Dracula (1897) and I am Legend (1954) – Adventures in Literature

Current efforts to better educate myself in the world of literature have led me to explore all the books I either missed, have always meant to read, or never finished. Several of these are books that were issued to read in high school, but went to class B rather than my own. We got Much Ado About Nothing, they got the more traditional Romeo and Juliet. They got Frankenstein, we got Jane Eyre. Etc. Basically, they had all the fun. Though we got Lord of the Flies.

The majority of this undertaking has come through the use of audiobooks while I work, though with prose copies on hand to re-read certain sections either for clarification or just to refresh my memory. What I have greatly enjoyed about this exercise so far, is how the use of audio books have made some of the more mundane acts of life more bearable. Manual labour, exercising, cleaning, etc. Really takes the edge off of a dull day.

Choosing a book is perhaps the hardest. I started with a list and the more I thought, the longer it became. In the end, there was only one clear choice. DRACULA!

I love vampire movies. Though I have never bothered to sit through the Twilight collection. In 2016, I acted as the projectionist for the University of Hertfordshire’s second film season. Bloodlust, a season dedicated to Vampires in cinema, curated by Danny Graydon. And while I thought I knew the story of Dracula, partly through movies and partly through a vague memory of reading it. I found myself wrong. In my mind, and through cultural osmosis, I had concocted an image in my mind of a bloody horror story. Complete with a monstrous man who grew young, and a trio of female vampires by his side. What I came to understand however, was a story surrounding how far men will go for the people they love. The tenacity of human will and the monstrosities of what we don’t understand.

In fact, I was shocked to find that the novel Dracula was more faithfully retold, though updated, in 1985s Fright Night than it is in 1931’s Dracula! Though granted, most film incarnations seem to portray a more handsome Dracula than that of the novel.

The method in which the novel is told, is through the lens of various storytellers. Made up of letters, diaries, recordings and newspaper clippings. Following the work Mina does in the middle of the novel, you could even say that the novel is the product of Mina organising everyone’s notes to help them better understand the circumstances and events going on. This style of storytelling does make you feel like you are in each of the characters shoes. That the change in language and perspective for each makes you feel like you get a greater sense of what is really going on. In fact, the only perspective that seems to be missing is Dracula himself. Though I imagine that at some point someone has attempted it. Probably in some attempt to make Dracula the far more sympathetic figure.

The novel begins with Jonathan Harker, working on behalf of a solicitor firm, traveling to meet a man in Transylvania who has just bought a property in London. Along the way, as strangers find out where he is going, they start acting strangely. Praying for him. Giving him food laced with garlic, a cross to wear around his neck. When he reaches his destination, he is faced with the old count known as Dracula. He’s pleasant, makes Jonathan dinner and gives him a place to sleep stay during his visit. But keeps him captive for far longer than intended. Any letters Jonathan can send, the Count reads. The only secrets Jonathan can keep for himself are the ones he writes in his journal. The one we are reading. Only kept secret by the fact that the Count can’t read short hand. The Count even has Jonathan write letters dictating that he is on his way back, and one that states that he will be home soon, even though he is still locked away in the castle. While in the Count’s captive, Jonathan finds oddities such as a lack of servants and mirrors. A trio of seductive but aggressive woman, and a lack of escape.

As Jonathan’s initial journal comes to an end, we switch to the perspective of Mina Murray and Lucy Westonra. Jonathan’s fiancé and her closest friend. While Mina waits for Jonathan’s return, she is staying in Whitby with Lucy. Through letters between the two and diary entries, we come to learn about Lucy’s many suiters, John Stewart, Quincy Morris and Arthur Holmwood. Each of which play a larger part in the novel. We hear of a ship that crashes off the shore of Whitby, one that in reality contains both the Count, and his supplies. How Lucy sleepwalks and once found herself in the graveyard overlooking the sea. Only woken by Mina running after her in the night. How Lucy suddenly falls ill, complete with small marks on her neck. Eventually, Mina hears that Jonathan has been found. He’s recovering in a hospital in Budapest where they are finally married.

While the Harker’s are away, we are introduced to the work of John Stewart who runs a mental institute in London. Conveniently right next door to the property Dracula has bought. As well as learning about one of his strangest patients. Renfield. Correspondence between himself, his friend Abraham Van Helsing and Lucy all lead to her attempted diagnosis and her eventual death. Before seeing her return as a figure that steals away children in the night. As all of our characters unite, compare notes and learn of the Count’s true nature. The party go to any means necessary to drive the Count back out of England, and back to the grave.

The novel is compellingly structured and a fascinating read. Despite the books age, it feels incredibly modern. Even in 2018, I didn’t once question why they didn’t use something that hadn’t existed at the time. It feels grounded and understandable. Things in a regular fantasy/horror novel that would come off as normal to the characters, but abnormal to use, feel just as out of place as they should be.

A better understanding of Dracula’s source novel gave me a better understanding of modern vampire lore. Though it has led me to question where certain tropes have come from. Such as the strong reaction to sunlight. Though if I had to hazard a guess, I would imagine 1922s Nosferatu.

After finally conquering the classic. One that left me hungry for more. It was a struggle to pick the next book to sink my teeth into.

There were a few logical progressions. From one Universal monster to another, I could have tried my hand at the likes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I could have gone to another classic vampire novel, or at least one I’ve heard about multiple times, Interview with the Vampire. I could have continued the horror theme and followed in my mother’s obsession with a Stephen King novel. Instead, I decided to carry on the Vampire motif but chose a book I remembered trying once as a teenager but could not remember why I never finished it. Richard Matheson’s, I am Legend.

I remember seeing a certain Will Smith film over 10 years ago now. One with the same name and a similar plot, though one consisting of Zombies. I thought the film was fine. It was on tv a lot a few years after its release, so I saw it multiple times. But something always seemed to be missing. After finally reading the novel, I have not only found what was missing, but a novel I truly adore.

Unlike the film, the creatures of the novel are ‘vampires’. Or rather infected humans that seem to act like vampires. As someone who has experience working in haematology and still owns multiple books on the subject, I was surprised that a biological approach to vampire lore had never occurred to me. The combination of these factors and a well written, though simple plot, give rise to this fantastic novel.

Fun Fact: The company that initial printed I am Legend, Gold Medal Books, were a division of Fawcett Publication. The same company responsible for Captain Marvel. Or as he is now known, Shazam! Not important, but something I found interesting as I’m now imagine a young Billy Batson suddenly finding himself confronted with a vampire apocalypse. Too scared to speak the magic words. Ending up devoured by the rest of the Captain Marvel family while Tawny the Tiger watches on, hungry for his share.

Our protagonist is Robert Neville. A man who finds himself attacked on a daily basis by vampiric creatures. He’s lost him wife and child. Everyone he knew, and it’s been months since he saw another none infected human. Through the novel, we follow Neville as he battles with depression, alcoholism and self-preservation. Over the years we follow his research as he tries to understand how these creatures even function. Fittingly, reading this after Dracula becomes very appropriate as Neville is studying the book at the beginning. But why do these creatures need blood? Why do they avoid sunlight? What is it about garlic that affects them? Neville, despite his depression, isolation and frustration, actively searches for answers. Going out of his way to find sleeping vampires to get samples, and set up experiments. Neville’s determination and the question of what are these creatures, drive this novel.

Despite Dracula literally providing multiple points of view, it’s possible I am Legend’s ending that gives the greatest example of perspective. The final part of Matheson’s novel up ends what we already knew about Neville’s world. His battle for survival as the last man alive, becomes the monstrous acts of a nearly extinct race.

Despite Dracula’s reputation. I found I am Legend to be the more interesting and compelling book. Granted, this could also come from my own background and interests. But both Dracula and I am Legend are fantastically written novels that compels you to keep going. Both are amazing pieces of Vampire fiction and should be required horror reading.

Up next on my adventures in literature: Salem’s Lot.

  • Bronte, C. (1847) Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. Smith, Elder & Co.: London.
  • Dracula (1931) Film. Directed by Tod Browning. [Blu-ray] Universal Pictures: USA
  • Fright Night (1985) Film. Directed by Tom Holland. [Blu-ray] Colombia Pictures: USA.
  • Golding, W. (1954) Lord of the Flies. Faber and Faber: London.
  • Graydon, D. (2018) Danny Graydon. [Online] Available from: http://www.dannygraydon.com/ [Last Accessed: 13.06.2018]
  • King, S. (1975) Salem’s Lot. Doubleday: New York
  • Matheson, R (1954) I am Legend. Gold Medal Books: New York
  • Nosferatu (1922) Film. Directed by F. W. Murnau. [Blu-Ray] Film Arts Guild: Germany.
  • Rice, A. (1976) Interview with the Vampire. Knopf: New York.
  • Shakespeare, W. (1591 – 1595) Romeo and Juliet. Royal Shakespeare Company: London.
  • Shakespeare, W. (1598 – 1599) Much Ado About Nothing. Royal Shakespeare Company: London
  • Shelley, M. (1818) Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus. Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones: London.
  • Stoker, D. (1897) Constable & Robinson: London.
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Batman Ninja (2018)

The hell did I just watch!?

When originally announced, the idea of a Batman reimagined into a samurai adventure sounded amazing. An all new, almost Elseworld take on the Dark Knight sounded incredible. How would they re-imagine the cast? What would a Batman from Sengoku period Japan be like? Imagine my surprise when the film begins and instead of an Elseworld adventure, we are treated to a time travel experience!

When Batman arrives at Arkham Asylum to stop Flash villain Gorilla Grodd from setting off a deadly machine known as the Quake Engine. The device activates, and Batman finds himself hurdled backwards through time to Sengoku period Japan. Upon arriving, he discovered that not only had he been sent back, but several others had been sent back and been living there for two whole years. He finds himself surrounded by samurai guards wearing Joker masks. Upon escaping, Batman finds himself face to face with Catwoman and Alfred. They explain the situation to him and along the way he finds allies in the time displaced Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood and Robin alongside the Bat Clan of ninjas. As they go up against not only Gorilla Grodd and the Joker, but also Poison Ivy, Two Face, Penguin, Harley Quinn and Deathstroke. It’s a battle to return to the future in a time displaced, manic adventure.

The fantastic character designs of Takashi Okazaki are striking and beautiful. Something that seems to come naturally to the creator of Afro Samurai. Figures in this style are sure to be hitting the shelves soon. The films cinematography and choreography make all the more sense when you discover that the films director is Junpei Mizusaki. The man responsible for the bombastic opening sequences for many of the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series, particularly the fan favourite Stardust Crusaders. Along with Mizusaki, Batman Ninja brings on another JoJo alumni with music composer Yugo Kanno. Unfortunately, this may be one of Kanno’s weakest scores, as the visuals overpower the score to the point of being forgettable.

All the characters feel ripped right out of the comics and help the film feel even more dynamic. With the glaring exception of Damian Wayne/Robin. The film portrays him as a happy-go-lucky and obedient kid just happy to be there. This is not Damian. Damian is a serious assassin in the body of a 10 – 13-year-old boy. The one who would possibly appreciate being stuck in this period of Japan the most. He has his fun moments, and does have a love of animals, but the Robin portrayed here feels like a completely different character.

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The films style is incredibly memorable and striking. Its backgrounds have a glorious hand drawn feel, with the occasional break into a water colour motif. However, the films 3D characters stick out terribly against the background and frequently break into very jerky and unnatural movement.

The film is by no means a serious story. It’s fun for the sake of fun. The characters work well in this new environment with a simple plot that allows the characters to stretch out and just be themselves. Mostly. It’s a bombastic adventure of spectacular proportions that’s not afraid to go over the top or bring out the big guns. The big, mecha, feudal Japan, guns…

First Impressions: New Game! Ep 1: “It Actually Feels Like I Started My Job”

‘Slice of life’ anime can be very hit or miss for me. Some just don’t resonate with me at all, where the characters feel so boring that I don’t care what problems they are having. So, when I do choose something ‘Slice of Life’ to watch, I tend to pick it more on premise. With Bakuman being one of my all-time favourite manga series, it felt like a show based on people working to create something, may well be a good fit for me to try. Hearing about New Game! my interest was piqued, and I decided to load up the first episode. Seeing that the show had a dub, this is ultimately the version I am watching.

Episode 1 usually only works for me as an excuse to set up the situation and a few of the main characters. It’s rare I decided whether to drop a show from here. That usually happens by episode 2. While this first episode hasn’t fully convinced me whether or not the show is good, I am curious.

The plot follows Aoba Suzukaze, a recent high school graduate, as she joins a video game company known as Eagle Jump. A seemingly small company based on this first episode, that has at least put out a few well received games in their life time, including ‘Fairies Story’, a game that inspired Aoba to become a games artist.

Having studied alongside games art students, and maintained long conversations on the subject with them. Seeing a slice of life that focuses on the game industry is certainly appealing. Based on the work we see being done in the office, it’s easy to recognise many of the animator and modelers habits. Especially striking poses themselves, just to get a feel of what they should be animating. The excessive use of sweets and caffeine, while a little stereotypical, is certainly something I can relate with. Watching Aoba learn and come to grips with the shows version of Autodesk Maya was incredibly relatable, though I did joyfully wait for her to suddenly exclaim frustration at the program. The groups lead character designer spending nights sleeping under her desk at work, is a very real reality. Though the show also uses it for what feels like an unnecessary use of fan service, with the obligatory panty shot. But the characters habits and work mannerisms do feel genuine. However, the characters as a whole, are a little hard to tell apart or name, aside from identifying them by habits.

While well animated, I do take fault with the character design the show chose. Aoba is frequently made fun of for looking like a kid, being mistaken as one several times. The problem with this being is that all the characters look the same age. The only noticeable difference is clothing changes, and height. A scene in which our lead is being questioned for how old she thinks a few of the women are, is honestly hard to watch without groaning.

Episode 1 certainly just focuses on establishing the company and the series goal, creating ‘Fairies Story 3’. This is done relatively well, if a little slow paced, but sets up for what could very well be, an interesting if passive watch.

 

(Above is the opinion of the writer solely. Everyone is entitle to their own opinion, this is just mine.)