Anno Dracula: Appropriation of Characters

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I own up to it.  I wouldn’t have been able to write Anno Dracula if Bram Stoker hadn’t written Dracula first.  Indeed, the Anno Dracula series wouldn’t be possible without a great many previous authors, screenwriters, actors and artists who created characters, situations, institutions and conventions, which became mulch for my own imagination. 

The ’what if’ premise of Anno Dracula twists Stoker’s storyline half-way through his novel, creating my own world in which Count Dracula came to London in 1885 and defeated Van Helsing and his followers, rising in society and marrying the widowed Queen Victoria, becoming Prince Consort and ruler of Britain and its Empire.  Subsequent novels in the series pick up the story at various points in history – the First World War in The Bloody Red Baron, the Italy of la dolce vita in Dracula Cha Cha Cha, the movie business of the ‘70s and ‘80s in Johnny Alucard (just published by Titan Books).  Dracula weaves in and out of the saga – not just Stoker’s Count, but the Draculas of Bela Lugosi, Manly Wade Wellman (whose story ‘The Devil is Not Mocked’ was perhaps the first non-Stoker Dracula prose to see print), Udo Kier, Hammer Films, Francis Coppola, Fred Saberhagen, Marvel Comics, Sesame Street and Dracula Sucks (yes, it’s a ‘70s porn movie).  I’ve even fit in Graf von Orlok, the Dracula analogue from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, as a separate character.  The character of Dracula has accrued so many layers of interpretation that even I tie knots in my head at some associations raised in the books.  In Johnny Alucard, there’s a sequence where a fictionalised version of Marlon Brando incarnates Dracula in a manner reflective of his performance as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, referring back to the use I made of Coppola’s spin on Joseph Conrad’s character in the climax of Anno Dracula.  Did Brando ever play Dracula?  Well, no, but Vito Corleone puts orange peel fangs in his mouth in The Godfather, and dies as a monster.  I’m not sure if I even consciously remembered that – though it is mentioned in the book – when I first made the Brando-Kurtz-Dracula connection in Anno Dracula.

I own up to it.  I wouldn’t have been able to write Anno Dracula if Bram Stoker hadn’t written Dracula first.

The notion of using borrowed fictional characters other than Stoker’s came up early in the process of conceiving the series.  I hit on it while drafting the first chapter of Anno Dracula, in which Stoker’s Dr Seward – demented by what I’d made of his personal story in changing the plot of Dracula, though already pretty far gone in Stoker’s text (he takes to drugs when his marriage proposal is turned down, so imagine how he reacts to the staking and decapitation of the girl he loves) – commits one of the Jack the Ripper murders.  I had originally intended to have Jack Seward kill one of the Ripper’s historical victims – who do feature in the book – but none quite fitted the chronology I wanted for the plot.  Also, I wanted to begin with the Ripper of film lore rather than the grubbier true crime figure – a top-hatted, gladstone bag-carrying toff stalking through the foggy cobbled streets of Whitechapel.  So I had the vampire hooker Jack slays be the most famous fictional victim of the Ripper, Lulu from Frank Wedekind’s play Pandora’s Box, and specifically the Lulu played by Louise Brooks in the 1928 film.  That opened the field up, and thereafter I cast the novel in the way you might cast a film … when I needed a policeman, I considered historical persons like Inspector Abberline and fictional characters like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Inspector Lestrade and picked whoever best fit what I needed them to do.  When I needed a policeman to be a more important character, I did the same thing but looked for someone who wasn’t as well known so I had more leeway in interpreting their character … and found W.R. Horning’s Inspector  Mackenzie, nemesis of gentleman thief Raffles.  Naively, I didn’t realise how interested some of my readers would be in this device: I assumed that they’d recognise some characters as old friends seen in a different light (my Lestrade is a vampire) and take others as essentially new-made and get on with them without needing to know where they came from in the first place (Anno Dracula was published before the internet, so tracking references was trickier then). 

I left some borrowed characters unnamed so as not to tread on active franchises … everyone I use is altered in some way to fit into the Anno Dracula universe, so I tweaked a few names (the vampire spy Hamish Bond is supposed to be all the versions of James Bond scrambled together, with added fangs) and played metafictional games with characters who are already analogues of real people.  In The Bloody Red Baron, I killed off Oswald Mosley in a WWI dogfight … so when I needed someone to play his role in later history I looked to P.G. Wodehouse’s Mosley parody Roderick Spode to lurk about in ‘Vampire Romance’ (a 1923-set novella included with the reissue of The Bloody Red Baron).  Of course, the world of Anno Dracula is populated with vampires who are already altered (even caricatured) versions of the people they were … so there are vampire versions of real people (Oscar Wilde, Baron von Richthofen, Winston Churchill) and fictional characters (Professor Moriarty, Dixon of Dock Green), vampires from earlier vampire novels and films (the relatively little-known Caleb Croft, from the 1972 movie Grave of the Vampire, has become a major player over the series, whereas John Polidori’s pre-Dracula vampire Lord Ruthven has become my eternal political survivor, returning again and again to government) and weird amalgam vampires that come together from picking out the threads of vampirism in pop culture (in the opening of Dracula Cha Cha Cha, the vampire who bathes and bleeds in the Trevi Fountain in reference to La Dolce Vita is not the starlet Anita Ekberg plays in the Fellini film but the vampire she plays in the minor 1969 film Malenka). 

From the first book on, I have focused on major characters who are entirely my own invention, like the British gentleman adventurer Charles Beauregard and the French vampire Geneviève Dieudonné, or are virtually mine, like the journalist Kate Reed (in Stoker’s original outline for Dracula, she would have been a friend of Mina Harker’s – but he cut her from the book; I now feel quite proprietorial about her).  But it has become a challenge to populate the supporting cast entirely with people from history or other fictions, down to the most minor walk-ons.  In some cases, with the older books, I have actually forgotten where I found some of them – which is why, if there’s ever a definitive annotated set of these books, I won’t be doing all the footnotes. Often, I like an association I can’t reasonably expect a reader to be aware of but try to make the characters work in context anyway – in ‘Aquarius’, the 1968-set novella included with the reissue of Dracula Cha Cha Cha, I needed a group of troublemaking vampire students and drew on ‘A Sense of History’, an episode of The Avengers which featured Patrick Mower as student troublemaker Eric Duboys (I’d have used Richard Fountain, the vampire student character Mower played in the film Incense for the Damned, only I killed him off in Dracula Cha Cha Cha in a mash-up of Simon Raven’s novel Doctors Wear Scarlet with Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley).  Looking again at that TV episode –  if a writing project offers an excuse to look at an episode of The Avengers, I’m pretty much bound to take it – I found that Jacqueline Pearce played one of the other students in class, which led me to include Anna Franklyn, the snakewoman Pearce plays in The Reptile, as one of Eric’s associates.  My thinking: snakewomen are sort of vampires and the altered history of Anno Dracula could easily have led to a world where poor Victorian monster-victim Anna wouldn’t need to be killed off and could live on to be part of my 1968 plot.

I didn’t invent this sort of tapestry-of-fiction/crossover universe approach … I must cite John Kendrick Bangs (A Houseboat on the Styx), John Myers (Silverlock), Philip José Farmer (Tarzan Alive; Doc Savage – His Apocalyptic Life), George Macdonald Fraser (the Flashman books) and Nicholas Meyer (The Seven-per-Cent Solution) as precedents.  Often, I’ve found myself drawing on previous adaptations of pre-existing works: my version of Conan Doyle’s Diogenes Club owes a lot to Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s in the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Subsequent to the appearance of the first Anno Dracula novel, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill have done something similar in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics – though they are stricter about using fictional analogues for historical people, so their World War II is fought against Adenoid Hynkel (from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator); the metafictional landscape is so crowded that I’ve altered a few things from my outlines if Moore and O’Neill got there first (damn them!).  This is why Michael Moorcock, not James Colvin, edits New Worlds magazine in ‘Aquarius’ – though the Jim Ballard he publishes is the narrator of Crash, not the real J.G. Ballard.  If League of Extraordinary Gentlemen had come out first, I’d have played down this element of the Anno Dracula books – confined myself to Stoker’s characters, created more of my own, focused more narrowly on pre-existing vampire fiction – but I was too far down the road to change my approach when it started to appear.

It’s a fiddly way to put together a universe … having done four Anno Dracula novels plus the similarly research-heavy Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles, it’s a relief to get back to simply making people up in the novel I’m working on at the moment (An English Ghost Story).  My hope has always been that readers will focus on the Anno Dracula stories and the characters as represented in them, and what they’re actually all about.  Then, if they’re interested, they can think about where I’ve drawn things from – though they should be aware some of my pillaging is quite casual.  In the end, it comes back to where Stoker started … the monster wants to leave his castle, and make the whole world his domain.  In Stoker’s book, he fails … but, in the real world, have things turned out less happily?  If so, then we live in the Annae Draculae.

Kim Newman

Column by Kim Newman

Kim Newman is a well known and respected author and movie critic. He writes regularly for Empire Magazine and contributes to The Guardian, The Times, Time Out and others. He makes frequent appearances on radio and TV. He has won the Bram Stoker, International Horror Guild, British Fantasy and British Science Fiction Awards and been nominated for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards.

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Comments

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk September 13, 2013 - 11:09am

Sweet! Kim is on litreactor :) 

Big fan of his work in empire magazine and horror love. Will defo check this out.

nathaniel parker's picture
nathaniel parker from Cincinnati is reading The Dark Tower ~ King September 13, 2013 - 1:10pm

Weren't the Jack the Ripper murders almost a decade before the events in Stoker's Dracula?