The Bloody Red Baron

The Bloody Red Baron

I enjoyed Kim Newman’s novel Anno Dracula and his related graphic novel 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem enough that I decided to continue to his next novel in the Anno Dracula series, The Bloody Red Baron. As one might expect from the title and the cover, this novel is set in World War I and focuses on the conflict between Allied and German pilots, in particular Baron Manfred von Richthofen. That said, the cover of the Titan Books edition is a little deceptive because Richthofen doesn’t fly his famous Fokker triplane. Instead, he’s a vampire who’s been the subject of medical experimentation and literally can transform into a deadly flying weapon. Meanwhile, Edgar Allan Poe, who long ago became a vampire and immigrated to Europe has been sent to write Richthofen’s biography to inspire the German forces. Those same German forces are now under the command of Count Dracula, who has found a position in the Kaiser’s court after being deposed from the rule of Great Britain.

On the allied side, we follow the adventures of Edwin Winthrop, a protégé of Charles Beauregard, one of the protagonists of Anno Dracula. Winthrop goes on a aerial reconnaissance mission and is shot down by the Red Baron. As he fights to return to allied territory, he drinks some vampire blood to survive his wounds and gains some vampire strength. He then signs up as a fighter pilot with a personal mission to get his vengeance on Richthofen. In the meantime, vampire reporter Kate Reed is trying to learn about the allied pilots and finds herself entangled in the story’s events. The novel ends in a great climactic battle which involves biplanes, monstrous German flying aces, and airships. Dracula even shows up and tries to bring some medieval battle tactics into World War I.

I enjoyed the novel, but it never quite drew me in the same way as Anno Dracula did. That said, the Titan Books edition features a nice bonus. It also includes a novella called 1923: Vampire Romance. In this story, Edwin Winthrop recruits Genevieve Dieudonné from Anno Dracula to infiltrate a gathering of high-ranking vampires who have assembled to determine who will be the next vampire leader of Europe. Among the claimants to the title are the head of Hammer Films Seven Golden Vampires, Carmilla Karnstein’s long lost brother, and a nasty hunchbacked vampire. In the middle of it all is a young lady who wants to become a vampire and is smitten by Carmilla’s brother. The whole thing both sends up the vampire romance genre and plays tribute to an Agatha Christie locked-room mystery. To me, this seemed a much stronger successor to Anno Dracula.

The Titan Books edition of The Bloody Red Baron also includes annotations by Kim Newman detailing some of his influences, inspirations and references. A final bonus is a film treatment he wrote for Roger Corman loosely based on the ideas presented in The Bloody Red Baron. All in all, I had fun with Newman’s continuation of the Anno Dracula series and I’m interested in reading more in due course.

In the meantime, you can learn more about my vampire novels by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Ursa Minor

This weekend, I’m at Las Cruces Comic Con. If you’re in town, I hope you’ll drop by the convention center, say “hi,” and browse our fine selection of books. Back in June at Duke City Comic Con, I had the opportunity to meet Tom Hutchison, owner of Big Dog Ink and writer/creator of most of the company’s titles, which include Legend of Oz: The Wicked West and the superhero comic, Critter. Another title he publishes is Ursa Minor, which imagines an alternate world where, in 2012, a pair of werewolves emerged and killed the president of the United States. Soon after that, vampires made themselves known and offered to out the werewolves, tag, and control them for humanity. However, these vampires aren’t the altruists they appear to be on the surface. They’re actually seeking a position of power among humankind and a way to utilize humans as easy food stock.

David and Tom at Duke City Comic Con

As an astronomer, I know the constellation Ursa Minor well. Its name is Latin for “Little Bear” and it’s also known as the Little Dipper, which is the constellation containing Polaris, the pole star. In Tom’s comic, the title character is Naomi, a young woman who also happens to be a werebear. In this world, werebears are among the most dangerous creatures to vampires. They are one of the few creatures strong enough to do physical harm to a vampire and they have silver in their claws, which make them an especially potent force when fighting vampires. Unfortunately for humans, werebears are quite rare and it looks like Naomi may be the only one currently alive.

As the story opens, Naomi works at Papa Gamboli’s Carnival, a carnival-themed nightclub in Los Angeles. Late at night, Naomi and her best friend, Angela, stalk the streets of LA hunting vampires. It soon becomes apparent this is a losing battle. The vampires can make more of their own kind faster than Naomi can kill them. They seek advice from their friend Onyx, a rock golem who tends bar at the Carnival. Onyx takes Naomi and Angela to Japan in search of a witch named April who he believes can help them be more effective vampire hunters. April tells them all vampires are descended from one of four “Legends.” These Legends are ultra-powerful vampires: Countess Bathory, Dracula, Vlad, and Orlock. Our team sets out to take on Dracula, but when they realize the vampires can easily deduce their plans, they change tack and confront Elizabeth Bathory instead.

One of the things that was fun about meeting Tom in person was the opportunity to get his thoughts on creating a vampire/horror comic. We also talked about how I had created a short comic based on my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires and he told me he had actually novelized the original Ursa Minor miniseries. The novelized version of Ursa Minor is available for just 99 cents at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ursa-Minor-Fear-April-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B01EHK50FS/

Ursa Minor and Guinevere and the Stranger

It was interesting to compare the comic book and prose novel versions of Ursa Minor. Tom’s prose novel is mostly a blow-by-blow retelling of the comic, but there are a few expanded scenes and the novel extends a little beyond the end of the first comic book mini-series. Interestingly, in the comic book, I felt like some of the fight scenes were over and done very quickly. In the novel, he took some time and built more suspense, making me worry more for the fate of our heroes. Overall, I felt like I got to know Naomi, Angela, April, and Onyx just a little better in the prose novel than I did in the comic series alone. As with many small press works, the prose novel would benefit from another round of copyediting, but it was enjoyable and it would be interesting to see Tom try his hand at novelized versions of some of his other universes.

You can learn more about the Ursa Minor comic series at: https://bigdogink.com

You can find my vampire comic at: https://hadrosaur.com/GuinevereStranger.php

My Scarlet Order vampire novels are at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Anno Dracula – The Comic!

Soon after reading Kim Newman’s novel, Anno Dracula, I took a closer look at the other books he’s written in this universe. As it turns out, the second story in chronological order was told over the course of a five-issue comic book series from Titan Comics. The five issues have since been collected into a single graphic novel, Anno Dracula -1895: Seven Days in Mayhem. The comic series, released in 2017, was written by Newman and features art by Paul McCaffrey.

The vampire Jane considers Kim Newman’s vampires from Anno Dracula

The comic series is set seven years after the novel. Dracula is still in power, but he’s under siege. European powers have united to overthrow him and groups within the British Empire comprised of both humans and vampires are working to establish a government more to their liking. Still, it’s the tenth anniversary of Dracula’s rise to power and he plans to throw a celebration. Our story’s principal characters are Kate Reed, a vampire journalist who belongs to a group of anarchists bound and determined to disrupt the ten-year celebration, and Penelope Churchward, a vampire socialite who has been placed in charge of the ten-year celebration. Both Kate and Penelope were secondary characters in the original novel.

In the background lurk such notable characters as Graf Orlock, in charge of the Tower of London, where the ten-year festivities will conclude, and Fu Manchu who is playing all sides against each other in hopes to make the biggest profit. I was delighted to see a cameo by Mack the Knife and a brief mention of Mycroft Holmes, who played a major role in the novel. There’s even a sly reference to problematic “sparkling vampires.” Perhaps my favorite moment was the appearance of a poem that might have been written by William McGonagall on the occasion of ten years of rule by Dracula. I was first introduced to McGonagall’s poetry at TusCon a few years ago when Laurence Hammer brought a collection of his poems to share. McGonagall was widely recognized as a terrible poet who had no recognition of his peers’ opinion of his work. Follow the link if you wish to read his poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster.”

Paul McCaffrey’s artwork in this comic series is first rate. I loved his portrayals of Newman’s original characters, fictional characters from other worlds, and historical figures. Overall, Newman’s script is well done. I did find some of the narration hard to read because it was in a very small font size. I have to admit, this is one reason why I’ve come to appreciate digital comics. Of course, a real challenge of comics is to say as much as possible in as few words as possible. For the most part, I think Newman succeeded at that, but I did wonder if some of the narrations could have been trimmed. I also wondered if using one larger point size on the narration would have helped.

As with Anno Dracula, I highly recommend this comic to fans of the genre. Like Kim Newman, I enjoy playing with vampire tropes and lore in my stories. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m starting work on a third Scarlet Order novel and hoping to do at least one more Scarlet Order comic. You can learn about the books at http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order. If you’d like to get some sneak peeks at the new book as it develops, or if you just like this blog and appreciate its ad-free experience, please consider supporting my Patreon at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Anno Dracula

In the past few weeks I’ve been working on an outline for a new Scarlet Order Vampire novel. Back when I first wrote Vampires of the Scarlet Order in 2004, I’d written four synopses for novels in the series. I started the prequel, Dragon’s Fall almost right away in 2005 as a NaNoWriMo project. I set the novel aside for a time, but finally published it in 2012. Recently, I was prompted to think about the series again as I brought out new editions of the novels in 2020. Also, around that time, Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans selected Vampires of the Scarlet Order for their book club. Both events reminded me how much fun I had with these characters and I went back to look at those synopses from eighteen years ago. Of the three remaining synopses, two would be historical novels and the third was a sequel. The sequel interested me most. Re-reading the synopsis, I thought there was a lot of potential to further explore concepts I’d developed in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Not all the ideas in that synopsis grabbed me, but I started playing with the plot, jotting ideas down and just about 4000 words later, I have a detailed outline that I’m chewing on and probably will pursue in the coming months.

The Vampire Marcella peeks out from the pages of Anno Dracula

Looking for a little thematic inspiration, I decided to browse my to-read stack for a vampire book I hadn’t read before. One of those books was Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula which I’d purchased on the strength of Kurt MacPhearson’s review from a 2011 issue of Tales of the Talisman Magazine. At long last it was time to give it a try.

Anno Dracula is set in 1888. It imagines that Dracula did not die at the end of Bram Stoker’s famous novel, but killed Abraham Van Helsing and went on to marry Queen Victoria and become Prince Consort of Britain. Once done, vampires become an accepted part of society and are seen almost everywhere. The story is set up like an episode of Columbo. The book opens with one of the Jack the Ripper murders and Jack’s identity is revealed right at the start. The twists are that this Jack only murders vampires and he’s a character from Dracula. From there, we meet Charles Beauregard, an agent for the Diogenes Club. Fans of Sherlock Holmes will recognize this esteemed establishment as the home of the power behind the British government. Among the club’s most esteemed members is Sherlock Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, who assigns Beauregard the task of solving the Ripper murders. At the heart of Whitechapel, near the scene of the crimes is a vampire named Geneviève who has set out to help the poor and destitute of the district. We soon learn she’s a truly ancient vampire with powers to rival Dracula’s.

The novel reminded me of a vampire-centric League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with a mix of historical personages and characters related to just about every Victorian-set vampire novel or movie you can think of. Among the notable characters in the novel are Lord Ruthven, Florence Stoker, Frances Varney, and Doctor Jeckyll. Count Orloff, from Murnau’s Nosferatu is a creepy, silent jailkeeper. Dracula himself only actually appears in the novel’s last chapter. For the rest of the novel, his shadow just looms over everything that happens. One of my favorite character cameos happens near the end of the novel when Beauregard encounters an armadillo in Buckingham Palace, a clear nod to Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula.

All in all, I had a lot of fun reading Anno Dracula and I might well seek out some of the other stories and novels in the series. It’s clear Kim Newman is a fan of many of the same books I am.

I know some authors who avoid reading books in genres they’re working on to avoid being unduly influenced. However, when I’ve done my job as a writer and fleshed out my characters and have a good idea of what they’re going to do in their story, I find I’m not tempted to lift anything from another writer’s work. What I do pay attention to are those moments where I emotionally connect to the story. What makes me sad? What makes me laugh out loud? What makes me say “Cool!” After reading Anno Dracula, I did go back to my outline and asked, were there moments where I could do more of that? Are there moments where I could be more effective and make better connections with my readers? I did weave in a new plot thread as a result of asking those kinds of questions. And, I suspect I’ll find even more connections as I begin the actual writing process.

In the meantime, if you want to delve into the world of the Scarlet Order Vampires, click the links below to learn more about the books in the series.

Penny Dreadful – Season Three

Halloween kicked off this week. Like many people, I enjoy some spooky films or books to get into the spirit of the season. Last week, my wife and I decided to watch the final season of Showtime’s series, Penny Dreadful. Just as a head’s up, I will endeavor to be as spoiler free as I can about the final season itself, but I will likely include some spoilers from the first two seasons. Proceed with appropriate caution!

Penny Dreadful Season Three

Penny Dreadful’s third season picks up where the second season left off. Sir Malcolm has gone to Africa to take the body of a loyal companion back to his people. He soon meets an Apache named Kaetenay, played by Wes Studi, who informs him that their mutual friend, Ethan Chandler is in trouble. Meanwhile, Ethan Chandler has turned himself into the authorities because he killed numerous people in his werewolf form. Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s Creature has gone to the North Pole aboard a ship. Back in London, Dorian Gray and Lilly, a woman resurrected by Dr. Frankenstein, seem to be happily-ever-aftering while the series’ protagonist, Vanessa Ives has been left alone and is one again going mad. Fortunately, Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle drops by and refers her to a good psychologist, Dr. Florence Seward, played by Patti LuPone, who played Joan Clayton in season two.

Over the course of the first episode, Dr. Jekyll, played by Shazad Latif, pays a call on his old classmate, Dr. Frankenstein and asks for assistance in his work at Bethlam Hospital. We also learn that the king of all vampires, Dracula has arrived in London and has an interest in Vanessa Ives. All of these characters in different locations and all of these plotlines are a lot to wrap up in nine episodes. If anything, I’d say that proves to be the final seasons greatest weakness. In particular Ethan goes through many twists and turns as he travels in America, meets a witch, and confronts his father and his past. I felt like we breezed through that storyline so fast that we didn’t have a chance to understand why Ethan made some of the choices he did and for a series that seems concerned with matters of good and evil, I was somewhat confused about which he actually turned out to be. The brief season also makes the ending feel abrupt and unsatisfying. There’s an interesting thread in the season about women and how their right to be individuals can put them at odds with societal expectations determined largely by men. I didn’t really feel like this thread was resolved in a satisfying way. It seemed to me that one or two more episodes may have gone a long way to giving the series a more complete feel.

Despite that issue, there were several elements I enjoyed in the final season. The characters of Kaetenay and Dr. Seward were fascinating and well acted. I particularly enjoyed the final season’s portrayal of Dracula. The writers and actor took a nuanced approach to the character. He could come across as genuinely charming and vulnerable, yet he was also decidedly creepy. Frankenstein’s Creature also went through a sad and well performed story arc as he regains his memories and seeks his long-lost family. The final season also seemed to feature a bit less gore and fewer jump scares than earlier seasons.

Overall, I was glad to have watched the entire Penny Dreadful series. There were some great moments that will stick with me. Even though I would have liked better resolution to some elements, pondering those will likely lead me to some story ideas. Of course, you can see my own take on vampires in my Scarlet Order vampire series. The links below will take you to the books:

If you’re a fan of comics, don’t miss the chapter I adapted from Dragon’s Fall with Bram Meehan and Michael Ellis.

Dracula, Dead and Loving It

I grew up with classic Mel Brooks films such as Blazing Saddles, History of the World: Part I and Young Frankenstein. At 94, Mel Brooks is still around and still involved in the film business, though his later films don’t have the same reputation for greatness as his earlier films. So, I was a little uncertain when my wife brought home a copy of Dracula, Dead and Loving It, which, to-date, is the last film he directed. Although the movie didn’t quite reach the heights of Brooks’s earlier films, it still had a lot of great moments and I was glad to have watched it.

Nosferatu contemplates Dracula, Dead and Loving It

One of the things that makes Young Frankenstein great is the clear love Mel Brooks has for the Universal monster films of the 1930s. He pays homage to many of the great moments in Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein while poking fun at them. That same love comes through in Dracula, Dead and Loving It. The story largely follows the 1931 Dracula which starred Bela Lugosi but also includes send-ups of the 1922 Nosferatu and Bram Stoker’s Dracula from 1992.

The earlier Mel Brooks films benefit a lot from the comedic talents of people like Gene Wilder, Madeleine Kahn, and Cleavon Little. It’s hard to say anyone in Dracula, Dead and Loving It rises to their level, but there are still some fun performances. Harvey Korman is one of those actors who appears in a lot of Mel Brooks films, and I confess I’ve tended to like movies more in spite of Korman than because of him. In this case, I thought Korman did a brilliant job of playing Dr. Seward. He “disappeared” into the role and felt very much like versions of Seward who appeared in the Universal and Hammer films, which made the humorous lines he delivered straight all the funnier. Peter MacNicol is another actor who I’ve seen in other films but didn’t especially stand out to me. In Dracula, Dead and Loving It, he channels Dwight Fry’s Renfield beautifully. One of the best scenes in the movie involves Korman and MacNicol having a dialog over tea while MacNicol surreptitiously snatches bugs and tries to eat them unseen.

Mel Brooks gives a nice performance as Abraham Van Helsing and also pokes fun at many of the tropes surrounding the character. Like Korman, his performance here is a little more understated than in other films where he appears and it works to the film’s benefit.

For me, Leslie Nielsen’s best film is Forbidden Planet where he really defined the role of the brave, stalwart starship captain for many actors who would follow in his footsteps. Unfortunately, Forbidden Planet was made at a time when Hollywood didn’t take science fiction seriously and Nielsen didn’t get many roles until he found his way into comedy. To me, his real comedy talent is delivering silly lines with the same kind of stalwart earnestness he gave to the Captain Adams part in Forbidden Planet. That ability served him well in Dracula, Dead and Loving It. He delivers a performance that pays tribute to both Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. The only problem is that by this time, Nielsen was so recognizable that he didn’t quite disappear into the part in the same way that Korman and MacNicol did into theirs.

While there are stronger vampire comedies and even stronger Mel Brooks films, I enjoyed Dracula, Dead and Loving It and plan to give it another watch to see if there are other elements and classic film tributes I missed the first time. Although my own vampire novels are intended as serious works, I do throw in some light moments. You can learn more about them at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Dracula, motherf**ker!

One challenge of the pandemic is that its kept me from spending quality time at my favorite bookstores and comic shops. I’ve still been patronizing them when I can, but I have missed spending a luxurious hour just wandering the shelves looking for new things to catch my eye. With that in mind, about two weeks ago, I started browsing some lists of the best comics and graphic novels of 2020 just to see if I missed something I would want to know about. One graphic novel that popped up on several of those lists was Dracula, motherf**ker! written by Alex de Campi with art by Erica Henderson. I was already well acquainted with Erica Henderson’s art from her work on Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Jughead. Also, she’s one of those artists I’ve known of from way back when, since I used to do a lot of work with her father, C.J. Henderson. Between Erica’s work and the description of the graphic novel as a grindhouse-inspired Dracula story set in 1970s Los Angeles, I knew this was something I needed to read. A quick search of my local comic shop’s website revealed they had the book on the shelf.

Nosferatu recommends Dracula, motherf**ker!

Dracula, motherf**ker! opens in 1889 Vienna. Dracula’s brides capture the count and nail him into his coffin. The action then jumps ahead to 1974 Los Angeles where Hollywood star Bebe Beauland opens his crypt. A short time later, photographer Quincy Harker appears on the scene to take photos of the carnage that results. We soon learn that Bebe Beauland is not as dead as she first appeared and, of course, Dracula is on the loose again. Dracula’s brides from the opening of the story appear and begin helping Quincy.

The story is told largely through the visuals. Many pages are nighttime dark cut through with bright neon-like colors. The graphic novel format gives Henderson the freedom to design the story around two-page visual spreads. Even when there are two discrete pages of narrative panels, there’s a visual cohesion across the two-page spreads. Dracula himself seems inspired by Nosferatu but ratcheted up a few notches. He’s a monstrous creature of eyes and teeth with an old man’s arms and a cape of night. The story’s stars, though, are the brides and Quincy. Henderson does a great job of conveying emotion through the characters’ facial expressions and body language.

This was the rare graphic novel that I actually read three times back-to-back. I kept seeing things in the art and picking up things from de Campi’s minimalist, but effective dialogue. I recommend this volume for fans of vampires and good comic books. I picked up my copy at Zia Comics in Las Cruces.

Some of my interest in this graphic novel came from the fact that I’m collaborating on a vampire book project based on a short episode in my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. It was fascinating to see so many of the lessons I’ve been learning applied effectively in Dracula, motherf**cker! Next week, I’ll be back with a little sneak peek at the project I’m working on.

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.

Dracul

Last month, I was invited to join the Vampyre Library Book Club hosted by Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. The first featured selection was the novel Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker. Dacre Stoker is the great grandnephew of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, and the manager of the Bram Stoker estate.

Dracul

The novel Dracul imagines that Bram Stoker was inspired to write his most famous novel by events from his life. It’s known that Bram was a rather sickly child and there were fears he wouldn’t survive to adulthood. Instead, Bram suddenly became very healthy and, in fact, became an outstanding athlete at Dublin’s Trinity College. In Dracul, the authors imagine this happened because the Stoker family nanny was a vampire. After she saves Bram’s life, the nanny, Ellen Crone, disappears. Bram and his sister Matilda follow Ellen to nearby Artane Castle where they find a box of putrid earth. An arm rests in the dirt. On its finger is a ring bearing the inscription, “Dracul.”

The story follows Bram, Matilda, and their brother Thornley as they attempt to solve the mystery of Ellen Crone and “Dracul.” They reach a dead end as children but the mystery returns to haunt them in their 20s and they find more clues, which then lead them to a climactic encounter inspired by Bram’s short story “Dracula’s Guest.” In the afterword, Dacre shares how he has come to know that “Dracula’s Guest” was actually part of the first 100 pages of Dracula excised before publication. I found Dracul to be a thrilling and suspenseful novel and I was delighted to read Dacre’s afterword that explained several of the real life and literary inspirations.

In the afterword, Dacre discusses some of the controversy surrounding the inspiration of the character of Dracula. It’s often taken for granted that Stoker used Wallachia’s Vlad III as the inspiration for his vampire. As Dacre points out, that’s not at all a given and he argues that Bram had in mind a creature who had been living from a time much before the fifteenth century. I found this interesting. Although it has been a while since I read Dracula, I do recall noting that Bram shrouded the origins of the title character in mystery.

Dragon’s Fall

It was partly because of that and partly because my favorite screen Dracula is Christopher Lee, that I decided to explore the idea that the Dracula legend came about because people conflated an ancient vampire with Vlad III. The names Dracul and Dracula come from “the order of the dragon” a chivalric order of knights who fought to defend Christendom. This particular order was founded in 1408 by Sigismund von Luxembourg who was then the King of Hungary. However, there are other knights through the centuries who used dragons as emblems or titles and I imagined the “real” Dracula might be one of them. You can learn the full story of my version in my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. You can find all the places its available at: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html. You can find signed copies of Dracul at: https://feelthebite.com/

Return to Penny Dreadful

In my post looking at the vampires who appeared in the first season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, I mentioned that I had started the second season. I’ve finished the season, which overall, I enjoyed more than the first.

Our heroes, Vanessa Ives, Ethan Chandler, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene, and Dr. Victor Frankenstein, are all back. This time our villains prove not to be vampires but a coven of witches. What’s more, these witches, called nightcomers in the Penny Dreadful mythos, are servants of Lucifer with superhuman powers. In this season, Brona Croft is reincarnated by Dr. Frankenstein as Lily Frankenstein, meant as the monster’s bride but possessing a mind of her own. One of my favorite characters this season was Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle played by Sir Simon Russel Beale who was introduced in season 1 but had a nice character arc in season 2.

Reeve Carney is back this season as Dorian Grey. Mostly his story takes place in the background of season 2’s main action, but it looks like they set him up to take a bigger role in the third season. We’ll have to see what happens with that story.

Although Penny Dreadful’s second season still features many characters from classic literature, they seem freed from their origins to tell their own story this season. In many ways this season felt more like a nineteenth century penny dreadful come to life. Although the series does have better writing than a real life penny dreadful like say, Varney the Vampyre, there were moments it did make baffling turns. Some of the characters’ choices seemed more designed to serve plot than make sense for what people would do when faced with these real situations. Why, for example, do the characters often go to battle the monsters at night when its known that’s when the monsters are strongest?

Despite that, there are a lot of clever plot turns and some good character moments in this season. We learn more about Sir Malcolm Murray and his relationship with his estranged wife. We also learn more about Ethan Chandler. Danny Sapani’s Sembene actually gets stuff to do. For me the standout was Billy Piper’s Lily Frankenstein. Her arc takes her from apparently lost waif betrothed to Frankenstein’s monster to woman in control of her destiny.

I’ve been watching Penny Dreadful while working on new editions of my horror novels, Dragon’s Fall, Vampires of the Scarlet Order and The Astronomer’s Crypt. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about Penny Dreadful is that it doesn’t feel too bound by linear storytelling. One episode I thought was interesting in the current season involved Vanessa recounting how she was mentored by a witch. The episode didn’t bother to pop back into the present day, it just had a simple prologue of Vanessa starting her story, then the rest of the story just happened in the series’ past.

This approach reinforced a decision I’ve made for the new edition of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The original edition was told in very linear order. Events that happened in 1491 happened first. Events that happened in the sixteenth century happened next. That noted, the story’s main conflict actually happens in the present day. So, I’ve decided the new edition will start in the present day and the chapters set in the past will be told when it’s natural for characters in the story to tell them. You can get a sneak peak at the new first chapter at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO-Preview.html

Of course, the buy links still point to the original novel as released in 2008, but that will change soon after the rights revert to me next month.