By Jeff Baker
He is one of the most famous characters in fiction, certainly the most famous vampire. He is Dracula, also known as Count Dracula. Not popular fiction’s first vampire, or even the second, but the template from which the others either followed or diverged.
And any writer, reader or fan of vampire-themed fiction should read “Dracula,” the novel from which all the movies sprang. Published in 1897 it is an epistolary novel; that is, one told through letters and journals and diary entries of the characters. Dracula himself does not appear in much of the book, the book is really about the people who are trying, with good reason, to find Dracula.
And of course, Irish author Bram Stoker wrote the book. And his is not a happy story. Stoker was a womanizer, a secret partier who may have given his fictional vampire his own qualities. And it has been speculated that Stoker was gay. There is no hard evidence but a lot of supposition and scholars for both sides of the argument insist he was or wasn’t. If he was, he was certainly closeted and self-loathing.
Stoker wrote other fiction besides “Dracula;” there is a fine set of short-stories, many of which were adapted for the old E.C. Comics, and were collected after Stoker’s death as “Dracula’s Guest.” The title story being an excised chapter from “Dracula.”
“Dracula” should be read, if the reader has not. It is damn good, first of all. Like the vampire, it retains it’s dark, enthralling power after over a century.
Changing gears to another milestone of fantasy, and another literary master with a hidden life, we travel to a mysterious forest where two masters of sorcery are dueling to the death; two beings of power, one good one evil. The legendary Merlin battles the evil Madam Mim in a scene from T. H. White’s 1938 novel “The Sword in the Stone.” If it sounds familiar, it was all Disneyfied in the 1963 movie cartoon of the same name but frame-by-frame the scene is in White’s original novel, including a clever twist at the end. (Ironically, White removed this scene from later editions of the book but the 1938 original is not too hard to find.) White had a preoccupation with the English past and his Arthurian novels were also an inspiration for the musical “Camelot.”
And White was probably gay. “Probably,” because some of his friends confirm it, some of them refute it. Either way, White, who had a difficult childhood, was an unhappy man.
White wrote: “It has been my hideous fate to be born with an infinite capacity for love and joy with no hope of using them.”
We live in an era where it is easier to be “Out,” to be accepted. The stories of our own past should be told, as cautionary tales to learn from.
T.H. White died suddenly in 1964, but much of his work can still be found and is worth reading, including the posthumous 1981 short story collection “The Maharajah and Other Stories.” (Be warned! Although the blurbs and reviews list it as being by a children’s author, there are a few adult themes, implications of sex and some violence.)
Jeff Baker blogs about reading and writing sci-fi, fantasy and horror on or about the thirteenth of each month. He avoids dueling powerful sorceresses when he can, preferring to live happily with his husband Darryl and waste time on his Facebook page; https://www.facebook.com/Jeff-Baker-Author-176267409096907/. He also posts fiction on his blog; https://authorjeffbaker.com/.