Friday, April 15, 2016


If the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys got together with a Victorian expert and a diehard fan of everything vampire, and then they all read Bram Stoker's Dracula together, they would write The Annotated Dracula, by Leslie Klinger. As it turns out, Leslie Klinger is all of those types of people, as well as an extremely intelligent and philosophical guy. It reads like you and Klinger got together and read every single word of Dracula (not an easy task), which has something to say on almost every single page.

You'll learn more than you thought possible about Victorian England. You'll learn more than you ever wanted to know about the railway schedules for almost every train in England and Europe. (I'd forgotten how much train travel there was in this book.) You'll also learn much about specific London streets and whereabouts, as well as about Carfax, Parfleet, and many other places in England. You'll learn the rivers, streets and locales of Buda-Pesth (I did remember that this was--and maybe still is--the original spelling of Budapest. But now I know why it is.) You'll learn everything you'll ever want to know about everything vampire and Dracula--including the surprising fact that the original Count had no problem at all walking around in the daylight. (That's a movie construct, mostly from 1922's Nosferatu.)

You'll see all of the discrepancies, minor (none of the journal and diary dates jive) and major (I did remember that Stoker had his characters give poor Lucy many blood transfusions--without concerning themselves with blood type. Even as a kid I knew you can't do that, as you can't empty and change a person's blood like you can a car's oil. But blood transfusions were a relatively new-ish thing in 1897, and Stoker took a chance and threw it in there.). Many of these discrepancies, like how there seems to be a full moon every single night, and how one train in Varna couldn't have gotten someplace as it says because it would actually take a lot longer, you could probably do without. But it's like MTV's Pop-up Videos: if you're in the mood for such arcania, you'll love it, if for no other reason than to just pass the time. (You don't watch Pop-up Video to learn something, do you?) Anyway, if you don't enjoy that kind of quaint nothingness, you probably shouldn't be reading this.

I'd read Dracula twice before, but I wanted to read it again with somebody who knew a lot about everything Victorian, as my current WIP partially takes place in 1890s New England. (Not the same, I know, I know.) But I wanted a feel for the time. And Klinger is an expert on everything Victorian, as he has also written a book that annotates every single Sherlock Holmes short story and novel that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote. Klinger did the same for Poe, too, but of course Poe was of an earlier time. (These books are all on my list of things to do.)

The constant sidenotes don't deter from the actual reading of Dracula, though someone who's never had to read scholarly things with a ton of footnotes, endnotes or sidenotes may take awhile to get used to this. I read the book and stopped to read the notes every time a little number appeared, and never got sidetracked. Some of these notes are short, some very long, and often there are consecutive pages of notes without the novel, to get caught up with itself. And the print of these notes are not the super-small letters you may remember from the glosses of your collegiate or academic days, so they're fine to read, without straining.

My one caveat is that Klinger uses a conceit that all of the characters are real people, and that the discrepancies are an intentional attempt to hide the truth that they don't actually kill Dracula at the end, and that he lives to fight another day--in tons of other books, movies, comics, graphic novels, etc. You get the idea. Occasionally this conceit did stay me, and I swiftly moved on over such notes. Klinger did this in his Annotated Sherlock Holmes as well, and I wish he hadn't done so here, but how else can you do this kind of thing and yet make it different from all of the similar annotated books of Dracula out there? (Yes, there are several.) Klinger also had to convince his publisher to print such a book as this, and I guarantee this conceit was in his pitch. Otherwise, it may have come across as yet another glossed scholarly work, and who the hell wants to publish or read another one of those? (Well, okay, I read a lot of the scholarly articles Klinger cites in his bibliography, cuz I'm cool like that.) Still, you've got to make it different, and you've got to make it interesting.

So I forgave Klinger this trespass (and I skimmed over many of those annotated conceits) and I read it to enjoy all of the other notes--plus the book itself. Don't forget about the book! It was still as clumsily written as I'd remembered it, and yet it was still as effective as I'd remembered it--sometimes in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way. (Everyone interrogates Renfield as he's dying, and then they all leave him to die alone on the floor as they--finally!--run to Mina's room.) And, yeah, Dracula, as it turned out, was hiding in the building next to Seward's asylum almost the whole time. Whatever.

So if you like Dracula, the book, or the movies, or the Victorian Era, or if you're in the mood for a MST3K riff on all of these things, then this is the book for you. It also comes with the famous short story, "Dracula's Guest," that looks like an early attempt at a Dracula chapter, but not a "missing" or edited-out chapter, like you may have heard. There are many more discrepancies between novel and story than similarities, and it wasn't published at all until after Stoker died, which means it probably was never supposed to see the light of day. (See what I did there?) He published a few books of collected short stories, so if he'd wanted to publish it, he would have. This story looks like a discarded draft of a chapter that was going to show part of Harker's journey to Transylvania, but it's obviously not necessary, and Harker himself is never mentioned in it, so you should enjoy it as a separate story. It's still cool, as "The Dead Travel Fast," is still there, and it's still creepy enough.

Overall, highly recommended, especially in an appropriately-nerdy, have fun as you learn kind of way. And there's nothing at all wrong with admitting that.

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