Spiritual Warfare in Dracula

Warning: In the following post I had no problem in spoiling the book, given its age. If that’s a problem to you, do not read. Moreover, I am not a theologian, just a reader trying to analyze a book. Some of my interpretations my be wrong. If that’s the case, feel free to point that out.

Sometimes, it happens to me to be fixated about something for about a month, and in the end of October I went into a full vampire obsession. I took advantage of this craze and read the original Dracula, by Bram Stoker, since, despite loving vampires, I had never read this book before (it sounds like a paradox, I know).

I want to talk about the peculiar way Stoker introduces tension and action into the story, at least to my perspective. My side of the literary world is very focused on providing books where solving conflict and well-paced action play a rather important part, and to me Dracula provides a peculiar solution we can imitate (though I am sure someone has already done it).

The book has got moments where the characters have to deal with classic life/death situations and normal action that are well executed. Many time, though, Stoker plays a slightly different game: the stakes become higher, the risk goes beyond losing one’s life (to the point that dying is an explicitly preferable alternative) and the battle between the heroes and the supernatural villain reach the heights of the transcendental and the spiritual. And that is when the story gets even more tasteful.

But let us follow a proper order. When Jonathan Harker arrives in Transilvania and some villagers understand he is going to meet Dracula, they gift him with a crucifix. The scene is of course set in a country adhering to a traditional version of Christianity, and it is normal that its inhabitants wear crosses or, say, rosaries. Jonathan accepts the gift only because of his kindness (“As an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous”), but we can read later about the internal strength that the symbol bestows upon him (“For it is a confort and a strength to me whenever I touch it”) and then, of course, we see that it actually works, because vampires, too, have to submit to Christ. The first thing that so we understand is that the Christian perspective is a nuclear part of the story: religion is real, and not a washed-out modernist version of Christianity. Willing or not, Jonathan, and later every member of our group of heroes, must embrace the archaic and traditional Christian religion, with his tangible signs and symbols, its rituals, and its concreteness. For example, apart from the villagers constantly crossign themselves when hearing the name of Dracula, Van Helsing follows and teaches very detailed procedures regarding the way to deal with vampires, which require using certain objects of a certain material, the most important being the Host. Our heroes, to be clear, perform rituals to bring back the divine order in lives that have been touched by demonic chaos and inversion; the undead are the worst inversion in the Christian mindset, because they mock the eternal life given by God.

The battle against Dracula is not physical in any way, although always visceral. And I think that is not only due to the vampire’s inhuman strength, but rather comes from the fact that his evil is of a spiritual nature. When finally Dracula manages to taint Mina Harker, as Van Helsing explicitly says, she is abruptly cut away from the history of salvation and the Host refuses her. Again thanks to Van Helsing, we know that Dracula learned black magic “in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due”. The vampire has taken Mina away from the children of God and given her to the Devil, as he has been claimed before. The same can be said for Lucy Westenra in the second act and the vampire ladies that appear in the first and last. I think that the key that makes this struggle even more effective on the reader is the fact that clearly this monster’s instinct is to taint the purest and noblest of men: Van Helsing often says how manly, strong and brave is Jonathan Harker, and that is why he survives the first act only getting a mental breakdown, and not worse things, and many times Lucy and Mina are described as jewels among women. The impression on the reader is that death and damnation have unjustly fallen upon unstained victims, a feeling that never ceases to captivate us on many levels. And these victims could have to deal with an undeserved damnation forever!

Regarding the passage where the Host burns Mina’s forehead, I have to say that there is actually an element of hope introduced in the story, too. Van Helsing states that the burn is “the sign of God’s knowledge of what has been”, and of course that it will be removed once Dracula is finally defeated. To me it resembles the mark of Cain, and so despite being tainted Mina’s purity makes so that God will watch over her until Dracula’s curse has been lifted. It is one of the most important moments in the entire book, and it is fundamental to the scope of bringing the story to its conclusion, a final statement of this holy mission entailing a definitive acceptance by the heroes.

I would like to hear your opinions and further the discussion, so, please, leave a comment if you wish.

4 thoughts on “Spiritual Warfare in Dracula

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