Review Blog

Dec 15 2009

Dracula by Bram Stoker Re-edited by Jan Needle

cover image

Walker Books, 2007. ISBN 9781406305814.
(Ages 13+) Recommended. This timeless classic, re-edited by Jan Needle to make it more accessible to today's young audience, will thrill readers just as it did when first published in 1897. Told in diary form with newspaper articles and narrative competing for space, the events take place over several months in Transylvania and England. Needle has abridged some of the diaries and retold the main events in narrative form to move the story along, and this with some linking pages makes the whole much easier to read than the original.
The diaries of several people overlap, giving different points of view as to what is happening and building the tension as those who are in denial come closer to the truth. Beginning with the stories of Jonathon Harker, a clerk sent to Count Dracula's castle in transplants, the story develops speed as we realises what a pickle he is in. Jonathon's fiancee, the strong willed Mina Murray, also keeps a diary of her account of what is happening to her beloved, and keeps his letters to her while he is away. Her best friend, Lucy Westenra, keeps a diary as well, as she falls under the thrall of Dracula and needs eventually to be staked. Lucy's suitors includes Dr Seward, a diarist who by coincidence runs an asylum next door to Dracula's house, and here he has a patient, Renfield, whose behaviour is very odd. And so the story is made up from pieces of the diaries of all these characters, tied together with narrative pieces.
But it is Van Helsing, the Dutchman, who first shows them all what they are dealing with after Lucy's death. He shows them the woman in her coffin, and convinced they endeavour to kill her as only a vampire can be killed: a stake through the heart, removal of the head, and the mouth stuffed with garlic.
There are some quite inspiring passages. The ship coming into harbour at Whitby, carrying the boxes of earth from Transylvania, and the body of Dracula and his cronies, has lost all of its crew, and is steered in by the captain, whose dead body is lashed to the mast. The lingering death of Lucy, despite being surrounded by help: the antics of Renfield, incarcerated at the lunatic asylum, the workings of primitive transfusions and so on, all engender a sense of unease and disturbance to this fabulous tale.
The superb illustrations add to the creepiness of the whole (check out Lucy as a vampire on p 218), and it was a pleasure to read the cut down original and put all the films, videos and other books into some perspective. Recommended for secondary students with a penchant for knowing the true story, and an eagerness for horror.
Fran Knight

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