Just in time for Halloween, Steve Wishnevsky offers a review of a spooky classic.
By Steve Wishnevsky
ANNO DRACULA. By Kim Newman. Simon and Shuster. 1992.
There is a minor branch of Fantasy known as the Pastiche, where the author will jam together fictional and historical characters in a familiar setting, usually for the purposes of amusement. Frequently this is done by apprentice writers, exploring Fan Fiction or Fanfic. Perhaps the genre traces back most directly to apocryphal addendums to the Sherlock Holmes canon, including the worthy Solar Pons novels of August Derleth.
The genre is wide-ranging, diverse and happily devoid of restraint. “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” is a 1974 novel by American writer Nicholas Meyer, exploring the continuing cocaine addiction of Holmes, and featuring an appearance by Sigmund Freud. Another of Meyer’s works, “The West End Horror,” reflects the Jack the Ripper murders. There are many more. The Jack the Ripper murders have, of course, inspired untold volumes of alleged fact, actual fiction and wild combinations of the two.
It is interesting that in many instances, the trivial and sensational literature of a period will outlast the “Serious” works of that time, and will reflect, for all following ages, the lasting image of that specific time. Certainly, “Come, Watson, the game’s afoot,” will invoke Victorian London more succinctly than any other phrase that comes to mind.
Creation of a viable archetype, a Tarzan, a Holmes, a Mike Hammer, is the supreme achievement of the hack writer, his grasp at immortality. Victorian England, with its flourishing periodicals and churning steam-powered presses, produced more still-living archetypes than any other period until the 1950s in America, for sure.
One of the strongest of these was Dracula. There is probably some ink-stained wretch somewhere tabulating every offspring of Bram Stoker’s nightmare, but we need not be concerned with comprehensiveness. Let’s just assume thousands of spin-offs and continue.
Which brings us to this slim, if bloodstained volume. The book opens in 1888, when Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia, has recently married the widowed Victoria Regina, and now rules England as Regent. Many “warm” Londoners, including a certain consulting detective, are locked in prison camps to the north.
Society has embraced vampirism, and only a few of the non-undead (sorry) dare fight against the flow of history. Van Helsing’s head is on a pike in front of Buckingham Palace, and the Diogenes Club, headed by Mycroft Holmes, is left to organize resistance.
A single lonely, half-mad patriot fights on alone, wielding a silver-plated knife. Can you guess that he will soon take the name of Jack?
This is quite the mad book, its humor and erudition exceeded only by its horror and satire. Not a work of art, perhaps, but unforgettable.
Lestrade is here, and Fu Manchu, Raffles and Dr. Jekyll, The Elephant Man, most of Stoker’s doomed characters — it would take a full-time scholar to list them all. Perhaps only George MacDonald Fraser’s “Flashman” sagas are as dense with historical characters and situations, but Newman has no need to limit himself to history. Most of the other classical vampires are here, commenting on the new Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, “turning” their families of dependent vampires for political advantage, while the slums fill with desperate “new borns” selling their immortal blood for a shilling or two.
There are two more volumes in this series, The Bloody Red Baron with Edgar Allen Poe and Baron von Richthofen in the air over the trenches of Verdun, and Judgment of Tears, set in La Dolce Vita Italy of 1959.
If nothing else, these will serve nicely as an antidote to the current wave of cute “Twilight” vampire hotties. These bloodsuckers may be sexy, but they do not sparkle. You have been warned.