'Dracula' and the Liminal Zone

[written by Vampire Awareness Month co-conspirator, Mark S. Deniz]

(Disclaimer: in this particular post I do not go into any great lengths to exemplify what the liminal zone is, beyond the description given nor do I attempt to explain Stoker’s interest in it. My post is merely to show my interest in the two)

The Liminal Zone

LIMINAL (Latin limin, “threshold”): A liminal space is a blurry boundary zone between two established and clear spatial areas, and a liminal moment is a blurry boundary period between two segments of time. Most cultures have special rituals, customs, or markers to indicate the transitional nature of such liminal spaces or liminal times. Examples include boundary stones, rites of passage, high school graduations, births, deaths, marriages, carrying the bride over the threshold, etc. These special markers may involve elaborate ceremonies (wedding vows), special wardrobe (mortarboard caps and medieval scholar’s gown), or unusual taboos (the custom of not seeing the bride before the wedding). Liminal zones feature strongly in folklore, mythology, and Arthurian legend. See the Other World for further information. For in-depth discussion, see Victor Turner’s Drama, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society.[1]


Dracula is an 1897 novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, featuring as its primary antagonist the vampire Count Dracula. It was first published as a hardcover in 1897 by Archibald Constable and Co.

Dracula has been attributed to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. Structurally it is an epistolary novel, that is, told as a series of letters, diary entries, ships’ logs, etc. Literary critics have examined many themes in the novel, such as the role of women in Victorian culture, conventional and conservative sexuality, immigration, colonialism, postcolonialism and folklore. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel’s influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical, film and television interpretations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.[2]

‘Dracula’ and the Liminal Zone

Stoker’s novel is riddled with examples of the liminal zone, most significantly the title character Count Dracula, who is neither living or dead but, as Van Helsing calls him, one of the un-dead, existing in this threshold state. Even though the term liminal is most often used in conjunction with spirits, there is such a wealth of instances in the book that when you start looking for them, you almost find yourself slipping into some quasi-dimensional space of your own.

Take for example the narrative, many novels work with a standard format of third person or first person narrative (with the occasional braving the intriguing but extremely difficult second person narrative). Stoker uses many main characters – who would you say the main character of ‘Dracula’ is? I once thought Harker, or Mina, or even Van Helsing but whilst re-reading the book I can’t help thinking that if I have to give one narrator the title of main character it has to be Dr. Seward, as it seems his narration uses much more ‘airtime’ in the novel – but they all employ varying methods to impart their information: Lucy uses hand written journals, Mina is perfecting shorthand, whilst her husband Harker is proficient in shorthand and Dr. Seward speaks into a phonograph (employed by Cushing’s Van Helsing in ‘Dracula – 1958).

The location of the castle, as early as page one, gives us a lovely sense of the liminal:

I find that the district he named is in the extreme east of the country, just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia and Bukovina.[3]

We often talk of his accommodation being in Transylvania and forget the other two. Not even his castle can be said to belong to one place, one region, it is on a threshold.

Dracula, for obvious reasons is the subject of much of this examination of the liminal. Here we have one of Harker’s descriptions of him:

What manner of man is this, or what manner of creature is it in the semblance of a man?[4]

Before Van Helsing expresses similar views on Lucy:

It is her body, yet not it. But wait a while, and you shall see her as she was, and is[5]

That beautifully Van Helsing-esque quote, says much about the blurring of things, people, places in this wonderful novel: we have a scientist (Van Helsing) using spiritual and religious beliefs (at a time when there was much opposition between science and faith), we have sweet, beautiful Lucy turned into a killer, in the most foul way, as she is a killer of small children, the Demeter (the ship carrying Dracula and also goddess of the Earth in Greek mythology, sailing the seas…) crashing in Whitby (beaches long used as an expression of the liminal – the land formed of the sea) and much of the action takes place at dusk and twilight (between day and night) with the climactic scene taking place at sunset.

There is much to be looked at within the novel that I haven’t even begun to touch on here: the madness/lucidity of Renfield, the whole concept of a woman with a woman’s heart and a man’s brain (Mina) and that Mina spends the latter half of the novel in a liminal state, powerless to stop herself aiding it, that which her friends and husband hunt.

Hunter becomes the hunted, becomes the hunter, becomes the hunted…

I have much more to say but feel that I am on the threshold between blog post and more serious article. The post was intended to be more of an introduction to a topic that has interested me very much over the years and one that helps maintain my opinion, that for all its flaws and shortcomings, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the finest novels every written.


[1] Link: http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/lit_terms_L.html

[2] Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula

[3] Dracula; Stoker, Bram; Bantam Classics Edition 1981; pgs. 1-2

[4] Dracula; Stoker, Bram; Bantam Classics Edition 1981; pg. 35

[5] Dracula; Stoker, Bram; Bantam Classics Edition 1981; pg. 225


The Domestication of the Vampire

[written by writer and reviewer, Sharon Ring]

I’ve been wondering how we made it from this,

Fear me!

to this.


As we’ve moved through Vampire Awareness Month I’ve been reading each blog post with great interest. I wanted to understand how vampire fiction has evolved from its earliest days of folklore to eighteenth century poetry, into nineteenth century gothic novels and through into modern cinema and literature. I also wanted to understand how each person who contributed and commented throughout the month perceives the vampire on a more personal level. Just what is our fascination with these creatures, why does the myth persist and why are vampires, as far as I can tell, the most oft-used fictional genre monster? Seriously, how does the vampire, more than any other fictional creature, manage to successfully reinvent itself through the generations?

Before I get any deeper into this train of thought, let me tell you a little about my own introduction to the world of vampire fiction, both literary and cinematic.

My first vampire book was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, read at the tender age of eleven, and the first vampire movie was the TV miniseries of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, watched at around the same age. Both tales affected me deeply although they troubled me in quite different ways. What connected them however, despite the seventy-eight year difference in each story’s creation, was the presence of the evil predator in our midst. It seemed to me at such a young age that this “presence of evil” was the most vital aspect of the vampire mythology: all things considered, I still believe this to be the most important part of any well-told vampire tale.

It's me again...

Back to the present day. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly Neil Gaiman talked about “what vampires get to represent”. His point of view is that with each generation of readers and movie-watchers the vampire is given a fresh role to play, a role that reflects the morals and ideals of the world into which this new incarnation arrives. I have to agree with Gaiman on this to a certain extent; the movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read about vampires over the years have definitely moved the creature through a number of subtle and not-so-subtle changes. Looking at the overall picture, from the earliest fictional vampires right up to the present day, we can see how societal attitudes have shaped our depiction of the creatures. Repressed sexuality and gender inequality in Victorian times, xenophobia throughout both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the sexual revolution of the post-war western world, have all served to define the creature who stalks the pages of the vampire novel or who broods on the big screen.

Inevitably, and mostly for the good, this leads to huge differences in interpretation of the vampire myth. In both books and movies there appears to be a vampire for everyone: you can still find the predatory, murderous vampire if you look hard enough but most of what you’ll find out there, in mainstream cinema and paranormal romance novels particularly, seems a poor imitation of what most of us consider to be the “real” vampire.

Today’s most popular vampire, Edward Cullen, is a rather insipid looking, generically handsome brooding teenager. He attends school to give the impression of a “normal” life, in daylight no less. Not sunlight, mind, sunlight is dangerous. Why, we wonder? Will he smoulder and burn, disintegrating before Bella’s eyes? No, he fucking SPARKLES! Yes, he sparkles, and it just wouldn’t do to be seen sparkling now, would it? I’ll say no more on Twilight for a moment, lest I begin to smoulder and burn myself.

Where's that Cullen bloke? I'm hungry!

Vampires for the grown-ups don’t do much better. The most popular vampires out there now for adult readers and television watchers – True Blood – based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I like True Blood and I’d be a hypocrite to pretend otherwise. It has its fair share of gore and not all the vampires in it contain their bloodlust, far from it. Still, despite my fondness for the show (not the books, they’re bloody awful), I have got to say that True Blood is little more than vampire candy floss.

What we’ve done, ladies and gentlemen, in our endeavours to reinvent and re-imagine the modern vampire, is made him a little too much like ourselves. Gone is that sense of the true outsider, we’ve replaced that with a bunch of moody teenage vampires. Gone is the dangerous sexual predator, he’s been usurped by the caring and sharing vampire boyfriend.

We have domesticated one of our most feared monsters, made him (and her) handsome and pretty, with human emotions and a whole new way of life that allows them to enjoy a little intimacy with the human race. Their previous elusive and disturbing qualities are now diluted to the point where they may as well now be us, albeit with a vague aversion to sunlight.

In the same Entertainment Weekly interview, Gaiman says, “… it kind of feels like now we’re finishing a vampire wave; at the point where they’re everywhere.” I hope he’s right. When we’ve reached a point where vampires sparkle in the sunlight, it’s time to call it a day, at least for a while. Stick the vampires back in their coffins, hammer a few extra nails into the lid and don’t let them back out to play until they’ve re-grown their fangs and washed off all the glitter.

Dracula: A Personal Perspective

[writtern by reviewer, Mihai Adascalitei]

I was born in the land of Dracula, but have honestly never seen the attraction in vampires.

Castle Bran: 'Home of Dracula'

Still, Bram Stoker’s Dracularemains an interesting book, and one novel that I remember without effort. The fictional character of Dracula is associated with the historical figure of Vlad Tepes, one of the most imposing figures of Romanian history, but the association doesn’t always do Vlad justice.

Vlad Tepes: Mass murderer or slightly misunderstood?

He is seen as a very cruel figure but I dare to suggest that Vlad Tepes was not all that different from other rulers of his period. Raised from an early age at the High Porte, Vlad might have picked up a few torture methods from the Ottoman Empire but there are references of another Romanian ruler of that time, Stefan III of Moldavia, using the famous impaling technique. Although Vlad’s rule was short, it was dominated by hard times and he imposed equally harsh measures in return.

Another key point in the image of Vlad Țepeș is his relationship with the local boyars. Returning from his imprisonment at the High Porte he took the throne of Wallachia for a short period in 1448 and for a second time in 1455. Among his first important acts was to seek revenge for the assassination of his father and the death and torture of his older brother at the hands of the local boyars. Many were impaled as punishment and others were forced on a long march to Poenari where they were sentenced to work rebuilding a ruined fortress. Vlad Țepeș imposed new taxes on foreign merchants in order to protect local commercial activity, which led to exaggerations of the punishments he imposed on those who failed to follow his commercial laws. It is true that his favorite method of punishment was impalement, which lead to his surname Țepeș (the Impaler), but also led to a local legend; it is said that during his rule a gold cup was left in the central square of Târgoviște for thirsty travellers to drink from, and that cup was never stolen during Vlad’s reign.

It is true that his favorite method of punishment was impalement, which lead to his surname Țepeș (the Impaler), but also led to a local legend; it is said that during his rule a gold cup was left in the central square of Târgoviște for thirsty travellers to drink from, and that cup was never stolen during Vlad’s reign.

Vlad enjoys a little entertainment with his supper

The region is synonymous with the vampire, a creature that has haunted the local folklore since ancient times. Representations of evil, “strigoii”, as they were called in the past, gradually evolved into the shape-shifting, bloodthirsty beings with the power to control the human mind that we now know as vampires. John Polidori crafted a new image for the creatures with his novel The Vampyre, but Bram Stoker’s Dracula is considered to be the work that laid the foundation for the modern vampire in fiction.

The birth of cinema turned Dracula into a cinematic icon. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Dracula has 223 appearances on the silver screen, but for me the most memorable is the 1992 Francis Ford Copolla movie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. With a few exceptions, the movie has a beautiful atmosphere, some excellent images and above all a very talented Gary Oldman in the role of Count Dracula. Impersonating a dark and dangerous character, but also injecting sensuality and elegance into his role, Gary Oldman makes a perfect Dracula. His performance is even more impressive considering the high standards imposed for this role by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. Come to think of it, there is a 1979 Romanian movie dedicated to the historical figure of Vlad Țepeș and I believe that Gary Oldman would make an excellent Vlad if the movie were to be remade.

Oldman as the greatest vampire of them all

Like I said, I was born in the land of Dracula but I am not particularly fond of vampires. Without Dracula, however, I would be drawn away from vampires definitely and irrevocably.

Greg Perreault's intepretation of Dracula

The Tragic Warrior: A Review of ‘Dracula’ (1973)

[Written by author and reviewer, Robert Hood]

Dracula: (US-1973; TV; dir. Dan Curtis)

For several decades, Dan Curtis (who passed away of a brain tumor in March of 2006) lurked in the background of horror film commentary, relegated to being something of an outsider because he specialised in television production. Most famous, perhaps, for his involvement in the vampire melodrama series Dark Shadows (1966-70, 1990-91), he was also responsible for many horror films, including (as director) House of Dark Shadows (1970), The Night Strangler (1973), Scream of the Wolf (1974), Turn of the Screw (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Burnt Offerings (1976), Intruders (1992), Trilogy of Terror II (1996), and (as producer) Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1968), The Night Stalker (1972), Frankenstein (1973) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1973). These are the work of a man with a firm grasp on the aesthetics of the horror film and the technicalities of evoking an atmosphere of terror. And one of his most memorable efforts was the tele-movie Dracula (1973), starring Jack Palance as the Count.

This version of the Bram Stoker novel is not only more faithful to its source than most, but contains one of the best portrayals of the vampire lord yet produced for the screen. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula might be the more recognisable and the most iconic of them all, but Palance’s Dracula is frightening and imposing, and exudes a power that few have captured on the screen before or since. He is superb — probably the first Dracula to encompass such inhuman complexity, coming over as both fascinating and unnerving. He is physically dominant throughout and conveys a wonderful sense of dark power: aristocratic without being effete; yet strangely, deeply haunted by his lost humanity. What’s more he looks like he might have led armies — and not gentlemanly armies, but armies of semi-barbaric warriors. Palance’s reaction when Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) thrusts the cross at him is a superb example of the complexity he brings to the role; it hurts him and he must turn away, yet he fights it with an almost despairing anger. The emotions — loss, desire, hate, despair and animalistic rage — swirl across Palance’s features: confronting, yet not melodramatic and overplayed. Palance has more than a touch of Christopher Lee in his performance, but he brings more complexity to its emotional nuancing than Lee ever managed to give the role — as effectively imposing as the latter was. 

Coppola’s Dracula takes much from this version, too — including the “lost love” storyline, which Curtis (and Matheson) introduced as a way of giving their Count a more emotionally potent rationale for immigrating to England, while opening a door on his lost humanity. It was to become a “standard” of the Dracula cinematic myth. Over all, in fact, the Richard Matheson script is an imaginative masterpiece — inventive, yet closer to the book than any that preceded it. Curtis’ direction is also creative and wonderfully controlled, if somewhat constrained by TV budgets and TV-style cinematography (though he continually pushes the limits of standard contemporary practice, creating effective camera movements that cause the viewer to focus on important visual information yet otherwise carry him/her effortlessly through the narrative). Davenport as Van Helsing is not in Peter Cushing’s league, of course, but he is more than serviceable, and both Fiona Lewis as Lucy Westenra and Penelope Horner as Mina Murray bring a convincing sensuality to their roles as Dracula’s less-than-unwilling victims.

 But it is Palance who gives the film its frisson. His cry of suprahuman despair over the staking of his long-lost love — and the coldly inhuman revenge he pursues in its aftermath — stays with you long after the film has ended.

First published on Robert Hood’s website: www.roberthood.net

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