Friday, October 30, 2009
I’m not going to speculate too much on the novel at this point. I’ve just started reading, and the Dracula legend is such a part of pop culture that it would be easy to make assumptions based on creative works other than the novel.
Instead I’m going to go off topic and talk about a vampire story I read recently, Courtney Crumrin and the Prince of Nowhere. This is part of the Courtney Crumrin series by Ted Naifeh, who is my current favorite comic book guy. Courtney Crumrin is a series of stories about a girl who has inherited the power of witchcraft, and who uses magic to deal with both the ordinary and the unusual problems of a young girl.
It sounds a little Harry Potter-ish, but this series goes well beyond Harry Potter’s heroic yet simple tale. Courtney is not learning to be a hero. She’s trying to learn about love and trust, learning at a very young age that giving your heart to someone means risking great pain and loss. Her flawed guardian is her uncle Aloysius, who is quite capable of instructing her in magic, but is not a much help regarding love and friendship. He allows the non-magic people in his town to believe that his house is haunted, seeming to prefer that they fear and avoid him. Likewise, he has disdain towards the community of magic users as a whole, because they tend to be as fearful, ignorant, and prejudiced as the non-magic people.
Prince of Nowhere begins like all the recent novels in the popular vampire romance genre; Courtney has never truly had a boyfriend, and she falls in love with a vampire who appears to have been turned when he was a little older than she is. Unlike the popular stories of this genre, however, Courtney’s vampire is not safe, not resisting his vampire urges in order to live a more humane life. The possibility of this kind of life is not even discussed in the story, leaving me to assume that in this story the life of a vampire is the life of a predator, with no special exceptions you can make to ease your conscience. In fact, the story doesn’t mention our vampire’s conscience, and I assume he doesn’t have one. Genteel behavior, special attention paid to his human love, these all appear to be tricks played in order to turn Courtney and gain the companion that he craves.
Which brings up an interesting point, one which I’ve noticed is a problem lately: modern vampires are always telling us that we should not want to be vampires, but the argument is always so poorly supported. The following is just a handful of popular reasons our tortured vampire male leads give for not turning their girlfriends (or boyfriends, if you are reading Anne Rice) and their obvious counter-arguments:
1. Being a vampire is awful! You crave human blood all the time! You must live with the knowledge that you are an evil killer! First of all, the vampire delivering this speech is somehow managing the temptation to eat all the tasty humans, because his lover is there, not getting eaten. So this argument condescendingly suggests that the fang-bangers wouldn’t have the strength of will to avoid biting everyone in sight, or to just fill up on True Blood or rats or – what do Twilight vampires eat, deer or something? – prior to going out amongst the humans. Also, some humans are really awful people. While we are imagining a world full of real vampires, why not also imagine that it’s ok for vampires to chow on murderers and rapists?
2. Being immortal may make you insane! This is also a side effect of mortality. Doesn’t happen to all of us. It probably doesn’t happen to all of them either. Not to mention, it’s at least worth giving it a try. Surely you’d have a millennia or two in you before the crazy set in.
3. You will watch everyone you love die as you remain the same. Not if you turn them. I guess some of them will refuse, but hey. People make decisions that are life threatening, and those of us who love them have to accept that, even if we are only mortals. By the way, this is why you should turn me into a vampire, so you won't have to watch me die. Go ahead, ease your suffering.
4. You will learn that life is meaningless. Yes Louis I might, but I might decide to dwell on that as a mortal too. I think I am more likely to mope about my meaningless existence in a cubicle all day than I would while being fast and strong and awesome all night long.
5. You will never see the daylight again. Eh. I am not a big fan as it is.
In The Prince of Nowhere the reason why Courtney should not become a vampire is simple and clear. Vampires have a particular nature about them which means that once you are turned, you are no longer like the humans. Being human is the only way to maintain your humanity.
It's not that I dislike the stories of the vampire boyfriends. I am a big Buffy fan, and I love the show True Blood. It's just that the vampire/human love story does have this one major flaw in the plot, and it's nice to read stories where the vampires stick to their guns and accept their predatory nature, and where the humans realize that they must choose human or vampire and cannot have both.
When it comes to that, I feel that Dracula will not disappoint.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I finished Dune over a week ago, but I haven’t written about it yet because I’ve needed time to process it. As I mentioned in my review of the Alice books, it’s very hard for me to describe what I like about a well written story. When talking Dune over with a friend I said a good story is like a magic trick. Dune is a good story, and is my favorite book from this list so far.
So what is so great about Dune?
For starters, Herbert created this detailed, rich, living universe. A lot of critics talk about Dune as an ecological novel, or a political novel. It’s hard to miss these associations. The planet Dune is also called Arrakis, which in the film version is pronounced “Iraq-us”. The spice found on Arrakis enables space travel. It makes a clear point about the relationship to certain desert lands on our own world and the travel enabling substances we get from them. But in addition to this very contemporary subject, the world of Dune contains a vast, multi-tiered political system. The story is not simply hero and villain. There are numerous parties, each with complex motivations for their actions. There are religious influences ranging from the amalgam of popular earth religions represented by the Orange Catholic Bible; to the part nun, part mystic, part spiritual manipulators of the Bene Gesserit; to the prophetic and zealous faith of the Fremen.
And inside this world Herbert constructed live these vivid characters. There is Lady Jessica, who rebels against the Bene Gesserit out of love for her Duke and her son. And there is Paul Atreides, the legend that the Fremen have been waiting for. My aforementioned friend told me that Herbert said Dune is a story about a man playing god (and she ought to know, as she contributed essays to The Science of Dune). In Paul this theme is excellently carried out as he fulfills the prophecies in order to gain the devotion of the Fremen, even while fearing a time in the future in which he foresees zealots committing atrocities in his name.
Dune is great because it is more than just the well-developed world, more than the characters, more than the plot. All these elements combine just right to create an atmosphere. While reading this novel I kept thinking of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. These stories aren't particularly similar, but both give me a sense that while I'm reading the book, I'm living in the story. I have a tendency to multi-task my reading - I might interrupt my progress in a novel to read magazines or comic books on the side. I found with Dune I did not want to be sidetracked in this way. I wanted my full focus on this one novel. That's the magic trick, the thing that I can't point to and say "here's what's so great about it." Whatever it is that makes it impossible for me to put a novel down, or to leave it for a while to look at other stories, or to stop thinking about it all the time, Dune has it.