I have recently finished reading “Let the Right One In” of which I think may be the most brilliant contemporary vampire novel ever to be written and was a true work of genius which offered so much more than just a vampire story, and while on the one hand was true to the vampire, it still was able to adapt the vampire into a modern context. I have also recently read “Dracula” which though not the first appearance of the literary vampire, it is certainly one of the most well known and for good reason. I belive there was a strong “Dracula” influence within “Let the Right One In” I found a lot of similarities between the books and so I wish to compare and contrast the classical view of the vampire with this modern rendition.
The main points on which these stories should be compared is, on how they construct their vampires, the way in which each author draws from traditional vampire folklore, how the vampires fit into the age in which they are being written, and than the structure and content of the stories themselves and similarities in how the stories are put together.
The best place to start is with of course with the very beginning, that being where does the vampire come from?
In both these stories it remains a mystery just where the vampire originally emerged and how the first vampire came to be, but they both offer their own views in way of an explanation of the presence of the vampire. Stoker alludes to the historical Vlad the Impler, linking his Dracula with the historical Count and coming out of the period of the 1800′s a period in which men were embracing reason and logic and moving away from old superstitions, and yet religion still played an important role within the backdrop of it all. Stoker’s Dracula draws upon the religion portraying vampirism as a curse, an impurity of the soul and relying upon religious iconography as the method in which the vampire is to be repelled. The vampire is seen as an incarnation of evil that does not have a conscious mind, though it displays intelligence and cleverness, it is given no control over its actions, no mortality.
In “Let the Right One In” Lindqvist modernizes the understanding of the vampire, and moves away from old religious beliefs which while religion still has a strong hold in the modern age, would not on a wider scale satisfy to explain the existence of vampires to a wider audience and would seem more far fetched than in Stokers day. So Lindqvist turns to science for his answer. In his story vampirism is explained as being a sort of disease, a cancer which overtakes and evolves the body.
One interesting thing to note is the character of Virgina from “Let the Right One In” and Mina from “Dracula” as there does bear some similarities between the two individuals. What is most particularly interesting is both women become infected or cursed by the vampire. In the case of Mina, Van Helsing places a cross against her forehead which burns into her skin, and throughout the novel she struggles with what has been done with her in fear that she will be driven to hurt the ones she loves and she makes the others promise that if she changes beyond the ability to be saved they must take her life. She laments many times that she is “impure”
Virgina has a similar experience once she realizes what has been done to her, what she has become she struggles with herself and what she knows is happening to her, and she lives in fear of what she will be driven to do to those whom she is close with, and while Mina cries of impurity, Virgina cries the lament that she has been infected and in the end she does find the means in which to end her own life, both to save herself as well as to save those she is close to.
There are other ways in which these characters can be compared and contrasted to each other and how there can be seen similarities in them. In a way the very fact that they seem so different from each other points out the ways in which they are the same. Virgina could very well be the modern manifestation of Mina when they are viewed in the context of the times in which they lived. In some ways Mina can be seen as typical of a Victorian woman. She is virtuous, a loyal wife to her husband, pure and chaste, yet in other ways she is quite unconventional of her time. She is noted for having a “mind like a man” She possesses a great reason and ability for rational thought of which would be uncommon for a woman in the Victorian mindset. She also has a great courage and bravery that would be atypical of a woman at this period of time.
Virgina can be seen in a similar way. In many ways she can be viewed as a typical woman of the modern age, a single woman who had been married once before, dedicates her time to her job, does not really feel the need to be held down by domestic ties. Yet on the other hand there are aspects of her which push the boundaries and make her unconventional. The fact that while she loves one man, Lacke she is incapable of allowing herself to get close to another person and carries on meaningless sexual relations with random men as a form of protection to herself.
As we have discussed how the notion of the vampire is conceived, and ideas of curses and infections the next step is to review how each of these authors explain how a vampire may create others, and one of the most intrigues aspects of the vampire is the vampires bite. The differences here I find to be quite interesting.
It seems that when it comes to understanding how vampirism can be passed on, Anne Rice actually took a note from Stoker in the way in which Stoker puts forth the idea that there must be an exchange of blood on both sides, but it also seems for Dracula it is a process which takes a period of time to secure. Dracula visits his victim upon a nightly basis each time drawing little by little more blood to eventually lead to the complete draining of the blood of the victim and once the victim bodily dies, they are reborn to arise as the vampire. In a rather evocative and sensual scene in which Dracula visits Mina it seems that the victim must also take of Dracula blood as part of the changing process. In addition Dracula is able to use a form of mind control over his victims and compel them to him he also seeks out victims to turn and draw to him. It seems that is primary interest is in women, when we first meet him he has a harem of three brides, and he goes after both Lucy and Mina. This plays upon the fears and anxieties of female sensuality which existed at the time, and the importance of virtue and chastity in a woman. The women when under the influence of Dracula are made to seem grotesque in the blatant seductions and their open sexuality, they men are repelled by this and made horrified.
“Let the Right One In” takes a different approach. In consideration of the fact that vampirism is presented as a disease, the spread of it works in the same way as a virus, in a way that is rather reflective of Zombie movies. All it takes is one bite from the vampire for the infection to be passed on to the victim, but interestingly enough Eli, the vampire of Lindqvist, does not seek to make others and kills those who are in danger of being infected by the virus to prevent its spread. As well for this reason Eli attacks others purely for the sake of feeding without any other motive in mind, and it seems that the infection works independently in each person, meaning there is no concept of Eli have any form of control over those whom are subject to the bite. One more thing of which I have to talk about that I loved about “Let the Right One In’ is instead of the classical neat little two fangs which we are use to in vampires, Eli’s feeding is much more savage and animatistic in which he has a mouthful of sharp teeth and instead of neat little puncture wounds to duck out the blood Eli rips and tears.
Now let us review some other common aspects of vampire folklore and how these authors address these things:
Mirrors: Stoker holds true to the myth and has one very powerful scene in which to demonstrate this as well as offer the reader one of the first suggestions that there is something strange going on. Dracula cast no reflection within a mirror. There is one moment in which John Harker is at the castle Dracula and he makes an observation that there are no mirrors to be found within the house, he then sets to shaving with a hand held mirror he brought with him when Dracula walks in behind him and Harker notices that his reflection does not appear within the mirror.
A contrast scene appears within “Let the Right One In” where mirrors seem to have no effect upon vampires. At one point after Virgina had contracted the infection she happens to take a look at herself within the bathroom mirror and was confronted back by her reflection. This of course does further support the theory of disease, for traditionally the lack of a reflection is meant to be indicated by a vampire having no soul.
Garlic: Van Helsing makes considerable use of garlic as a repellant of Dracula, while garlic takes no role within “Let the Right One In”
Sleeping: Now this is another interesting one in which there are both strong differences as well as curious similarities. As usual Stoker takes a very classical approach to the method of a vampires sleeping, though he also seems to add some things of his own invention. Dracula tradtionally must make his rest within a coffin and when he travels from Transylvania to London it seems crucial that he bring with him dirt from his native land. He travels with 60 boxes full of Transylvanian soil in which to lay down in. As well when Lucy sucumbs to the curse she is compelled to always return back to the tomb in which she was berried.
In “Let the Right One In” there is a more modernistic approach in which all that seems to be required is that the vampire have a dark place in which to lock themselves into during the day, though there is one interesting aspect about “Let the Right One In” which seems to take a note out of Madame Bathery, and that is a scene in which Eli’s place of slumber was invaded, and Eli was found lying in a bathtub full lf blood.
One thing that seems to hold true for both these books though, is that in both cases the vampires seem compelled to “sleep” during the day, yet at the same time it a sleep that is not truly sleep, but rather a sort of shutting down of their bodies in which they do seem to be rendered paralyzed and unable to move physically, in a trance like state.
Now this talk leads to of course the role of the sun. Now here I find Stoker’s concept to be most interesting because it actually rivals against what we have come to think as a part of traditional folk lore. As it turns out the sun is not in fact deadly to Dracula, and further more there are a few moments in which he is seen actually moving around during the daylight. It seems that while he lacks some of his power during the day and is stronger at night, the sun does not physical affect him.
In contrast in “Let the Right One In” the sun most be avoided, vampires experience physical pain if they venture out into the sun and it causes their skin to actually burn. In the end Virgina uses the sun as the means in which to kill herself.
Now before I venture any further I think I should say some important things about Eli, as Eli does make for a very unusual and atypical vampire. Eli appears in the image of a 12 year old girl, though in truth Eli is in fact void of sex, Eli is neither boy or girl, and in a rather interesting concept Eli is immortality 12 years old. While Eli’s mind may perhaps have a certain mature understanding that would not be found in typical 12 year old, Eli’s mind does not actually truly age beyond being 12 anymore than the body does.
Now one very interesting about this in connection with Dracula, is the fact that while Dracula appears as a full grown man, and Dracula is undoubtedly powerful, Van Helsing describes Dracula as having a ‘childs brain’ Dracula is learning as he goes along, for his trip to London is in fact his first time out of Transylvania and he is discovering and testing the limits of the full extent of his power and capabilities along the way. In this same way Eli is also not all powerful in spite of possessing a grater physical strength as most people, Eli is weak in some ways and needs to rely upon the help of another…..but I do not want to get ahead of myself I will address that in a bit.
There is one more topic in which I want to touch upon first and that is the concept of aging and the vampire. Both Eli and Dracula show signs of age when they have gone a long time without feeding. Dracula appears looking like an old man at first, but soon after a feeding he suddenly looks like a much younger man. While Eli takes on a sickly look, and develop streaks of gray in its hair if it has not fed in a while, and after feeding the gray disappears and a healthy look returns again.
Now to return to a topic of which I touched upon before, both Dracula and Eli bring into their service minions, or companions to assist them with things of which they cannot do themselves, and there are interesting similarities in their choices.
Dracula enlists the help of Renfeild an individual who is instituted within an insane asylum and there is a certain mystery about his past and how it is Dracula came upon him, but the suggestion is because of his unstable mind, it made it easy for Dracula to gain a measure of control over him. He makes promises to Refield to turn him into a vampire in return for his service. But in the end when Renfield is no longer of use to Dracula, Dracula kills him.
Eli also chooses a man of certain mental instability by the name of Hakan, but it is not Hakan’s mental weakness which Eli uses but rather his physical weakness, Eli also offers something to Hakan which Hakan wants in exchange for his service, but in this case Hakan is a pedophile who is attracted to Eli’s child-like appearance, and so in exchange for physical intimacies Hakan does Eli’s bidding. In an interesting twist Eli eventually is lead to infect Hakan and as a result Hakan becomes a complete salve to the infection. He has no self-control or restraint, but degrades into a monster led by his carnal lusts and is driven to hunt Eli down and satisfy his desires.
Now we have discussed aspects of traditional vampire folklore within these stories, as well as touched upon how some of the characters reflect each other, it is time to speak of the structure of the books. Both stories are told using multiple different view points, but they use very different techniques in which to achieve this.
Dracula is told through a series of Diary entires, letters, telegrams, new articles as a way in which to view the story from the perspective of many different characters within the story. Let the Right One In is told in the 3rd person point of view but it gives little episodes throughout the book which highlight the lives, thoughts, experiences of all of the different characters within the book so we are still allowed to see things unfold through varying different view points.
Atmosphere is another important area to touch upon. Dracula rather masterfully uses the gothic style of writing which was quite prevalent at that time and even today is capable of effecting a rather eerie feeling. Gothic literature is defined by some basic elements which can be found in nearly all Gothic literature, we will explore these and how Dracula fits the bill:
1) Setting in a Castle: The story starts off with with John Harker being taken to Castle Dracula, and the first chapters of the book are held within the castle, and the story ends with Dracula making his way back to the castle to have the final encounter after he has been discovered.
2) An atmosphere of mystery and suspense: this predates throughout the entirety of the novel. And I think added to this should be a key element in which often times the physical environment is meant to reflect the emotions of the characters and the events. Lots of rain and storms within gothic novels. The story starts out in a highly suspenseful mode touches of mystery are laced throughout the story.
3) An ancient prophecy: Perhaps this novel lacks an offical declared prophecy, but the story revolves around the legend of Dracula himself, and in a way Van Helsing seems at first almost prophetic with the knowledge he knows, and yet does not at first reveal. The character of Renfield also makes prophetic like statements about his “master” and things of which are coming.
4) Omens, portents, visions: Lucy experiences episodes of sleepwalking and has troubled dreams, and feels uneasy without understanding way and speaks about a figure with “red eyes.” Later Mina also begins to have trouble sleeping and feelings of uneasiness which she cannot explain.
5) Supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events: the answer to this one is obvious, as the stroy is focused around a vampire
6) High and even overwrought emotion: throughout the story all of the characters experience a constant high intensity of emotion as events unfold. John initially suffers from believing he is going mad because of the things of which he experienced, and the story runs on a high level of emotion that is marked primarily be distress and fear.
7) Women in distress: yes, this appears both in the case of Lucy as well as Mina and as a sort of sub-group of women in distress is women under threat by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male, which of course perfectly define Dracula.
And though this gothic atmosphere can still be potent today in sending chills down the spine of the reader, the elements which define the gothic novel are outdated in the modern mindset, and so we shall now view how Lindqvist creates a modernized creepy atmosphere for his story. Moving away from gothic sensationlisim he instead paints a rather black picture that is all the more stark because of the way in which it touches upon reality. As has been indicated prior, the story touches upon the lives of many characters all of whom are struggling with problems of their own and foremost the book is led by the story of Oskar, who can be viewed as the “hero” of the book. A young boy who is terrorized by constant acts of bullying which become progressively more extreme. Living in a state of constant fear and humiliation which make his life miserable. There are also many examples of dysfunctional and broken families which predate through the novel, and of course there is also the examples of pedophile. So this novel touches upon real life problems which are the source of pain and agony and stimulates a very real fear among with the supernatural elements.
One more thing I think is worthy to note the way in which both novels deal with sexuality within the context of their time periods. I have already touched upon the ways in which Dracula deals with the anxieties about sexuality in relation to women and touched upon the Victorian fears. Well Let the Right One In deals with sexuality in a much more modern context by bringing up questions of gender identity through the relationship of Eli and Oskar.
Oskar befriends Eli who moves into the apartment next to his own, and while interestingly the notion of love never directly actually comes up as no real declarations of love are pronounced, an intimate affection grows within Oskar for Eli and she becomes the joy within the darkness of his life ( rather ironically) yet at the same time, this story does not degrade into some romanticized idea of the vampire. Eli remains aloof, distant, though a part of her is drawn to the way in which Oskar does appeal to the child within her. And after Oskar’s discovery of the truth about Eli, the question of her gender, or lack of gender does not disturb Oskar’s feelings towards her, though the notion of the truth of Eli’s nature as a vampire creates a crisis for Oskar, in the end he cannot forsake her.