Dracula — a word from the Library Book Club

First edition of Dracula, published by Archibald Constable and Company (UK), 26 May 1897 First edition of Dracula, published by Archibald Constable and Company (UK), 26 May 1897

This week (September 22 – 28) is Banned Books Week, so it seems appropriate to address the controversy surrounding Dracula, one of the titles on the Library Book Club’s fall reading list.

The purpose of the Library Book Club is to encourage the reading of literary classics as well as contemporary works that may become classics. We strive to read as diverse a list each year as possible. The main criteria for inclusion on the schedule are literary quality, readability and appropriate length, and projected interest by the Regent community.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is a recognized classic in which Christian themes such as temptation, sin, and good versus evil are everywhere present. Dr. Susannah Clements, author of The Vampire Defanged: How the Embodiment of Evil Became a Romantic Hero, offers this explanation of the novel’s relevance for Christians:

Dracula is all about sin and faith. Stoker uses the figure of the vampire to explore metaphorically what sin and temptation look like—how sin infects the human heart and the consequences of it. Just as in other literature with fantasy elements (e.g. The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia), the fantastic, paranormal elements are used to give the author a way to explore themes in a context that strikes readers unexpectedly and therefore gives them more power.

It’s important to understand that the book is not on the side of the vampire (and therefore evil and sin). It’s all about how sin may appear darkly compelling, but how absolutely and invariably destructive it is. In more contemporary vampire stories, there is ambiguity around this issue—many of them questioning any sort of distinction between good and evil. There is no such ambiguity in Stoker. The heroes are Christian warriors, armed with faith and consciously seeing themselves as fighting the vampire for the sake of God’s kingdom. The novel is fully grounded in a Christian worldview. Ultimately, it is only faith in the power of Christ that leads to victory over sin, symbolized by the vampire.

Unlike The Arabian Nights, Canterbury Tales, and Leaves of Grass, among other classic works of literature, one distinction that Dracula cannot claim is placement on the list of frequently challenged or banned books. The Library Book Club invites readers who question the appropriateness of reading Dracula at a Christian university to read the novel, and join us on November 8 for a robust exchange of opinion.