Is Dracula Too Different from Source Material?

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.


Will American Horror Story Redeem Madame LaLaurie?

American Horror Story is no stranger to controversy. And American Horror Story: Coven is perhaps the most controversial of the show’s three seasons, due to its inclusion of the infamous Madame LaLaurie. Madame LaLaurie is based on an actual historical figure that brutally tortured, maimed and killed her slaves—she has gone down in history as one of the prime examples of the cruelty of mankind, and the descriptions of her real-life actions are far more gruesome than anything a novelist or writer could imagine. In the American Horror Story canon, Madame LaLaurie was cursed with immortality by a voodoo witch before being locked in her own coffin and buried underground.

She remained there until Fiona, the supreme of the witch’s coven, discovered her and dug her up in the hopes of getting the secrets to immortality. Madame LaLaurie is then forced to live as the new maid of the school’s household, and she is even forced to be the personal servant of the school’s only black resident, Queenie.

Even the inclusion of such a controversial figure is enough to stir controversy. But the show’s decision to make her a human character—one who mourns the deaths of her daughters, who laments the fact that she has been trapped to live for an eternity, and who cannot cope with modern life—has generated plenty of talk, and not all of it has been positive. Is the show in the wrong for showing the “human” side of Madame LaLaurie? And, more importantly, will the show attempt to redeem her character?

Some fans of the show believe that the writers have given some indication that the show may travel down the path of redemption. The character’s supposed bond with Queenie, who saved Madame LaLaurie’s life, may be the writer’s way of showing that Madame LaLaurie is being forced to confront her prejudices and her racism. Even after the reveal that she once murdered the newborn baby of a slave in jealousy, Queenie has not appeared to “give up” on Madame LaLaurie.

In the show’s last episode before the winter midseason break, Queenie has placed the head of Madame LaLaurie (her head, in true American Horror Story fashion, having been severed from her body) in front of a television screen while she is forced to watch various movies and television shows about African-American history. In the pivotal last scene of the episode, Madame LaLaurie is shown crying as a video about the civil rights moment plays to a song about freedom.

For many people, this is the start of a path of redemption—but was the scene all it appeared to be? While some fans believe LaLaurie was crying due to the images of the screen, others believe it is more likely that she was crying out of self-pity for her own longing for “freedom” and the injustice she believed was being done to her—not the injustice she had believed in and perpetuated.