Bookshots: 'Powers of Darkness: The lost Version of Dracula' by Bram Stoker and Valdimar Asmundsson
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula
Who wrote it?
Bram Stoker and Valdimar Asmundsson (translated from the Icelandic Makt Mykranna by Hans Corneel de Roos)
Plot in a Box:
Subtitled, "The Lost version of Dracula, " Powers of Darkness follows rookie solicitor Jonathan Harker to a Transylvanian castle deep in the Carpathian Mountains, in order to advise his client, Count Dracula, on his recent purchase of some London real estate. Harker discovers to his peril that the Count is no ordinary aristo, but is a Satan-worshipping pervert with an undead, underage wife (who might also be his niece), and plans to take over the world.
Invent a new title for this book:
Real Housewives of Transylvania
Read this if you like(d):
Dracula, obviously, or The Strain or vampire fiction and film in general, especially all the old campy Vampire movies and parodies like The Fearless Vampire Killers. Billed as "shorter, punchier, more erotic, and rivaling the suspense of the original," Powers of Darkness is recommended for vampire completists for a bunch of reasons, not least of which is to remind us just how good the original (and countless others) are in comparison.
Meet the book’s lead(s):
Unlike in Dracula, in which women play a major role, not to mention male misfits like Van Helsing, Renfield, and the mad Dr Seward, Powers of Darkness is all about Jonathan Harker and Dracula. Harker is characterized as a bloodless little snoop—lacking all of the original Jonathan’s naive charm and vulnerability—and his main claim to heroism is unconvincingly trying to fend off the deviant charms of the undead Countess, and just as unconvincingly judging the Count for his libertine ways. But even more unbelievable are his feeble attempts to escape, AKA explore the castle, AKA, perv on the naked peasant girls down in the cellar being ravaged by Satan-worshipping gypsies.
Of course, the other lead is Dracula himself. Unlike the truly icky Dracula of the original, Asmundsson’s Count is more of an everyday asshole. A tyrant, pervert, rapist, and devil-worshipper, he is a much more human villain than Stoker’s Dracula, lacking in any of the former’s mystery, complexity and abiding monstrosity.
Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:
You'd need someone like Brit actor Jamie Bell to bring Asmundsson's Harker to life — and give him a much-needed sense of humor. And Dracula? Kevin Spacey could make it work, if he could keep a straight face, and it might be best if he doesn't.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
Transylvania, high in the Carpathian mountains in Romania, surrounded by howling wolves and cavorting locals? Asmundson’s descriptions are a strength of this read—especially the dramatic sunsets after which all bets are off, but despite his descendent, Dacre Stoker, reportedly hosting campy nights of garlicky fun there in partnership with Airbnb, I think I’ll just follow in Bram’s footsteps and confine my visits to the imagination.
What was your favorite sentence?
Whether I am awake or sleeping, she haunts me – this strange creature. She scares me and yet she attracts my thoughts, harder and harder…
The publication history of Powers of Darkness alone is pretty weird. Supposedly adapted from the original with Stoker's approval, Makt Myrkranna (its Icelandic title) lay dormant for a hundred years before it was rediscovered and re-translated into English, with a forward by Bram's descendent, Dacre Stoker. Among the many departures from the original is that of replacing Stoker’s epistolary structure with straight narration. This is by no means an improvement, but it’s interesting. And Asmundsson, for reasons only known to himself, decided to scrap most of Stoker's atmospheric and affecting horror—who can forget the Count's lizard-like slithering along the castle walls, or the newly turned Lucy's tormented expression of "baffled malice"—in favor of some heavy-handed extras like hunchbacks, Satan-worshipping gypsies, a porn collection, and a horny blonde rampaging her way around the castle in a desperate bid to um, suck, her way back to power. The final radical departure is that two-thirds of the novel are set in Castle Dracula, leaving only the last third for a pretty sketchy summary of the adventures of Van Helsing and his team of merry vampire slayers back in England and across Europe. Needless to say, none of these changes are improvements on the original, but if you're into campy horror and quirky provenance, you'd probably dig it.
Interesting as some of the supplementary material is, you can’t help wondering why the team just didn’t let the work speak for itself. Hans Corneel De Roos indicates in the exhaustive notes that much is lost in the translation from English to Icelandic and back to English again, but whether homage or hubris, Asmundsson clearly set out to create a very different beast. For me, the three headscratchers were reducing Stoker's gutsy Mina and Lucy to symbols of virginal purity and passive victims respectively (neither of them has any voice at all in Powers), replacing the fragmented, epistolary structure with a wooden narration, and above all, replacing the weird Transylvanian sisters and their unspeakable hungers and cruelties (not easy to forget the mother outside the castle wall screaming for her child) with a pretty ordinary horny housewife. Powers of darkness are here figured as the very ordinary powers of money and sex, whereas in Dracula, power is figured as complex, contestable, contaminating... and much more frightening.
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