Powers of Darkness

When I read Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker last month, I noticed that the part sections featured epigrams from a Bram Stoker book I’d never heard of before called Makt Myrkranna. It turns out this was the version of Dracula serialized in the Icelandic magazine Falkjonan from 1900 to 1901. The thing is, this isn’t just a translation of Dracula as most of us who discovered it in English know, it’s a completely different version. The title translates as Powers of Darkness and in 2016, Valdimar Asmundsson released an English-language translation of the Icelandic text.

Powers of Darkness

To me, Powers of Darkness reads like an earlier draft of Dracula and that seems to be the conclusion of the translator as well. Some characters have different names. We meet Thomas Harker instead of Jonathan. His fiancee is Wilma instead of Wilhelmina. We meet some new characters such as an old, deaf woman who keeps house for Dracula. There are police investigators in the background, looking into Dracula’s crimes. Instead of Dracula having three brides who tempt Harker, there is a single woman who is presented as Dracula’s niece, who attempts to seduce Harker and feed upon him. Although Harker’s journey to the castle is told in the familiar epistolary format, the events after Dracula leaves his castle in Transylvania become a third-person narrative.

As a writer, I found this version fascinating. It reminded me of the work I did on my novel The Pirates of Sufiro, and I imagine someone who compared the 1994 edition to my recently released 2020 edition would find the new one richer in much the way I would consider Dracula richer than Makt Myrkranna, especially the parts after Dracula goes to England. That part of Makt Myrkranna is very brief compared to Dracula and reads like it was the first time Stoker assembled his notes on various ideas, like a very rough draft. There is also speculation that the original Icelandic publisher thought the novel was running long and the second part ended up being something of a summation, but there are still details in that part missing from Dracula, so one gets a sense that Stoker’s hand was there.

I also found Powers of Darkness interesting because I’m revising my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order for a new edition. In that case, I’m doing less rewriting than I did for The Pirates of Sufiro, but I am recutting the novel and reordering the chapters a bit to tell the story more effectively. I thought about this a lot while reading Dracul, where J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker build suspense by starting the novel in a scene where Bram Stoker is facing an unknown enemy behind a door, then going back and telling how he reached that point. In Vampires, I started with a very linear narrative, but now I start in the present and let the past unfold when characters have reason to tell it. I think the new version strengthens the narrative.

One interesting element of Powers of Darkness was that the translator took time to attempt to map out a floor plan of Dracula’s castle based on the description. The result is an interesting look inside the count’s Transylvanian abode. Another thing I thought was interesting in this version was that Dracula holds some kind of dark ritual for his followers, which seems to anticipate scenes that would appear in the Christopher Lee Hammer films of the 1970s.

I would recommend Powers of Darkness to writers wanting to glimpse Bram Stoker’s process, or Dracula fans who want to get more insight into the history of the character. If you’re a casual reader looking to read Stoker for the first time, I’d start with the English language Dracula, or perhaps the collection Dracula’s Guest and Other Stories by Stoker. If you want to learn more about Powers of Darkness and even look at maps of Dracula’s castle, visit: http://powersofdarkness.com/. You can learn more about my novels at http://davidleesummers.com.

4 comments on “Powers of Darkness

  1. I also never knew *Makt Myrkranna* existed. I hate to admit I’ve yet to read *Dracula*, but I’ve yet to read *Dracula*. There are so many books on my “some day I got to read this” list.

    Since I started writing professionally many years ago, I tend to focus on reading things that are in the same or similar genre to what I write (although I do read some completely different things to avoid getting “tide locked”). As far as I can remember, I’ve only professionally published one vampire piece, and that was short. As it happens, it appeared in a magazine issue that also contained an interview with one David Lee Summers.

    • I first read “Dracula” when I was in my late 20’s and fell in love with it. Stoker did a very good job of making me feel uneasy. I’d actually purchased the novel and started reading when I was a pre-teen on a family vacation, but the events of that trip distracted me and I didn’t get much farther than Harker’s arrival at the castle. Reading it on the stormy nights I did as an adult probably reinforced the sense of unease because I did have to go out in the storm a few times for work and the novel planted the seeds that there were nasty things out in the dark waiting to get me.

      I am a big fan of authors reading outside their “comfort zone.” Tide-locked is a good expression for what I think happens — not only to authors but to genres which get caught in feedback loops talking about topics only “insiders” really relate to. Cool that you have a vampire story in a magazine where I was interviewed.

  2. You might enjoy The Annotated Dracula — it contains extensive footnotes and is a beautiful edition.

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