“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

Dracula

(Author: Bram Stoker) + (Year: 1897) + (Goodreads)


Review:

NOTE: This re-read(first read: 2009) of the book and the following review are the result of the fact that a couple of weeks ago I finally visited amazing Romania and spent a couple of days in the heart of Transylvania, went to the most beautiful place I have seen so far – castle Peles and the surrounding town of Sinaia, with their astonishing nature and architecture. I also had the pleasure of visiting castle Bran, dubbed as Dracula’s castle, though that’s not historically accurate. After that, I had an immense desire to read the book again, and see if my feelings about it would change, now that I’ve visited the lands of Vlad the Impaler.

Like most of you, I assume, I don’t even remember the first time I was introduced to the story/myth about Dracula. That name has been embedded into our minds by pop-culture and to be honest, I don’t see it fading from there any time soon. Generation after generation we are being introduced to the character of the Transylvanian vampire Count Dracula, as well as the subsequent thousands of stories about vampires that have become part of our everyday life by now. It’s equally as normal to discuss vampires as it is to talk about politics and the weather. TV shows such as The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Supernatural, Grimm, Dracula and many more, books and series, movies coming out each year(most recently Dracula Untold), Discovery and History Channel’s shows, comic books, merchandise, fake teeth, Anne Rice groupies, all of those things are all around us every single day.

And they were all inspired by a single book – Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Yes, the myth about vampires, strigoi, upir, you name it, has been around for hundreds, probably thousands of years, but I am a million percent sure that if it weren’t for Stoker’s book, the vampires wouldn’t have become nearly as popular as they are today.

Many have heard and talked about vampires their whole lives, but never even read Dracula. Do you even realize the value of this ground breaking book? For more than 100 years the vampire has haunted the world like in no other time before that, and the reason for it is one man: Bram Stoker.

From the cultural values of this book to its place in our everyday world, it is of course not without its minuses, but what actual meaning do they have in a book so influential? I, for example, didn’t like two things, firstly, all of the characters are entirely too black and white, not enough of their inner motivations are revealed, even though the book is mostly excerpts of diaries, and second – the little information there is about Dracula himself. Although it’s revealed that he was a Transylvanian count, not once is it mentioned that he is the same person as Vlad the Impaler, nothing is said of his real actions – instead there is only vague information about his wars against the Turks. And also, the author is just too laconic when explaining how Dracula became a vampire. But in a book as old, I wouldn’t expect as thorough knowledge of history as we have today, so either way, Stoker omitted much, either due to lack of information, or because he didn’t want it to be a part of his book.

However, I find that there is much that catches the attention in the real life of Vlad III. From historical point of view, I think Dracula Untold is the most informative Hollywood movie there is, and that’s only due to the fact that it tries to tell at least something about the origin of Dracula. If you really want information, I suggest you instead look at a history book or two, of find the documentaries by Discovery Channel and History Channel, which give different information on certain facts, but at least tell the story of the actual Dracula. Among my favourite facts(as grotesque as they are) about Dracula are that he made his men nail the turbans to the heads of the Ottoman envoys because they told him that they can’t remove their “hats” because of anyone but the sultan, also, because he loved putting the impaled corpses everywhere, the stench was unbearable and a Polish nobleman who was visiting Vlad complained about it – as a result Vlad had the nobleman’s nose cut off and then he had him impaled and put on a higher stake than the rest so that he can be above the foul smell. Not to mention that he had 20.000 people impaled and put on stakes around his castle – a sight so grizzly, the usually cruel Ottoman army retreated before the evil of this monster. The vampire myth probably comes from the fact that he liked to dip bread in bowls filled with the blood of the men he had impaled and then he’d eat the bloody bread, probably to show how powerful he is, and not as the result of his vampiristic inclinations, but never mind that.

On the topic of the book, I’d like to remark on the fact that even though most of vampire lore has been created on the grounds of whatever is said in Stoker’s book, a giant misconception must have arisen, because the vampires in the book, and especially Dracula, are completely capable of walking in the daylight. I must have missed that the first time I read it and it took me a while to get it through my brain, but it’s not impossible for vampire to be out during the day, they are simply weaker and Dracula, who has a bat form, mist form and who knows what other forms, cannot use them during the day and must stay in the shape of a man. That is made absolutely and crystal clear by the note Mina sends, explaining that at 12.45 PM Dracula is walking around during the day.  The entire vampire fiction-verse has been based on someone reading the book wrong?

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“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita

(Author: Mikhail Bulgakov) + (Year: 1967) + (Goodreads)


Review:

“Everything will turn out right, the world is built on that.”

* Note: Finished this on 20th August 2009. Rereading from 4th November 2014. What a marvelous experience. I loved it the first time around. And Now…

…I have realized that this is not just a book that I love. It is so much more. The Master and Margarita contains absolutely everything that a reader could look for in a book, plus a whole constellation of things that the reader wouldn’t even know they needed until they found this book. I am eternally grateful to high school for giving me the opportunity of reading this absolute and utter masterpiece.

The Master and Margarita is a universe of marvel, combining in an absolutely enticing way the mundane and the magical.
One of the most amazing things about this book is that it can be read on so many levels, it’s mind blowing. On the upper level there is the plot as it is, and quite frankly I find it both interesting and absolutely hilarious. There is also the social satire: here I have to admit this is maybe the only book in my life, in which I’ve cherished satire of any kind. Irony is something that I both like and use often, but satire I find sort of pathetic. Most of the time. I may not have lived in Soviet times but I have seen the aftermath of it in my country as much as in a couple of ex-Soviet republics, so I can agree with the things that Bulgakov mentions, openly or open-to-interpretation. There is also the very deep and deeply philosophical level of this book, the rendition of good and bad and right and wrong in the face of so many positive, negative, positively negative and negatively positive characters. Which points out to the size of the fight in each and every one of us.

The Master
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The first time I read this book I had mixed but mostly positive feelings toward both the Master and Margarita. Reading again I could not find it in me to feel sympathetic to the character anymore. The way he simply gives up and saves himself the pain of going on by simply refusing to do so and staying safe in the asylum made me very repulsed. Maybe in my earlier years I was an escapist also, but it seems to me that his behavior is quite undeserving.
But also, I can’t help but feel that Bulgakov wrote the Master mainly for himself. Knowing this and that about his life, I can’t not think that the Master, in many ways, is Bulgakov himself and his endless desperation to not have his works published. As far as this swan song goes, Bulgakov possibly outdid himself.

Margarita
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Much the same as it happened with the Master, Margarita fell into my area of dislike. Only now, a couple of years older and MAYBE a couple of years wiser, I realized that she is selfish and spoiled beyond salvation. She insists that her husband always treated her with nothing but respect, was always good to her, that her life was great and on and on, and yet she is not happy, far from it, she is absolutely miserable. What had me in true disgust with Margarita was her conversation with Azazello in Chapter №19. She has lost her loved one, her reason to live… but hey, she is bored, she probably should find another one to fill her bed. And just as Azazello invites her to Apartment №50, she is unquestionably ready to sleep with Woland if it is asked of her. Why not?

Woland and his entourage
"Defendor" Screening - TIFF 2009

(I know that I’m breaking the rules here. It’s customary, if not mandatory, that the Devil in pop culture is someone like Rutger Hauer, preferably in his sixties at least, surely with white hair.
But from the first and last good description of Woland that we get, I think that Woody could be fantastic. When Margarita meets Woland she describes him as balding and a bit strange faced, but not old and wrinkled to his bones.)

Now to my favourite part of this book. The “bad” guys. I threw some quotation marks there because I’m not really convinced that they are bad. Not by far. I actually think that everything that Woland and his entourage did was sort of justice. In my eyes Woland does not represent evil. On the contrary, he is the instrument of justice in the shadows, and he is also the instrument of the author while wreaking vengeance on the things and people and beliefs that he dislikes.

Through humor and sarcasm Woland along with his underlings manages to disrupt an entire nation, but one that is essentially already messed up. In such a fashion he truly rights many wrongs. Completely unforgettable for me is this quote, which both proves my point and shows the nature of “evil” in the face of Woland. He is therefore not bad, just the lack of good, as shadow is the lack of light.

“But would you kindly ponder this question: What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. But shadows also come from trees and living beings.
Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because
of your fantasy of enjoying naked light? You’re stupid.”

I can proudly say that Fagotto and Behemoth were my favourites in the entire book. The most humorous by far and also interesting in the sense that their origin and history is drawn from many other books and stories and also from history and religion.

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But the one that I found the most terrifying was Hella, after the scene in Rimsky’s office.

The Murder of Judas

Among the trillion of things that impressed me was the chapter in which Pontius Pilate and Aphranius are discussing the aftermath of Judas’ murder. Never have I read such an ingenious portrayal of manipulation and the altering of truth and reality. Bulgakov manages in an astonishing way to describe as inconspicuously as possible the way hidden powers work.

The Mad, My Dear…

My other favourite aspect of this novel is the way nothing is left unresolved and every story is put to a proper ending, or should I say a proper punishment. I was delighted while reading how one by one the presumed mad were filling the asylum and even more so while following the police investigation. One of the most beautiful sides of Bulgakov’s writing for me is the way that he doesn’t force readers to guess what happened to this or that person, but tells the story not only fully and in masterful detail, but also in such a fashion that if doesn’t feel forced as a biography but interesting and intriguing.

Also, it is important for me to mention that another one of my favourite things about this book was the depth of the author’s knowledge about history, religion, languages, philosophy, literature, music and so on. It is always a true delight to stumble upon a book full of information, especially to such a degree.