News flash: there’s something even sadder about Twilight than the fact that it exists (advance apologies to all you Twihards out there). The actual saddest thing about it is that because of it, overly romantic, sparkling young boys have become the modern definition of a vampire.
If you have that image in your mind every time you think of the classic creature, then it’s time to read a book that will get you back on track. This past year was the one hundred and seventeenth anniversary of the publication of one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written. It was a book that sparked the vampire sensation and redefined the horror (yes, I did say HORROR) that such creatures are capable of. The book to which I am referring, of course, is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It has become such a household name that many readers don’t even pick it up anymore because it seems dated; something that everyone knows the ending to.
Today I would like to take a few moments of your time to challenge that conception by pointing out several facets of the story that are not only timeless and interesting, but which make Dracula an arguably Catholic piece of fiction.
The story of Dracula is about, of course, the vampire of the same name. When we first meet Count Dracula he is living in his castle in Transylvania and is expecting a visit from a young real estate representative named Jonathan. It is with Jonathan that we travel to Transylvania and meet Dracula. By the time that Jonathan realizes what Dracula is it is too late to stop him from moving to England. Once Dracula crosses over to his new country, he begins to wreak havoc there. His actions force a band of determined men and women to take a stand against him once and for all before he turns the people they love into vampires. Not only is the book a hair-raising, page turning read, it raises many deep questions that could easily be discussed for hours. I am only going to focus on the more obviously Catholic points for this review.
Firstly, we always hear about the typical ways to ward off vampires: garlic, wooden stakes, and crosses. But when the vampire hunting team realizes just what a force they are up against they pull out the big guns, bringing in the only weapon that can successfully stop a vampire in their tracks (garlic only keeps them at a distance).
What is that weapon? The Holy Eucharist.
As a group of devoted Catholics, the hunting team makes sure to request an “indulgence” before using the Eucharist in their hunting attempts and always treat the Hosts with the utmost respect. The introduction of the Eucharist in the book is a game changer and turns the tides against the vampires. The amount of power that Mr. Stoker attributes to the Holy Eucharist in this book is phenomenal. It can, as stated before, prevent the vampires from coming anywhere near the bearer and also has the ability to burn them physically. It is one of the only things that can stand up against the unstoppable evil and terror that the vampires bring to humanity.
Really, it is a beautiful testimony to the power that is contained in what we can all too easily
see as a tiny, helpless piece of bread. Mr. Stoker obviously understood that in times of trouble, Christ in the Eucharist is our best hope for protection and peace. The second interesting bit of Christian morality that I would like to point out lies in the question of what a vampire really is. Twilight and similar modern pieces of storytelling have given us a rather disappointing view that vampires are just humans who have been bitten and now have the lust for blood. They can either embrace their new found heritage or try to abstain from it, but no matter which they choose they always maintain their humanities.
This is the greatest possible departure from what a vampire actually is. In Dracula, we are presented with a creature that walks like a human, talks like a human, and even plots and thinks like a human, but which is anything but a human. Have you ever stopped to wonder why vampires live forever? Mr. Stoker makes the answer to that question quite clear in his novel: they don’t experience a natural death because they are already dead.
Once a human has been bitten enough times by a vampire, they will die. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Blood transfusions can possibly save them, but chances are that if a vampire wants to turn their victim to their side, they’re going to keep coming back at them until the deed is done. When that happens and the human being dies, their body will take on a new life.
But what happens to the soul of the person? They have died but they are not really allowed to leave. This is where Mr. Stoker presents his most intriguing vision of the vampire, not as a monster, not as a bloodthirsty person, but as a dead person whose body has them trapped following their deaths. The souls of those who have become vampires seem to exist in a different spiritual dimension once they have died and their bodies have been resurrected by the unholy virus. They are not truly dead because their bodies are still alive, but they are not allowed to move on to their proper afterlife either because of that same aforementioned reason. It is almost a purgatory like scenario. The vampires aren’t just creatures, they are tormented humans who are forced to wait until their bodies are redeemed. Therefore by killing a vampire one is not just taking out a threat, they are releasing the tortured soul of a human who has been killed but is not fully dead. This dips into the question of the intricacy of the afterlife:
- What exactly happens after a human dies?
- Why are there ghosts and spirits still in the world?
- Why can some people move on to their judgment and afterlife while others are allowed to remain?
- Could the idea that the soul of the person remains trapped after death be some sort of purgatory, a cleansing suffering?
By giving a deeper meaning to what a vampire is besides just classifying it as a typical monster, Mr. Stoker is slyly inviting his audience to ponder all of these questions.
If you thought that Dracula was a monster story that had nothing to offer, please reconsider it. I would strongly urge you to pick up this classic today and see it through to the end. The writing style, although classic and well thought out, can seem dry in parts but the ending of the book really pulls it all together. It is a classic for a reason, and the fact that it is a horror novel should not deter you. This is one book that will give you plenty to think about, both as a reader and as a Christian, long after you have finished the epilogue.
(Editors note: My Parish priest greatly enjoyed this particular book, recommended it to me, and made an interesting point about vampires in the process. He noted that they are an inversion of Christ, who died and gave us his body and blood. This point about them makes them villains on par with Screwtape, although anyone who enjoys a novel like Twilight where they are heroes should reconsider it. Other side note: In Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, Sauron is Lord of Vampires and Werewolves.)