Showing posts with label mash-ups. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mash-ups. Show all posts

The Case Against Dracula: Circumstantial Evidence and the Novel

I'm a moderate fan of literary-alternative stories.  The stories that retell a story that's been told before.  The most recent and well-known version of this is Gregory Maguire's Wicked (now a series, containing 3 books), which tells the story of the Wizard of Oz, through the eyes of the Wicked Witch.  In doing so, Maguire, makes the Witch, the misunderstood and tragic character while the others are bad or questionable people.  The most literary of these attempts to re-visit a past story is most likely John Gardner's Grendel; the retelling of the epic poem, Beowulf, through the monster's eyes.  Indeed, the act has been described as post-modern by some; reinvent the narrative to favor the villain and there might be some truth in that; and yet, we have other long-ago texts that do this same thing, including Virgil’s The Aeneid, and Milton’s Paradise Lost.  We are enamored with a shift in perspective and the ways an author will tease out a new narrative from the original material.

A retold tale is much like a sequel, a mash-up, a fan-fiction, an adaptation, etc in that it allows us to reengage with a particular narrative we enjoyed.  It can give us “more” of the story or just bring us back to those moments we so thoroughly enjoyed.  But often, the retold tale tries to re-imagine the story in a way that is oppositional to the original text, decentering the hero/protagonist in favor of other a lesser character(s), antagonist or villain.

Dracula Retold

Book cover to Renfield: A Tale of Madness by Gary Reed
This brings me to Dracula.  Given the deep and lasting influence of Dracula as “the vampire” and the instantaneous connection we all make when we hear Dracula or vampire separately,  (although, that could be currently usurped—at least of the time being with Edward Cullen),  a person could argue that all vampire stories are retold stories of Dracula.  While vampire tales do exist before him (Poldoris The Vampyre; Rymer’s Varney the Vampire, and of course, that sexy vixen Carmilla, by Joseph LeFanu—who was inspirational ground zero for Stoker’s Dracula), it seems the weight of each vampire story is held up against Dracula.  Defined in relation or against the Count’s definition.  Thus, Edward Cullen maintains the tall and dark alienated persona associated with Dracula, but does not given into his bloodlust (mostly) and attempts to coexist with humans instead of snack on them.

However, I’m more interested in discussing the most interesting pieces out there that attempt to re-interpret what Stoker has written.  There are four that come to mind, though I’m sure there are dozens more out there.  With these four, they perform some interesting re-interpretative feats.

Renfield:  A Tale of Madness by Gary Reed and Galen Showman (1995)

I mentioned this, mostly because I found it really enjoyable and a great example of getting more out of the story.  This graphic novel retells the story of Dracula, through the eyes of Renfield, who is my favorite character in the book (Mostly because I read this graphic novel before my first thorough reading of Dracula).

The Dracula Tape by Fred Saberhagen (1975)

This book serves as the starting point of a series by Saberhagen about Dracula with him living throughout the 20th century encountering all the changes and differences it brings and eventually coming face to face with the Harkers’ children.  In fact, the story starts with Dracula confronting the Harkers’ grandchildren and providing them with cassette tapes that record the story from his perspective.  He recounts how his acts were misconstrued—either accidentally or purposely by the protagonists as well as his loving relationship with Mina.  

Dracula, the Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt (2009)

This is a “sequel” written in part by the great grand-nephew of Stoker, which attempts to give it some legitimacy.  The story picks up a generation later, when Quincy Harker is attempting to achieve his dream as an actor and stumbles upon Bram Stoker who has written a book called “Dracula” that’s all about his parents.  Dracula, again reemerges as a misnunderstood figure, trying to find true evil creature, the vampire, Elizabeth Bathory who is the embodiment of evil vampires (while Dracula is the epitome of “good”).  This version also has battles and scenes that are evocative of a modern-day superhero narrative and unlike other versions, chooses not to tell itself in the epistolary manner that the original and other texts tend to utilize.
Book cover to The Dracula Tapes by Fred Saberhagen

Dracula, My Love by Syrie James (2010)

Here again, Dracula’s story is retold by Mina; who in addition to aspiring wife of Harker, also is seeking her own origin (being an orphan), and having inner battles about being appropriate in Victorian culture.  Her falling in love with Dracula comes from a series of interactions that she chose not to write in her journal that she submitted for the events, but kept to herself.

Within the pieces discussed above and many other pieces, we find that there are several elements that are continually reconsidered and negotiated due to plot holes, cultural privileging, and reflection on interpretations of the text.

Mina’s Relationship With Dracula

There’s lots of room for interpretation on this one; after all, when Mina is caught in the bed with Dracula and Jonathan is out cold; one has trouble believing her innocence.  Typically, it is cast as a love affair.

What Happened on the Demeter

This interesting tidbit provides lots of food for thought.  Both James and Saberhagen argue that it was indeed a mad man who did it and not Dracula.  Saberhagen has Dracula admit that he was actually stuck within his coffin, unable to escape, while Syrie points out that it would not be useful for Dracula to kill everyone on board and risk losing his precious cargo of boxes of native earth.

Overreliance on Van Helsing and his Knowledge

I think this is the most intriguing element.  If the 19th century privileged knowledgeable people (except when there was a fear of them learning too much or “the wrong things” a la Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll), then the 2nd half of the 20th century has been to challenge, undermine, and be highly suspicious of privileged authorities such as doctors.  And given that Van Helsing is an authority on nearly everything (he has several different degrees and everyone seems to roll over and play dead for him), Dracula the Undead, Dracula, My Love, and The Dracula Tape all open up this line of questioning.  How does Van Helsing know what he knows?

Lucy’s Death

Intriguing because, taken with the bit above about Van Helsing, Lucy’s death falls at his feet.  Since blood types aren’t established till after the publication of the book, many writers are quick to attack Van Helsing for injecting Lucy with no less than 4 people’s blood in a very short period, not knowing their blood type and thereby, quite possibly being the true cause of her death.
Book cover to Dracula, My Love by Syrie James

Dracula’s Death

Obviously, if Dracula is then considered the protagonist, he is spared his death since it is evident that Van Helsing doesn’t know what he is talking about.  Dracula’s death turns out to only be temporarily or even faked.

So going way back to the top, I did name this post as the “The Case Against Dracula” and I’m actually getting to my point here.  What these writers do is pin together various narratives based upon the shortcomings of Stoker’s writings and this is where it gets interesting.  The goal of an author is to lead the reader through a narrative, but at times, the narrator, to create mystery, suspense, curiosity, etc, will not take the most direct route.  In fact, to do so, undoes the darker nature of many stories or transitions the suspense into gore.  It gives away too much; too easy.  Thus, the author tries to let the reader connect events.  In the case of Dracula, not only is the reader supposed to connect facts and understand what’s going on; but Stoker has his characters doing the same thing.  After all, the book is a collection of journal entries, newspaper articles, and letters that become a central part of the story at one point.

Therefore, Dracula has both intentional gray areas and actual mistakes by the author.  A good example of an intentional gray area are the events on the Demeter.  No firsthand account comes forward to say that Dracula drank his way through the crew, but by the fact that it’s included in the collection of writings for the protagonists’ case, leads us to believe that it is.  As for actual mistakes, there are several inconsistencies within Stoker’s writings about the nature of the vampire.

The circumstantial evidence when properly aligned, leads us to believe Dracula is the anti-Christ as Stoker implies through his characters.  However, if Dracula were put on trial, what actual evidence would there be against him?  The baby in the bag?  Harker never sees the baby; only hears noise; and so Saberhagen calls it a piglet.  His actions on the Demeter, again, are never proven.  His murdering of Lucy?  Of Renfield?  Still no dice.    It’s interesting that there are college courses and written works other there that look to apply the standards of the law against the facts in a piece of literature (whether an actual courtroom scene, a mystery, or something other debatable element within a story).  In some ways, that’s what the writer does when he/she first starts to explore the idea of re-telling a tale.


What are other stories (besides the ones mentioned) that attempt to reinterpret the text?  (Don’t just name them, actually discuss them if you have firsthand knowledge).

Are there examples of stories where the reinterpretation surpasses (in some capacity) the original?

What other gaps are there in Dracula?  What other alternative Dracula texts are there?

Why would an author tackle a story that’s already been told? 

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On Borrowed Tales

I should posit that I haven’t actually read Kill Shakespeare yet.  I’ve checked out comic’s website  and read this post in the Globe and Mail.  I will most likely read it in the future and provide an addendum either reiterating my dubiousness or reiterating the fact that I’m an idiot (or both—quite likely).   The series like a mixture of fan fiction, intertexuality, meta-fiction, tempered with perverse comments in iambic pentameter and epic action.  That does actually sound like Shakespeare.

But I’m dubious about a venture that sets out from the beginning to compare itself to the Lord of the Rings and other highly epic and influential material.  I also found the comment that if Shakespeare was alive today, he’s be doing comics.  Those comments seem to undermine the ability to think creatively and perform some amazing linguistic and psychological feats with characters that represented Shakespeare.  I’m not positing that Shakespeare is the end-all be-all, but he did some amazing feats, and his work has left an indelible mark on the modern world, regardless if that’s what he intended (favorite Isaac Asimov story!).  The comments by the creators sound more like bravado before actually providing substance.

The series would not be the first to rework and evolve a previous body of literary works.  There have been numerous efforts within comics to craft intelligent and compelling stories that creatively appropriate textual (and sometimes cinematic works:  consider the range of licensing titles that Dark Horse holds from film, video games, etc).

Mythological Spin-Offs

Probably the three most famous series that playfully manipulate previously established “literature” include Sandman, League of Extraordinary Gentleman, and Fables.  Of the three, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman does it least directly and consistently; but directly invokes many different tales, mythologies, and even has Shakespeare as an reoccurring character.  Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentleman focuses almost solely on novels of the 1800s and early 1900s (including the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, and others).  Additionally, Moore’s series for all intents and purposes seems to be a limited self-contained series.  Fables on the other hand is an every-expanding and evolving narrative from Bill Willingham (Note:  I am totally ga-ga over this series).  Fables does some amazing things as it builds off the characters’ original motivations and plots and weave it into a larger tapestry of world events.  Sandman takes the ideas from other literature and crafts them into an intriguing mythology of the universe while Moore craftily interweaves believable but different manifestations of the characters from more than a dozen worlds.  Willingham uses the stories as a starting point or rather the character origin, but then launches them into new and challenging events.      

Zenescope Entertainment  has been building a series of ongoing narratives based upon fairy tales and children stories that work with them in different ways, but seem to fixate on the sex and violence element to a blatant degree.  It can certainly be enjoyable to some people and yet by comparison to how Willingham deals with such characters, it does feel cheap.  Granted, Moore has gone the route of sex with his Lost Girls series and yet, the approach there seems to be different than the short skirts and bounding cleavage as suggested by the Beyond Wonderland image.

Getting back to Shakespeare; it gets harder with something like his plays because they do have specific lines and plot elements.  Granted, some of these have been presented/interpretated differently; and many of Shakespeare’s plays were adapted from previous stories and plays.  One can retool fairy tales since they exist in a nether-region.  Yes, we have them written down, but for most of their existence, they were passed down by word of mouth.  Thus, deviations or creative manipulations from the canon is part of the norm.  Even with Moore’s work deals with more dubious characters since the 19th century seemed to be pushing more towards less clearer villains and heroes (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mina Harker, and the Invisible Man are great examples here).  By contrast, launching tragic characters (many of whom we know to die within their story) across time and space for a quest for a mighty quill doesn’t seem to live up to the material it is borrowing from.

Creating and interweaving narrative with a previous existing text is certainly fun.  I’ve talked elsewhere here about pieces like Wicked, The Dracula Tape, Grendel, etc.  But some can be a bit too much gimmick and not enough gumption.  This seems to be the case with the new onslaught of titles that insert (even more?) ridiculous events into older stories (mash up stories).  Originally triggered by Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  The more successful ones seem to pay homage to the original while also looking to tell powerful and compelling stories.  In this regard, Sandman, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Fables seem to the more impressive pieces.  It will be interesting to see where Kill Shakespeare fits in.


What’s appeals to readers about mash-up novels, or texts that build off a previous mythology/narrative/collection of works?

Some argue that this is uncreative or lacking substance?  Agree?  Disagree?  Why?

What do these kind of works suggest about the nature of story telling?  Why can we deduce from their ability to leap different media and form?

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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The Complex Gooey Muck We Call Culture

Michael Kimmelman offers some rather interesting insights into the every elusive and shape-shifting idea of culture.    Of course, the definition of “culture” is 

the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization d : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic

the act or process of cultivating living material (as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media; also : a product of such cultivation.” (Taken from
Merriam Webster).

And Wikipedia has a rather lengthy entry on the subject as well.  

What I find interesting with Kimmelman is that he starts off discussing France and moves into the larger landscape of culture and globalization’s role in cultural development but also emphasizes the fluidity/flexibility of culture.  He’s quick to point out (rightly so) that just because certain cultural products are appropriated by others, it’s wrong to assume they mean the same thing.  

This can be seen in many different places and one of the most curious is the case of 3 Dev Adam, a Turkish film from the 1970s.   The plot is standard melodramatic fare, but the characters are appropriated from US and Mexican culture (Captain America, Spider-Man, and Santo).   With Spider-Man cast as the villain, the creators have taken some other piece of popular culture and reoriented it to their liking which would seems to be standard fare within global cultural exchange.  After all, cultural food appropriation has been a main habit of humans as soon as one culture encountered another.  One of their first questions when encountering a new group most likely being, “What have you got to eat?”

With 3 Dev Adam, the fact that they’ve recreated Spiderman and decided to toss in Santo can seem strange to us; 30+ years removed and also, having no basis for associating the two Marvel superheroes and the wrestler (who happened to be a real living person as opposed to the two fictional characters).  But that matters little at least in Turkey in the 1970s where the film was made.   

Equally, intriguing are the series of videos on YouTube featuring a re-dubbed Hitler speech from a film (from what I gathered, it was taken from Der Untergang (2004) ).  Here, too, is something that is mixed and matched with regards to global culture.  The title and the visual cues tell us it’s Hitler at an important meeting during World War II.   As a German film, it’s not immediately accessible to most English-speaking people (and in particular, Americans).  It’s only with the use of subtitles (thereby manipulating the film in some way—adding to it) that it can more clearly communicate its message.  But these films decide to play with the added material.  Indeed, the video is spliced in numerous ways, often using the same clip but adding different subtitles.  In this one, Hitler is devastated about not being cast as The Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight but others deal with just as outlandish topics.  Again, people are using cultural products in rather compelling and inventive ways. 

The key here is to realize that this is not new.  For as long as cultures have interacted, they have adapted, appropriated, and re-constructed the cultural products and practices of others.


What are some other modern ways and examples of cultural appropriation and reinvention taking place?

What are some past examples of cultures, societies, groups, etc using the ideas of another to further their own?

What do these incidents (past and present) suggest about our larger conception of “culture,” particularly with regard to the above definition?

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Destruction, Death, and Mayhem, Has Never Been This Social

I find this particular post at quite amusing and impressive.  It's one of those jokes that also has some great insight and reveals ways of delivering information in unique and different formats.  I imagine that this kind of work would actually make it easier for students of the "Facebook" generation to visualize (and eventually conceptualize) the events and the stakes of World War II.  Now that may sound silly; how could it invoke the stakes of World War II; after all, one is considered the most significant event of the last hundred years and the other is World War II.  Ooops, I mean, the other is Facebook.  But in truth, Facebook does have a much more clear and central role in people's lives in the early 21st century than WWII does.  And before the eyes rolls and people start saying "Well, that says a lot about the people of the early 21st century," realize that we are compelled by things that are dynamic and can be engaged with;  World War II, by and large, is static or at least the means of bestowing its information and significance are static in the education system.  Books; documentaries, oral histories; and for those like myself, graphic novels.  There is some interaction there but not compared to what one does with Facebook. 

I've posed this question to my students before.  Who is the creator of your facebook profile?  Some look at me with a crazy look that hints at my intelligence or "hip" factor (and I realize by using the word "hip" significantly deterioriates any "hip"ness I might have) and they answer "I do."  More critical students may say, "Facebook does."  But very few remember realize that it's not just "Facebook, Inc" or "Me" but also our "Friends" that create our page.  We send links, poke, comment, have contact through applications, recommend friends and a variety of other tools of interaction that builds our profile and our "community." So, the interaction and communal building does make Facebook more relevant to our lives; we want to see how people react and build upon what we’ve done.  (After all, we often post stuff—links, pics, videos, etc, with the hope that people will respond). 

Therefore, something like the WWII on Facebook is an ingenious and intriguing way to parley such information.  In fact, I’m considering pushing students to re-create such similar historical (or even literary like the Romeo & Juliet on Facebook).  It uses students’ interest and pushes them to think more creatively about their forms of communication and social networks.  What's most interesting is that it takes sophisticate thought not only to create; but to understand.  Many of the jokes stem from both a knowledge of Facebook and of WWII, so if you're laughing, there's a chance you're understanding both. 


What are other examples of this out there on the Internet that use different things like online social networks to convey complex historical events, literary concepts, or even complex narratives?  In discussing or posting some, please explain in some detail how and what the author(s) are doing in their work and how it relates to this discussion.

How accurate is the WWII post (and have some evidence or clear means of proving your statements in this regard)? 

What might be (or exist) some critical responses to this?

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.