Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Dracula Event: Clay & Susan Griffith

            We are Clay and Susan Griffith, authors of The Greyfriar, Vampire Empire Book 1 (Pyr Books, Nov. 2010). Since we write about vampires, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Dracula is an important book to us. When Michele invited us to say a few words about Dracula, it took a while to decide what to talk about. There are so many ways the book delivers an impact. But as we were thinking about Dracula again, and looking over the book, the structure of the narrative itself struck us. The book can be divided into three parts, almost three separate (but interrelated) stories. The first one is great, the second one is good, and the third one falls apart in many ways.
            Story 1: Jonathan Harker Goes to Transylvania. This section is tight, creepy, and smart. It is a nice progressive narrative. This section could easily have been a novella by itself, with a more definitive ending of course. It has everything that a great gothic needs. Naïve hero. Superstitious locals. A weird castle with a strange host. An increasing series of odd events spawning a deepening sense of dread. And finally a flat-out frightful encounter with the Brides and the otherworldly Count Dracula. The best part of this segment is that we get to see a great deal of Count Dracula, and he is a wonderfully menacing character.
            Story 2: Lucy and Dracula. This is the story of normal people menaced by an invading evil. Poor innocent Lucy becomes the target of an unstoppable occult predator. She is surrounded by her various friends and lovers, who can do nothing to stop the horror, and finally the odd grandfather figure, Van Helsing, who comes equipped with the arcane knowledge to help. This story is less direct and driving than the Harker bit. We’ve got the narrative off-ramps of Dr. Seward and his lunatic asylum including the supremely weird Renfield, as well as the “what the hell is he in here for” character of Quincy Morris (if this were a modern book, we’d suspect Stoker’s publisher demanded an American character for improved marketability; otherwise there’s no point in this bowie-knife wielding American to be here). But even so, the unflagging threat from (largely off-screen) Count Dracula, followed by the nicely spooky “vampire Lucy” segment, creates a strong narrative spine for the many characters to revolve around. Again, with a different ending, this could’ve been a solid story in itself.
            Story 3:  The Chase. This is the weakest part of the book. It doesn’t work as a stand-alone unit and, unfortunately, it barely works as a conclusion of a novel. It seems rushed and muddy. Count Dracula shows up occasionally, and there is the memorably kinky scene where he forces Mina to drink his blood, but in general this part of the novel is about racing around England tracking down boxes of dirt. It finally picks up as our heroes doggedly pursue Count Dracula back to Transylvania, racing for the castle as the sun sinks. Now finally, the reader thinks, oh man, this is going to be good! But it’s not. It’s one of the great letdowns of literature. The final reckoning with Count Dracula is a monolith of meh. Ride. Open box. Stake. The End. Well, okay, Quincy dies, but it happens with so little fanfare and emotion, that you almost miss it.
            What the hell? Did Stoker lose interest? Was his editor standing next to him tapping his foot, demanding the final pages? Did he forget he had a deadline and furiously scribbled the last few paragraphs early one morning before rushing off to work?
            Still, let’s not dwell on the end. The memories from the rest of the book are so strong and wonderful: Lucy and her midnight rambles; Renfield and his flies; the ghost ship arriving at Whitby; Van Helsing and his transfusions; the wolf crashing into the drawing room; the Borgo Pass; Count Dracula carrying a bag with an infant wriggling inside; the dead travel fast.
            All you have to do is go back and read the first part again to remember why you love this book.

Please visit Clay and Susan at their website!
Also stop by VampChix on October 25th for their guest spot and we'll be giving away a copy of The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire!
VampChix reviews The Greyfriar today!

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