Sunday, January 15, 2017

Dracula Incarnate: Unearthing the Definitive Dracula – review

Author: Andrew Struthers

First published: 2016

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Dracula has long been considered the most popular horror story ever written, though the origins of the character have never been investigated further than the point of disproving a definite link with Vlad III The Impaler (The Historical Dracula). What if we were to find positive proof that Stoker's story was in fact based on real events which have been hidden within an unholy grail of code embedded in his research papers for over a century. What if we were to find absolute proof that Stoker was indeed acquainted with the infamous shadowy figure they called The "Ripper" and had wrote his novel Dracula as a direct response to this shocking fact? In short, the true identity of Count Dracula has been discovered, and he was not lying alone in his grave!

The review: It pains me to be negative about someone’s book – especially when it is clear that they have poured heart and soul into it. However I can’t help but be negative around this volume – partly through the construct of the book, which I hope that the author will take constructively and also take into account for a further edition, and partly because of the theory.

That said the author has corrected some aspects of Dracula studies in a way I'd agree with. For instance, he identifies the houses in Whitby that Stoker placed some of his characters in and which are often taken to be elsewhere in the town. The only criticism here would be that a map – for those who don’t actually know Whitby – might have been useful. Indeed there are aspects of worth in the opening sections of the book but the book itself has prose and content failings as a reference book.

Prose wise the book is written in a very chatty way – which might make the book more accessible to some, others will find it overly familiar – but often it feels that we are less reading prose and more reading bullet points, unfortunately. The author's overwhelming use of exclamation marks makes the book feel unprofessional, I’m afraid.

The book has no index but, worse, it has no referencing (to be fair some entries regarding Stoker’s notes are at least signposted, but these are few and far between). This lack of referencing is a real issue within the book and frustrating. At one point the author refers us to Leatherdale, suggesting we read his thoughts on a point, but fails to reference which Leatherdale volume he is referring to.

The main area of my concern around the book is the supposition that Stoker knew the identity of Jack the Ripper and encoded his identity within the book. We know that Stoker drew a parallel with the Ripper case due to the introduction he wrote to the Icelandic edition of Dracula. That introduction was not for a straight translation but for the (soon to be released at time of this review) edition entitled Powers of Darkness – where a third party, Valdimar Ásmundsson, considerably rewrote the novel including new characters and plot. Note that Stoker clearly approved the edition but it was Ásmundsson who rewrote it.

However Struthers believes that Stoker encoded things about the Ripper case in his notes and then made four characters in the novel different aspects of the murderer. The latter is problematic if only for the fact that two of these so-called aspects are part of the Crew of Light – Van Helsing’s helpers and co-conspirators.

More problematic, for me as a reader, was the use of Stoker’s notes. The notes are available, however they were not made available by Stoker and one wonders why he would have put encoded secrets for future generations in working notes? Worst still is the shoehorning of anagrams to prove a point.

Let us take a couple of examples from the text and note that the author believes the identity of the Ripper to be Francis Tumblety. The author takes the phrase “Undertakers Man” and rearranges it to ARDENT UNMASKER, suggesting that Tumbelty could be the undertakers man and he is, therefore, being unmasked. However run the phrase through an anagram app and we also gets “Eastman drunker” and “errant unmasked”. Indeed there are hundreds of possible outcomes (the free software I used only gave you the first 400 outcomes). Nowhere is it suggested that there was a key in the notes to allow decoding and so it appears that the author ran phrases from the notes through an anagram programme and then picked the outcomes that would lend credence to his theorem.

Indeed the "meanings" are often cryptic and have to be explained by the author. So “Bells at Sea” becomes SELL A BEAST and this is interpreted as advertising a murder. The author ties the Ripper murders with another serial killer in the US – “The Servant Girl Annihilator”, who allegedly killed seven women (and allegedly injured a further 6) and a man (and allegedly injured a further 2). He then draws attention to part of a line in the notes that says “Rage twice Xmas and midsummer”. The US murderer is thought to have killed two women on Christmas eve 1885 (and seriously injure the husband of one) however the author fails to mention that none of the Ripper victims or those unfortunates in the US were killed in June (midsummer falling between the 19th and 25th of June).

The interpretation of the line would seem to be selective and it isn’t mentioned that the line comes from Stoker making several notes (on that specific page) from Baring-Gould’s Book of the Werewolf and relates to Polish werewolves. The full line from the notes is "White Russian wawkalak is fatherless ww. sent among relations—must keep moving. Polish ww. rage twice Xmas & midsummer p. 114–6". Stoker actually referencing the pages in Baring-Gould that the note came from. As a further point we should mention that Tumblety was not a Pole. In fact, we know why Stoker researched werewolves – it was because he saw no difference between vampires and werewolves and says as much in the Lady of the Shroud.

The author also points out a strange line “Cattle endowed with speech on Xmas night” from the notes – informing us that Tumblety called women cattle (without a specific reference to show that this supposition is true) and thus this is what Stoker referred to. He fails to inform the reader that all the notes on that particular page comes from Emily Gerard’s The Land Beyond the Forest (the speaking cattle can be found on page 195 of Gerard) and Stoker was listing various Transylvanian superstitions from Gerard, which makes the entry less strange to my mind.

There are many other issues I had with the theory, but the idea that Stoker would present a hidden truth to the world in papers not designed to be seen is an initial stumbling block I can’t get past. The book is further marred by lack of referencing, the prose needs work and the excessive exclamation marks need expunging. 4 out of 10.

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