One of the guests returning to Pensacon this weekend is the great-grand nephew of an author who created one of the most notorious and enduring characters in literature: Count Dracula.
Early in his life, Dacre Stoker never thought he’d be going into the family business. He was raised in Montreal and taught at Appleby College in Ontario before moving to the U.S. He is a former member of the Canadian men's pentathlon team and coached the team at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. So with all that, how did he become the keeper of the Bram Stoker estate and the legacy of Count Dracula? He talked about it with WUWF's Bob Barrett.
Dacre Stoker: It was a little bit by default. Bram (Stoker) was one of seven children. Only three of them had offspring. He had a son, the son had a daughter and then the Stoker name on (that branch of the family tree) died out. But Bram’s youngest brother, George Stoker, had a son (named) Tom, who moved to Canada after World War I. That’s how my branch of the Stoker (tree) started. And I was on this genealogy quest about 15 years ago, trying to figure out all the connections between George, my dad and his other brothers. One of my father’s brothers was slowly dying of heart disease and he said ‘Dacre, you seem to be interested. I need to give you access to all this material.’ And being the eldest son, and the eldest Stoker, he was the guy who received all this stuff. There are boxes of things in a storage unit in Montreal. My wife and I went up there with the laptop and our scanner, and we scanned all sorts of cool things and we thought (it was all) too good to let go, and if we did (let it go) there would be another generation in our family that wouldn’t know what was really going on or what the connections were between George Stoker and us.
Bob Barrett: Is the character of Dracula in public domain now or is that still owned by the family?
Stoker: Oh no, there’s really nothing still owned by the family besides unpublished work that anybody finds of Bram’s. The novel is in public domain, the character is in public domain, the film rights I even believe have expired. Bram’s widow sold those a long time ago. So we, as the family, don’t make a penny on any royalties nowadays, although we did find in one of his cousin’s attic, a journal of Bram’s. And since that had not been published, I did publish this. I edited it with Dr. Elizabeth Miller and (titled it) “Bram Stoker’s Lost Journal”. That came out in 2012. And that has a 25-year period of protection under the Berne Convention so we are collecting royalties from that one book, but it’s mostly because me and Dr. Elizabeth Miller deciphered it and actually made comments on it. The family made good money back in the day, but the current vampire craze, or let’s say the last 123 years of vampire craze, we’re not profiting on. It’s really a labor of love and deep interest into our relative and what makes him tick and that’s what really gets my attention.
Barrett: So many writers have taken this character in so many directions, where do you want to take him?
Stoker: Oh boy! That’s a great question because I’ve (already) taken him in really two directions. I’ve continued the novel 'Dracula' with the first book that I wrote (called 'Dracula the Undead') that came out in 2009. I continued the story because what’s so cool is that at the end of 'Dracula,' the ending is somewhat ambiguous. The fact that (it was a) knife that was thrust into Dracula’s heart and caused him to crumble into dust and not a stake driven into his heart. To me, that is Bram Stoker saying ‘I’m not actually killing him’. It's Dracula’s way to escape because there was no wooden stake handy. And Bram went into great detail earlier in the novel saying the only way to kill a vampire is with a stake through the heart. Well my idea was he’s not completely dead, he needs to recover. He comes back and where’s he going? And what about the son, the child that’s born at the end of the novel? So, he’s still immortal and I try to keep close to what Bram did but modernized it a little.
Now in the recent book, ('Dracul'), we go back to the very beginnings of Bram Stoker himself and try to figure out what would have been a plausible explanation for Bram writing this novel. And what is such a cool hook is that Bram really was an invalid child for the first seven years of his life. We don’t know what caused it. And I thought okay, I can play with this. This is the hook a writer needs. Let’s say instead of him being blood-let by his uncle (which) I really believe he was, maybe there was something in the blood that he got. Maybe there’s some vampiric intervention. So what I did was fictionalize the real stuff that happened in his life, and looked at what people were really believing at that time, in the late 1800s, about vampirism.
Barrett: So I’m assuming you did not insert Abbott & Costello in there.
Stoker: (laughs) No, but even that is cool! To me, if what Bram created inspires people to go in many directions, and comedy is one of them, I mean we could sit here for another half hour all of the (comedic adaptations of this story). I mean Leslie Neilson, David Niven, all these other (comic actors). That just shows that this product has more beyond just gothic horror which I think is cool and I think Bram would have thought was really awesome.
Barrett: Do you find that there is a definitive cinema version (of Dracula)?
Stoker: In my opinion, and boy oh boy do people have lots of different opinions on this, the BBC did a very faithful adaptation of the novel back in 1977. Louis Jourdan (played) the Dracula character. And I still think that’s the closest, most faithful adaptation of the novel, but it’s interesting that this novel is attracting good talent to reimagine it, to adapt it, to be inspired by it even 123 years after this thing was published.
Dacre Stoker has co-author two novels about the Dracula legend. A sequel called Dracula the Undead, and a prequel called Dracul. He will be a guest at Pensacon this weekend.