Way way back, in the time before Smartphones ruled the earth, I took a course in college (then Western Maryland, now McDaniel) about horror literature. I loved it, ate it up, and tried to participate in every class discussion. I didn’t do well in that class, but it was fun. That class was also the first time it dawned on me how deep some stories could be, and I own a large part of that realization to one book: The New Annotated Dracula, edited by the brilliant Leslie S. Klinger and an introduction by Neil Gaiman, the God of Stories. The is going to be an odd review, simply because it is about a reference book of sorts, not a straight story.
The basic thrust of the book is a dissection of the Dracula story as if it were historical fact. Klinger has in fact seen and examined the original manuscript of Stoker’s story, and weaves the alterations made between that and the finished novel into his work, as well as carefully underlining and examining the various mistakes, omissions and changes. I’ll be discussing a few of them here, so if you haven’t for some reason read Dracula, spoilers ahead and shame on you.
One of my favorite threads that Klinger pulls at in the story is Quincy Morris, and the possibility of his alliance with the Count (Klinger isn’t the first person to make this suggestion, but he does it very cleanly, bringing the reader’s attention to Morris’ odd behavior throughout the book.). An American from Texas, he is the most mysterious of the protagonists, and questions surround him, such as: where does he get his money? Why does Lucy die after receiving a transfusion from him? And he is the last to see Renfield, a traitorous underling of Dracula, alive, as well as the only one to “die” after the final battle, and thus raising the idea that Morris is in league with the vampire. In a previous version of the “Harker Papers” as Klinger names the book, “the Texan” and the Count arrive to visit Dr. Seward together and that he earlier volunteers to visit Transylvania and corresponds with Jonathan and Mina by letter. Why the change in story? Klinger postulates that Dracula approached Stoker after he had collected the story and persuaded him to make changes so as to conceal the true facts of the case, such as the names of those involved and the location of Dracula’s castle. After all, we never learn anything about Dracula first hand.
Klinger’s work is meticulous and admirable, comparing the dates used in the various entries and showing why some of them must be incorrect, as well as educating the reader on the customs, ideas, and famous folks referenced in the story. He takes the story piece by piece, even comparing directions given by the characters to their real-world locations, and performs an amazing feat: he makes the story better. Examining the story of Count Dracula as if it was a real event adds luster to the entire narrative, instead of weakening it in the expected manner of a critical examination.
Like I said in the beginning-this book made me think more deeply about all of the stories I’d read in a way I hadn’t really been aware of before that, for which I’m very grateful to Mr. Klinger, and moreover that there are multiple ways to look at any narrative. What does this character want? Where is their behavior leading to in the end? What aren’t we being told? Basically, if you want to know more about Dracula, this is your book.