I stumbled across a terribly cute seasonal read-a-long: the Dueling Monsters Read-a-long. Some folks will read Dracula and others will read Frankenstein, then everyone will compare notes. I’ve already read both books, but I think it’s a great idea. And since I’ve read them, I’ll go ahead and answer some of their discussion questions. (Not all of them, mind you, since it’s been quite a while since I read either book, and my memory is like a steel sieve at the best of times.)
My review (which somehow never made it to my blog).
1. Dracula relies on journal fragments, letters, and newspaper clippings to tell its story. Why might Stoker have chosen to narrate the story in this way? Do letters and journal entries make the story seem more authentic or believable to you? How would the story be different if there were one traditional narrator?
Being an epistolary adds tremendously to the believability of this tale, and allows the narrative to switch between characters without feeling choppy. I particularly enjoyed the different voices of each character.
2. Why does Dracula only drink the blood of English women? Why doesn’t he drink, say, Jonathan Harker’s blood when he has the chance? Why is Lucy Dracula’s first target? What makes her vulnerable?
I suspect this has something to do with the latent sexuality of the vampire figure. Dracula’s wives are very keen to drink Harker’s blood, and Dracula himself prefers women. That, and since women of that time period were regarded as frail and vulnerable in the first place, a little unexpected sickness was less likely to be thoroughly investigated.
5. What are the elements of vampire folklore? For example, what, according to the novel, attracts or repels a vampire? How do you kill a vampire for good? Although Stoker did not invent the mythology of the vampire, his novel firmly established the conventions of vampire fiction. Think of another novel that deals with vampires and compare it with Dracula. (Interview with a Vampire, Twilight…) In what ways are the novels similar? Different?
The thing about Dracula is that it doesn’t firmly establish the conventions of the vampire. He can change into any number of beasts, he is only sometimes harmed by sunlight, etc. His only real requirement is to sleep in hallowed ground, hence the boxes of dirt he lugs all over the place. I did a brief comparison between Dracula and the Cullen vampires in my review of Twilight, and like I said there, I am reluctant to label something as “unrealistic” when it doesn’t exist in the first place.
Also, if you are reading both novels:
11. Was one monster scarier than the other?
Dracula was definitely scarier. I just felt sorry for the monster in Frankenstein.
12. Did either book (or both) surprise you? Was the story what you expected? Were the monsters what you expected? How do the books compare to the stereotypes?
I was surprised at how little of Dracula we see in his namesake novel. Frankenstein was completely different from what I’d been expecting, but I enjoyed it on its own merits.
1. Victor doesn’t give his monster a name. What does this do for the story? What does it say about us in society today that we think the monster’s name is Frankenstein (besides the fact that we are apparently ill-read)?
Well, considering Victor ran away from the monster shortly after it was created and tried to forget it ever existed, I would have been rather surprised if it had had a name. And I don’t think it says much at all that “we” think the monster’s name is Frankenstein. Look at the movies: it’s a movie about a monster, and it’s called Frankenstein. Usually if the title is a name, it’s the name of the central character in the story. Like Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Lolita, etc. I suppose there would have been less confusion had the book simply been titled Modern Prometheus.
3. How would this novel be different if the characters could let go of their need for revenge?
Well, fewer people would have died, but I think the bigger change would be if Victor had taken responsibility for his actions instead of creating a monster, leaving it alone, and then acting like it never happened.
5. Victor does not trust the monster; supposedly, that’s why he breaks his promise to create him a companion. Is the monster trustworthy? Can Victory be trustworthy even though he broke his promise?
Neither of them are trustworthy. They’ve both got their own interests at heart. I’m sure the monster would eventually have killed Victor, even if he’d kept his promise.
Like I said, I didn’t answer all the questions (but kept their original numbers so you can see what I left out), but it gave me something to think about all the same. Both are good books to read in their own rights, even if they only vaguely resemble the movies that made them famous.