The Curse of the Snake is the Guy Boothby title I have been waiting years to read. I previously covered the five books in his Dr. Nikola series as well as his 1899 novel, Pharos the Egyptian for Black Gate. Boothby is an author whose works have fallen into relative obscurity, but his influence was quite pervasive. A contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, he turned out works that stand up well against their more celebrated efforts. Most importantly, the influence of Dr. Nikola is felt heavily upon Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series and the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Boothby’s great flaw was that he was a prolific author of serialized novels who made no effort to correct inconsistencies when his works were published in book form. This hurt his reputation and, along with the speed with which he produced new works, unfairly suggested he was little more than a hack.
NOTE: The following article was first published on February 14, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these early articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.
It has long been my contention that pulp fiction not discovered by age thirteen was beyond my ability to appreciate later in life. A certain amount of nostalgia seemed essential to enjoying such escapism once age and responsibility have got the better of you. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule in the rare instances where genuine literary talent is in evidence as is the case with the Holy Trinity of hardboiled detective fiction: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. Given that I recently covered Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I decided to revisit Peter Tremayne’s three Dracula novels and one short story that I enjoyed so much as a teenager to see how they held up three decades on.
Peter Tremayne is best known today for his long-running Sister Fidelma mysteries. His medieval detective series is sort of a lightweight version of an Umberto Eco doorstop. Although Tremayne’s real world credentials are quite impressive as both an academic and scholar, his fiction is strictly populist in its appeal. Turn back the clock 40 years and one would find Peter Tremayne as a dedicated pulp pastiche writer trying his hand at extending the lifespan of H. Rider Haggard’s She, deliriously combining Shelley’s Frankenstein with Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, and delving deep into Stoker’s Dracula for a trilogy of loosely connected titles published by Bailey Brothers in the UK.
NOTE: The following article was first published on January 17, 2010. Thank you to John O’Neill for agreeing to reprint these first 20 articles, so they are archived at Black Gate which has been my home for over 5 years and 250 articles now. Thank you to Deuce Richardson without whom I never would have found my way. Minor editorial changes have been made in some cases to the original text.
Dracula by Bram Stoker is the subject of my very first article as a blogger. I follow several book review blogs, but had mixed feelings about starting my own. Blogs serve no useful purpose save providing a few minutes of distraction from the mundane. As a result, they are fairly inconsequential in the Grand Scheme of Life, but infinitely more useful than a politician.
Dracula is slowly gaining acceptance in literary circles as more than just a genre classic and deservedly so. Of course, mass acceptance for a novel that has never been out of print in its 118 years on the planet means that there are literally hundreds of public domain copies to choose from for the unwary consumer. The focus of this review is on Dracula: The Definitive Edition available from Fall River Press. This edition is recommended not only for Edward Gorey’s fine illustrations and Marvin Kaye’s impressive essays and notes on the text, but it is also affordably priced.
This gets my nod over the many annotated editions out there for the simple fact that Mr. Kaye gives the modern reader all they need to know to enjoy the novel in the context it was written without getting bogged down endlessly in railway timetables and notes on Transylvanian culture, cuisine, superstition, or topography. Nor does he become sidetracked in speculation on Stoker’s marriage, sex life, or physical and mental health. Mr. Kaye provides the salient biographical details and expounds on details that are relevant to better appreciating the text and nothing more. His essays are a model of efficiency and stand on the strength of their factual accuracy above the more verbose and salacious theories one comes to expect with literary classics.
Mark Frost made the news not too long ago with the announcement that he and David Lynch will be making a new Twin Peaks series for Showtime. Yay! Twin Peaks came to an abrupt end in 1991: just after its second season. Frost apparently wasn’t one to let grass grow under his feet, as only two years later, The List of 7 hit bookshelves.
John O’Neill wrote about (mostly the cover…) this book last year.
Frost is absolutely a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Not only is the novel’s protagonist none other than Arthur Conan Doyle and bits of his life are scattered throughout, but there are Holmes-isms aplenty. Thus, this book is a type of pastiche, though darker than any straight Holmes tale I’ve read.
Last year, Skyhorse Publishing commemorated the centennial of Bram Stoker’s death by collecting his three lesser known horror novels in one massive volume, edited by Stephen Jones and published under the title The Lost Novels of Bram Stoker. The title is a bit of a misnomer, since none of these books can really claim to have been lost. Although having recently read all three in sequence, one may be able to make a convincing argument that at least a couple of them deserve to be buried.
The Jewel of the Seven Stars (1903) opens the collection and is far and away the best of the three titles. Often referred to as Stoker’s Mummy novel; the story concerns reincarnation, possession, obsession, and even a Biblical damning of those who dare too much. This well-written novel recalls Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing style far more than Stoker’s earlier triumph with Dracula, but that is hardly a fault. The style is more modern and the pacing and characterization are excellent until the stilted finale, which falls surprisingly flat.
Marvel Comics’ mature readers imprint, Epic Comics, published a Tomb of Dracula limited series in 1991 entitled, “Day of Blood, Night of Redemption.” Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan reunited from the original series and teamed with Al Williamson to produce this visually stunning and highly ambitious four-part epic. The script faltered a bit by the end, as it really needed at least two more issues to realize its full potential; but this was an excellent effort and a welcome return to form that is deserving of more attention for its high standard of quality throughout.
The story gets underway with the introduction of two attractive young college students, Becky and Lila, who are having an affair. Becky is obsessed with the occult and unintentionally burns herself to death during a Satanic ritual one night after a rendezvous with Lila. From there, the scene shifts to a beautiful young attorney, Marlene McKenna, who is suffering from night terrors and under the care of Dr. Gregor Smirnoff. Marlene’s night terrors stem from the fact that she is married to Frank Drake and she has become obsessed with Frank’s ex-lover, the now deceased Rachel Van Helsing. Marlene has sought out her husband’s psychiatrist to treat her for her recurring nightmares of Dracula and belief that she is being possessed by the spirit of Rachel Van Helsing.
As the story progresses, we learn that it was Dr. Smirnoff who has led the students at Georgetown University, where he teaches, to practice Satanism just as he has been manipulating Frank and Marlene since introducing them to one another. Both experiments are the means to achieving his desire to locate Dracula’s remains and revive the vampire. These disparate sequences build up to a positively chilling scene where Marlene purposely disfigures her face with Frank’s razor in an attempt to emulate Rachel’s scarred visage.
Dracula Lives was Marvel’s companion black and white companion title to the award-winning Tomb of Dracula monthly comic. As a magazine, Dracula Lives was exempt from the strictures of the Comic Code Authority, allowing for more violence and adult themes than would have been possible in the comic at the time. The Legion of Monsters #1 in 1975 and Marvel Preview #12 in 1977 collected three orphan tales – two originally slated for Dracula Lives and the other for Vampire Tales as both titles had ceased publication by this point.
Chapter Seven of Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano’s masterful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic was salvaged from Dracula Lives to appear in the debut issue of The Legion of Monsters. The story advances to the point where Professor Van Helsing is brought in by Dr. Seward in an ill-fated effort to save Lucy Westenra’s life. This would be the last installment to see print until the two legendary comics creators reunited decades later to finish the project for Marvel as previously covered in detail in our earlier article on comic adaptations of the Stoker novel.
“Profits are Plunging” was a Steve Gerber solo tale of Lilith, Daughter of Dracula that made its way from Vampire Tales to Marvel Preview. Frank Springer’s artwork is strictly run of the mill, but Gerber’s solid story offers an effective criticism of 1960s idealism giving way to 1970s corporate greed. Martin Gold, the series’ resident Greenwich Village hippie, accepts a PR job to help provide for his pregnant girlfriend, Angel O’Hara. Of course, the conservative capitalists at the chemical company whose compound Martin is supposed to successfully sell to the youth of America are well aware their product will harm both the environment and animal life and are willing to off Martin when he decides to play whistle-blower. This gives Lilith an opportunity to take over her host form of Angel O’Hara to save Martin and take vengeance on the men whose corrupting greed outweighs their respect for life.
Doug Moench’s lost Dracula Lives tale, “Picture of Andrea” is an effective variation on the film noir classic Laura, aided and abetted by the gorgeous artwork of Sonny Trinidad. His depiction of the Lord of Vampires is the equal of Gene Colan. It is appropriate that a story so concerned with the beauty of the human form be graced with an artist capable of illustrating it to perfection.
Dracula Lives was Marvel’s companion black and white companion title to the award-winning Tomb of Dracula monthly comic. As a magazine, Dracula Lives was exempt from the strictures of the Comic Code Authority, allowing for more violence and adult themes than would have been possible in the comic at the time.
Issue #8 gets underway with Doug Moench’s “Last Walk on the Night Side,” a two-part gritty urban police drama with a cop on the verge of retirement who runs afoul of Dracula. The shock ending, where the officer returns home to discover Dracula has taken his revenge on him by attacking his wife is startling. Tony DeZuniga’s artwork is first-rate throughout.
Len Wein’s “The Black Hand of Death” continues the gritty urban feel with a Roaring Twenties tale of gangsters in Rome. Gene Colan’s artwork lends immediate authenticity by providing stylistic continuity with the monthly series.
Chris Claremont’s “Child of the Storm” is a lengthy text piece. I had forgotten how these were such a fixture of the magazine. Dracula works surprisingly well as a pulp character and these stories prove that the thread between pulps and comics runs deeper than superheroes.
The fourth chapter of Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano’s faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic rounds out the issue. This chapter has the infamous portrayal of Dracula as a baby snatcher who feeds the stolen infant to his blood-starved wives with the promise they can have Harker once he is finished with him. Jonathan makes a valiant, but unsuccessful, effort to slay Dracula while he sleeps in his coffin during the day. The chapter ends with Harker despairing that he has failed to prevent the plague of the vampire from spreading to England. He knows he will never see his beloved Mina again as he awaits the fall of night, not knowing if this is the night he will meet his death at the hands of Dracula’s brides.
Dracula Lives was Marvel’s black and white companion title to the award-winning Tomb of Dracula monthly comic. As a magazine, Dracula Lives was exempt from the strictures of the Comic Code Authority, allowing for more violence and adult themes than would have been possible in the comic at the time. From the magazine’s launch in 1973 with a stunning Boris Vallejo cover displaying voodoo imagery and undead nudes, readers knew they were in for something decidedly different.
Issue #1 gets underway with the excellent “A Poison in the Blood.” Gerry Conway’s contemporary tale of Dracula in New York, suffering from withdrawal after drinking the tainted blood of junkies easily measured up to the high standard set by Marv Wolfman in the monthly comic series. Assigning the monthly’s art team of Gene Colan and Tom Palmer the artistic chores for the story only reinforced the fact that what was to follow would be every bit as good as the award-winning parent series. More importantly, “A Poison in the Blood” began the Cagliostro story arc which would weave its way through history in subsequent issues.
Roy Thomas’s “Suffer Not a Witch” is the first historical tale and also the first Dracula story to team Thomas with artist Dick Giordano. The pair would later embark on a celebrated adaptation of the original Stoker novel. “Suffer Not a Witch” steers the series into Nathaniel Hawthorne territory with the Lord of Vampires visiting 17th Century America and becoming embroiled in the conflict between hypocritical Puritans and the persecuted witches.
The first issue concludes with Steve Gerber’s “To Walk Again in Daylight,” illustrated by Pablo Marcos. This 18th Century tale set in Vienna is well done, but the central concept (Dracula is seeking an alchemical cure from vampirism) contradicts the established continuity for the series and flies in the face of Marvel’s portrayal of the Lord of the Vampires as a truly Satanic unrepentant figure who embraces evil for his own sake.
I belong firmly to the camp of Bram Stoker fan that approached Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt’s Dracula the Un-Dead with great anticipation and left disappointed. Well, actually appalled might be a more apt description of the reading experience. Had I not had my jaws wired shut at the time I read the book, I would have described myself as speechless. Severn House, a small press that has been kicking around for at least forty years when they took over Tom Stacey’s imprint, decided to capitalize on the attendant hoopla of a Stoker descendant co-writing a sequel to reprint an earlier literary sequel with very nearly the same title.
Freda Warrington’s Dracula the Undead was originally published to mark the centennial of Stoker’s classic original in 1997. I was aware of the book prior to its reprinting, but avoided it like the plague at the time believing incorrectly it was comparable to Elaine Bergstrom (aka Marie Kiraly)’s romanticized and anemic sequels, Mina and Blood to Blood. There is an element of romance found in Ms. Warrington’s book that does not ring true for the Stoker purist, but Warrington is a gifted British fantasy and horror author who accomplished something few writers can claim – she authored a sequel to a literary classic that doesn’t pale in comparison.