M&C Exclusive: Anno Dracula’s Kim Newman - People I’ve Borrowed
By Kim Newman May 23, 2011, 0:19 GMT
It is 1888; Dracula has married Queen Victoria and turned a large percentage of the population into the undead. Following vampire Geneviève Dieudonné and explorer Charles Beauregard on the trail of the Ripper murders, this panoramic novel of altered history brilliantly reinvents the world of late Victorian melodrama. Familiar and sinister figures from literature and history emerge from the fog, along with some shocking truths.As Nina Auerbach writes in the ...more
In the Anno Dracula series, I’ve used a lot of other authors’ characters and people from history … but in the context of my own alternate universe, which means I can skew their characters a little (or a lot) to suit my plot purposes.
I don’t want to pick out every little cameo and inside joke, since I know readers enjoy spotting these for themselves, but here’s a run-down of some of my major debts and notes on what I’ve done with the characters.
First of all, obviously, the series wouldn’t exist without Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I may have changed the outcome of Stoker’s plot, by having Dracula defeat Van Helsing and his Circle of Light and ascend to the throne of Great Britain, but Anno Dracula still needs to draw a lot on Stoker’s characters and the rules he laid down for vampirism.
Like Stoker, I opt to keep Dracula offstage for most of the book – in a mirror of the original, I save him for the end but refer to him throughout (I think that, subliminally, I was influenced by the build-up to Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, which is the seed of the idea for ‘Coppola’s Dracula’ in the fourth book, Johnny Alucard).
I felt it necessary to have a glimpse of Mina Harker as a vampire, but didn’t choose to make her a major player in the book: since then, there have been a bunch of film, TV and literary Mina-as-a-vampire treatments, so I’m less inclined to go back and fill in the gap in her story than I might have been, but the option is there, nevertheless.
The major Stoker characters I use are Dr Seward and Arthur Holmwood, who are fast friends in the original novel – though most modern readers will wonder why Jack Seward doesn’t hate Arthur. After the warping experience of encountering and being beaten by Dracula – and the twisted business with Lucy, whom both men love, being bitten, turned and destroyed – these characters change: Seward becomes a serial killer of vampires while Holmwood sells out, turns vampire and advances in the new society.
Stoker clearly configures Seward (in many ways, his most ‘real’ character) as a loser and Arthur (insufferably idealized) as a winner, so I just took it further. It’s always troubled me that Lucy has the pick of three suitors in Dracula, and picks the rich, handsome, titled, boring one over the two interesting guys – Stoker paints her as shallow in some ways, but clearly thinks (or forces himself to think) she’s right to do so.
Lucy isn’t in Anno Dracula, but haunts the book – and a key character catches Seward’s attention because she’s a Lucy lookalike and, as it turns out, was made a vampire by Lucy’s bite. The other Stoker character I’ve picked up is Kate Reed, who is mentioned in his notes as a friend of Mina and Lucy – but didn’t make it to the original novel.
I conceived her as a balance for Lucy – if Mina’s best friend is a pretty, rich bubblehead, then her other best friend should be plain (well, red-headed, which in Victorian terms meant plain – lots of readers seem to fancy her), employed and sensible. I also gave her some of Stoker’s Irish Ascendancy Protestant background and literary connections, enabling me to rope Oscar Wilde and others into the book.
Kate isn’t a viewpoint character in Anno Dracula, but gets bigger roles in The Bloody Red Baron, Dracula Cha Cha Cha and Johnny Alucard. I’ve even put her into a few of my non-series stories (eg: ‘Gypsies in the Wood’, in Secret Files of the Diogenes Club). To show how much of a hypocrite I am about the business of borrowing characters, I’ve become so proprietary of Kate – whom I sometimes forget I did not invent – that I really, really hated the use of her (in name) in that disposable Dracula sequel which got a lot of coverage a year or so back. So, be warned, hands off.
Other Stoker characters – Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker, Renfield, Quincy – are dead in the world of Anno Dracula, and Van Helsing’s head is stuck on a spike outside Buckingham Palace. That’s not to say I won’t have a use for them sometime, and they all show up in various forms in the imagined Dracula movies that feature in Johnny Alucard (in the ‘Apocalypse Now’ version of Dracula, I see Robert Duvall as Van Helsing and Dennis Hopper as Renfield). I’ve done a little with Dracula’s three brides, too – and would like to play more with them, as it were.
Sherlock Holmes isn’t in Anno Dracula … for a couple of reasons. A) I thought it would be too obvious, and the character was overdone in works which jumble together literary characters (obviously, Alan Moore felt the same). B) He’s too clever, and would have solved the mysteries which baffle my less perspicacious detectives throughout the book in a chapter or two. And C) I wanted to see how his supporting cast could get on without him, which is why we get Inspector Lestrade as a vampire (yes, the Vampire Lestrade!), Professor Moriarty among a cadre of Victorian underworld figures (some named, some not) and Mycroft Holmes (the smarter, more politically connected brother) at the heart of the plot.
Arthur Conan Doyle, more than any other writer, populated the Victorian England of the imagination, and I drew often on his books – and the useful annotated editions – for local colour.
Otherwise, I pillaged Victorian and Edwardian literature where I saw fit, taking Dr Moreau from Wells and Dr Jekyll from Stevenson and having them share a laboratory – setting up a chain of mad science that runs in the later books to Herbert West from H.P. Lovecraft and Dr Pretorius from Bride of Frankenstein (the character’s longevity comes from stories by Paul McAuley, though) and back to Mr Hyde.
When I needed a Jack the Ripper victim for the opening chapter, I didn’t look to the real ones – though some of them do appear – but to the most famous fictional one, Wedekind’s Lulu (the Louise Brooks character from Pandora’s Box). If a portrait needed painting, naturally Basil Hallward (from The Picture of Dorian Gray) got the commission. Need a Victorian hypocritical businessman with a known hooker habit? Then, E.M. Forster already created Henry Wilcox in Howard’s Way.
Considering who Dracula might have as his courtiers, I pillaged from all the other vampire stories, books and films. Dr Polidori’s Lord Ruthven, from ‘The Vampyre’, is the most important pre-Dracula vampire and enough of a Byronic dandy to earn a major position, so I made him Prime Minister.
Sir Francis Varney, from the penny dreadful Varney the Vampyre, also needed a major job, so I made him a tyrannical viceroy of India (leaving me the option of doing a Kipling-style Indian mutiny story at some point). Given that Count Yorga, from a pair of early 70s vampire movies, is plainly a Dracula wannabe, I thought I’d stress that and keep him in the series as a minion who secretly wants to usurp the throne … but ends up as a slightly ridiculous California guru.
And I owe Eric, Count Stenbock, ‘Anonymous’, Alexander Dumas and George Romero for my Carpathian Guard, Vardalek (‘The True Story of a Vampire’), von Klatka (‘The Mysterious Stranger’), Kostaki (The Pale-Faced Lady) and Martin Cuda (Martin). Yes, there’s a joke about Anne Rice’s Lestat … and I’ll get round to doing the same for Stephenie Meyer’s Cullens sometime. I was pleased to make room for a few personal favorites, Graf von Orlok from Nosferatu and Caleb Croft from Grave of the Vampire (not well-known, but especially nasty).
In later books, I play with WWI flying ace and pulp hero characters (Biggles, Captain Midnight, Enemy Ace, the Shadow), long-term fiends like the Golem and the Frankenstein Monster, stragglers from the 1950s literature (dips into the worlds of Patricia Highsmith and Ian Fleming) and a bunch of folk from Italian cinema (Fellini and Antonioni, but also Mario Bava, Dario Argento and various masked killer thrillers).
In ‘Andy Warhol’s Dracula’, another part of Johnny Alucard, I have the number-obsessed Count (who actually has a trait of folkloric vampires, who were compelled to count everything) doing the accounts for a New York drug dealer. I’ve drawn the line at Count Duckula – though Blacula has appeared – but if I can see a way …
I’m wary of letting this fun aspect of the books run too far, since it can distract from the story. I try not to bring in characters who don’t need to be there and if I name-drop (as in the party scenes) it’s because I want to make light of name-dropping. Still, there are a few strays I’ve not used, or have barely mentioned, that I’d like to give more time to in future work.
The next piece I’m planning, which will appear as an appendix to The Bloody Red Baron, will be called ‘Vampire Romance’ and tackle that strange, new mutant genre (and its major practitioners, including the sparkly ones) but also let me come to grips with J. Sheridan LeFanu’s ‘Carmilla’, a story I’ve alluded to but not worked over yet. In Johnny Alucard, we’ll be seeing more of Baron Meinster, from Hammer’s Brides of Dracula, who strikes me as another blatant Dracula wannabe, and encounter ‘Barbie the Vampire Slayer’, the Dude from The Big Lebowski, Quentin Tarantino in his video store clerk days, Vampirella and some new friends. If there’s anyone I’ve missed, I will get to them.
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