NBC’S new show Dracula is something of a complex beast. It has several things going for it, which will likely explain why it has developed a small cult following. The acting and charisma of its leading man, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, are a definite plus—he manages to take a character which might be melodramatic and boring and turn him into an attractive, intriguing vampire that the viewer wants to know more about. The character of Renfield, who is not a sniveling minion but a truly devoted, strong and intelligent man who agreed to serve Dracula after a dangerous encounter on a train, is another thing the show has done very well. A few other attributes—such as the costumes, the settings and the music—are also well done.
But although Dracula has developed a cult following, and does fairly well in DVR ratings for Friday nights, is this enough to keep the how going? Or is the show just too different from its original source material to truly get a grip (or a bite) on audiences?
This isn’t the first time that a director has decided to take Bram Stoker’s Dracula for a cinematic or television spin. There have been countless adaptations of the book in the past 100 years, some of them authentic to the novel’s story and others taking various liberties. The new NBC show, however, does more than “take various liberties.” The plot of the show and the plot of the original book are just about nothing alike. The only similarities come from the names, some of the relationships in their vaguest forms—and the fact that there are vampires involved.
Does the show take these liberties too far? Devoted fans of the novel would likely say “yes.” Aside from the aforementioned names and briefest of characteristics, NBC’s Dracula and Bram Stoker’s Dracula are nothing alike. Book devotees might argue that the show might as well be called something else entirely, since it does not abide by even the basic storyline of the original novel.
A counterargument to this particular argument set forth by fans of the book, however, involves looking at the impact of Bram Stoker’s Dracula on popular culture. Since the book’s release, and especially since the release of the classic film starring Bela Lugosi, Dracula has entered into the public imagination. He is not just the specific vampire from Bram Stoker’s novel—he can be found, in some trace, in every vampire novel, film and television show created since his first appearance on the page and screen.
Dracula, then, should not be regarded as a specific entity from a specific novel, but a classic character that can be molded and shaped to the liking of a writer or director or producer. Dracula, like other classic characters (to use a more benign example, Cinderella) does not belong solely in the realm of Bram Stoker’s fictional world, but in the world of the public, who can change him as they see fit.