Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Count Trickster

This may be a bit early, according to the Infinite Summer spoiler line we're at the end of Chapter I, but this post will only go a few paragraphs into Chapter II. So if you haven't met the Count yet, read this tomorrow.

First, it is difficult to write about just the happenings of a specific chapter. We know so much of the mythology that surrounds Dracula, no matter what the source. I think anyone who reads this story comes into it with a certain amount of cultural baggage (possibly of the worst kind). I'm going to carry it as best I can.

I came to a simple conclusion reading the first chapter of Dracula that I'm sure other readers have as well. This Dracula — Stoker's Dracula — is a far cry from the caricatures that have been on display in the media of the past hundred years. This Dracula is not a cartoon-ish Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, but a suave and convincing and truly dangerous and frightening creature. He is able to get his way without question or rebuke. It's said that Stoker modeled the Count after Sir Henry Irving. I don't know much about Irving, but his image surely does fit the picture I had in my mind.

"You cannot deceive me, my friend. I know too much, and my horses are swift"

- D. (as the coach driver)

The exhilarating mad rush of the first chapter, where Jonathan is being whisked to Castle Dracula by a mysterious coach driver, is an appropriate introduction to the Count. We find out early in Chapter II that the nameless driver is in fact the Count himself.

"Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring!" The strength of the handshake was so much akin to that which I had noticed in the driver, whose face I had not seen, that for a moment I doubted if it were not the same person to whom I was speaking. So to make sure, I said interrogatively, "Count Dracula?"

-J.H. journal Chap. I
Welcome to the fun-house. At this point, I started to think about what type of character Dracula really is. Stoker's description of him had already surprised me and discredited many of the preconceptions that I had of the Count. Here, I was being presented with a sly and strangely urbane character. I came to a realization.

Dracula is a trickster.

I do mean that in the Jungian sense. At first glance (and relying on collective cultural baggage and preconceptions), Count Dracula would ostensibly seem to fit the archetype of the Shadow. Lurking, hiding. A sinister foreigner. Gypsy. Thief and burglar of blood. Inchoate. There but not there. The stuff of nightmares. But, as we see in the first chapter, he doesn't actually hide in the shadows, he has no need to. He uses deceit to achieve his goals from the very first time we meet him. He's always a step ahead. He is cunning, funny, and foolish but not the fool. He is an animal master. A gypsy shaman.

"Once there appeared a strange optical effect. When he stood between me and the flame he did not obstruct it, for I could see its ghostly flicker all the same. This startled me, but as the effect was only momentary, I took it that my eyes deceived me straining through the darkness. Then for a time there were no blue flames, and we sped onwards through the gloom, with the howling of the wolves around us, as though they were following in a moving circle. "

"As he swept his long arms, as though brushing aside some impalpable obstacle, the wolves fell back and back further still."

Joseph Campbell describes the trickster as "a fool and a cruel, lecherous cheat, an epitome of the principle of disorder, he is nevertheless the culture bringer." Dracula is a destroyer of lives and a savior. He offers immortality, at a price. Much like Hermes, the Coyote, and other archetypal tricksters, Dracula is constantly changing form and shape and attitude. He's here and then he's over there. He will morph his own psyche in order to control yours. He is a bearer of a kind of gift, and a shepherd for those who follow him into immortality. Here's where the cultural baggage comes in. I'm assuming he is 'immortal' in the vampire tradition. In fact, I am assuming he is a vampire since it has not been explicitly stated yet in the novel, and may never.

Tricksters do not use force, they use deception. They are driven to manipulate. According to Jung, the trickster is "a collective shadow figure, an epitome of all the inferior traits of the character individuals." It's too early to tell if Dracula will indeed play the trickster throughout the novel. Its a subject I'd like to revisit. But, is it even useful to try and place an archetype on this creature? Campbell says that archetypes are expressions of the biological nature. Something built into the nature of being human. Dracula is not human. Should we conform him to human archetypes? Who knows. My theories may not pan out, but it's something to think about while reading.

Questions I'll be looking forward to answering as I read: Tricksters exhibit gender and form variability. Does Dracula specifically feed on women in the novel? Would it break Victorian conventions for him to do otherwise?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Noteworthy that Dracula feeds from men only from necessity and then takes care to dispose of the bodies so they won't rise. (The ocean Voyage.) When he promises undeath to Van Helsing, Harker and company, he is very clear that the plans for it to come through Mina.