrative that has already attracted the attention of Paramount Pictures, where it's been set up for a major feature adaptation directed by IT's Andy Muschietti.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Stoker and Barker on this exceptional autumnal offering to learn the genesis of this macabre supernatural tale, where their extensive research led them, fun surprises in store for brave readers, and their idea of a perfect Halloween night.
What was the genesis for the plot of this new Dracula novel?
Dacre Stoker: Researching Bram Stoker and his family became this labor of love that came out of writing the sequel to Dracula in 2009 and discovering his journal. And it's also a little bit about me as a schoolteacher and coach, wanting to get inside the head of people. I was enamored with some of the things that I had dug up that there really are no written answers for. One of them is the mystery of his childhood illness and his incredible recovery from seven years of being an invalid to becoming a champion athlete a few years later. Maybe Bram Stoker had something more than just bloodletting, which is gross enough. Some mysterious potion, something that could get mixed into his body that helped him recover and become this champion athlete at Trinity College.
J.D. Barker: We had a lot of fun with the psychology of it. When you take a child literally on his deathbed at five or six years old, that rarely leaves his room, can't walk on his own without help, where does his mind wander? When you realize that Bram went through that as a child, you understand why he would conceive of a creature that could live forever, based on blood. What could possibly have happen to him that would carry over into adulthood and create this giant legacy?
How did you two meet and how did the collaboration occur?
DS: Well, we're both members of the Horror Writers Association and were at the big annual conference in Atlanta. J.D. was up for Best First Novel and I was presenting and thought I should do my homework. I picked up his book, Forsaken, and I absolutely loved it. There were some similarities that J.D. had used that resonated with me and this story I'd had in my mind and I realized, "Oh, my god, he's already got parts of this!" In Forsaken, there's a journal this author's wife had bought, much like the Stoker journal we found in the museum.
JDB: I love telling stories from multiple points of view. The epistolary format is something I always gravitated toward. Dacre and I had never met each other before, but during the conference we had breakfast on the last day. In the middle of it he asks me if I'd be interested in writing a Dracula prequel novel using Bram's original notes. There's no way you turn down a project like that, it's too fascinating to walk away from.
What was the research process for Dracul and what materials did you have access to?
DS: I had traveled to The Rosenbach museum in Philadelphia, where they have the Dracula Notes, and that's the first time I ever saw them and got to study them extensively. Those are 125 pages of Bram's handwritten notes that shed a lot of insight into not only what was in the novel, but what he chose not to put in. We got to go to Seattle to see Paul Allen, who owns the Dracula typescript, which is another word for manuscript. J.D. actually got the invitation. I didn't have enough guts to ask. (laughs)
If we were going to write a prequel, we want to end ours where Bram originally started Dracula. There have always been these stories in the scholarly world with historians of the typescript that didn't start until page 102. There are 101 missing pages. My idea was to look at where Bram had crossed out things in the remaining typescript. We wanted to see what was taken out, where to end, and also to verify another rumor that the short story, Dracula's Guest, was part of the excised portions, which Bram's widow published after Bram died. This was very instrumental and very chilling. Whitby is neat to go see libraries where Bram had been, but also Trinity College where there's a collection of Stoker papers. We also did our best to incorporate the locations, because these were real places where Bram's footsteps had been.
JDB: Two things that jumped out at me, first was the missing 101 pages from the beginning of the book. I read Dracula as a kid and maybe a dozen times since then and it's always started for me with Jonathan Harker on that train. So to think there's a hundred pages leading up to that, that we've never seen before, that was fascinating. Anytime we dug into his notes or found a scrap of paper we kept that in mind. The other fact that jumped out is Bram originally tried to sell Dracula as a true story. The original preface basically said that this was a true story, the characters are real, and a couple names have been changed. His publisher swiftly pushed that back across the desk and said, "no way, we're not doing that." Jack the Ripper was running around London at the time so they were scared to death of frightening the population even more.
So that probably spurred this removal of all these pages, and when we were able to look at the original manuscript and find references to those pages that had been crossed out, it confirmed a lot of the thoughts we had. Bram went out of his way to mix fact with fiction and it's one of the things that really drives the story home. And that's what we tried to do as well with Dracul. What factual elements can we put in to really blur that line, and I think we nailed it.
DS: Bram loved to press the edge of the envelope between science and myth. As he has Van Helsing explaining to Dr. Seward, just because you can't prove this doesn't mean the supernatural doesn't exist, our minds just aren't quite there yet. It's a similar tone that Bram was setting, that plus his childhood illness, the trauma of being cooped up in the attic, weird stories his mother told him about the Cholera epidemic and people being buried prematurely and dragging themselves out of the grave, Bram's research at the British library about the real vampire scare of the 1700s in Europe.
What are your favorite aspects of the Dracula mythology and why does the character endure?
DS: It's probably that so many people around the world throughout history believe it to be so. Religion being so strong and superstition being very strong, I was amazed that people believe all these multitude of reasons why the soul is not at rest and therefore comes out of the grave to prey on the living. That's probably the coolest thing and Bram pointed that out in the one interview he did a few months after the book came out, so he was well aware of that also. Immortality is the one thing that combines all these different superstitions. That the body will live on unless certain rules are applied like a stake through the heart or the head is cut off and garlic put in. The possibility of immortality is shared by most of the people on this planet at one time in their life, and that idea makes this the most enduring folkloric character of all time.
JDB: Virtually every culture has some type of vampire legend and it's been there long before we started traveling around the world or there was an internet or a press and we all started talking to each other. How does that evolve in so many places? And it's still prevalent today. In Romania, not even a decade ago, a body was dug up, and it was treated as if it were a vampire. Its head was removed and garlic was stuffed in its mouth. Bram Stoker researched this so heavily in his day, and he had himself cremated when he died, at a time in history when people weren't doing that. It makes you wonder what his thought process was behind that.
What are your favorite depictions of Dracula onscreen?
DS: Bela Lugosi in 1931, the original Todd Browning film was groundbreaking and it was awesome for all the historic reasons and what they were working with. Christopher Lee, just because of the presence and the longevity and he's just an amazing all-around actor. And even though it was the modern age, I like the 1992 Coppola version with Gary Oldman. Oldman is like the modern-day Christopher Lee with how he could transform with all the costumes and his presence.
JDB: I love the old Hammer movies. They're fantastic and can be really cheesy, but they're fun to watch. But I agree with Dacre, the Francis Ford Coppola movie, even though he added a lot of elements that weren't in the book, I feel he really nailed the ambiance and feel of what Bram was trying to accomplish.
Can you describe your idea of the perfect Halloween night?
DS: When I was eight or nine I used to get so much ribbing at school for Halloween. Kids would ask what's happening at the Stoker household, "Are you gonna give us candy or take our blood." (laughs) In the last ten years I've collected a lot of stuff my wife tolerates So much cool vampire collectibles and bat pins and things and I get to put it all out and invite people in to have some candy and show them this cool stuff.
JDB: My daughter just turned one yesterday and she didn't remember Halloween last year. We just had her birthday party and if the wrong person laughed at her she started crying, so I have no idea what's going to happen when someone shows up at our doorstep dressed as a monster. A perfect Halloween? Probably get a good movie, have some popcorn, order some pizza, handing out candy, and just watching everyone have a fun time with it.