When I told our Ancient Greek Philosopher that I was reading Dracula (this was last summer) he thought I might be going insane. Thank goodness AGP's not a real psychologist yet. Besides being an engrossing suspense/supernatural story, Dracula is also filled with worthwhile elements that make it more than just recreational reading. By putting his characters in the presence of the threat of a vampire, Bram Stoker, the Irish author of Dracula, edifies us by implanting in us a horrific and true vision of evil, by giving us a respect for the aids God gives us to combat it, and by presenting to us a marvelous work of character artistry.
Count Dracula of Transylvania first presents himself as a cultured aristocrat, the world-wise descendant of proud (and sometimes cruel) kings of the bleak Hungarian wilderness. He hides, of course, his trademark secret: he is a vampire.
Now, what exactly is a vampire? Intending all the horror the name implies, Stoker calls them "undead," a term clarified in greater degrees of horror as the novel progresses. Dracula, and later his female victim, have, in short, already died, but their bodies remain horribly incorrupt, doomed to involuntarily wander the world in search of bloody humans to devour until the vampires themselves are killed. They are empty and corrupt, dissolving into dust as soon as the evil powers stop sustaining them, just as evil itself is a frightful nothingness, an absence of the goods proper to a thing. The vampires do not need blood to live, they merely cannot resist it; this compares with addiction to sin: the addict does not need to continue to sin to live, but he cannot stop. Dracula can only sleep on cemetery soil blessed by a Catholic priest, and some of his actions are twisted allegories of the life of Jesus (such as the fact that he sleeps on a boat for three days before rising again in England); such parodies of the sacramental system are common in the occult, a faith of which the pre-dead Dracula was a definite and voluntary member. And of course, there is the drinking of human blood, both in the blatantly sickening scene in Transylvania where one of the characters finds the ruby blood of a small baby coloring the count's lips during a vampiric sleeping period and in the subtle fear in the scenes as the vampire's first English victim gradually has her life drained from her by an unseen intruder. As if this was not enough, Stoker directs our horror not only at evil in general, but the particular evil of sensual vice by having Dracula behave in a seductive matter toward his victims. Dracula embodies both evil's fascination and its emptiness.
Fortunately, Stoker places God himself in dramatic contrast to the evil of Dracula. While the use of the somewhat random, spiritually meritless objects like garlic seems to be reminiscent of the simple superstition of the Hungarian peasants, other objects carry God's power and anti-demonic wrath. As long as the dead victim has the crucifix on her chest, for example, she is unable to rise to become a vampire, a precaution that is voided when an unknowing beggar steals the crucifix. The most powerful weapon against the vampires, however, is Jesus himself in the Holy Eucharist. Whenever Dr. Van Huelsing holds the envelope containing the "Sacred Wafer," neither Dracula nor his victims can approach, and one of his victims is actually burned when the Eucharist touches her skin. (Dr. Van Huelsing does commit the a Eucharistic sacrilege at one point, but he had good intentions and may very well have not known that what he was doing was wrong.) Stoker sees the solution to such great evil in the redemptive power of God and the avenues of His power.
And finally, by putting his characters in such difficult situations, Bram Stoker is able to show off his own skills as a writer and use them to further accentuate his theme. Dracula, unlike some villains, is appropriately one of the least interesting characters in the story. Much more fascinating are the American cowboy, brilliant and sensitive Dr. Van Huelsing, and the conversion experience of the local psychologist. Stoker even has the style to make believeable in writing one of the most difficult sorts of scenes to pull off, that of grown men breaking into tears under their stress.
In short, Bram Stoker is an excellent author and Dracula is an excellent book.