Monday, November 25, 2019

Exploring WEIRD TALES – “Dracula’s Guest” by Bram Stoker


Back to the Victorian Era! At last!

And with Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula to boot!

…sort of.

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Horror fiction takes many forms – from the long, slow build-up to the short, sharp shock. Much of what I have commented on previously has been of the longer, more detailed variety. And, while I will continue to examine such works, I turn now to the pages of Weird Tales magazine for a dose or two (or more!) of the short, sharp shock.

Continuing my studies into vampire horror fiction and furthering my exploration of select stories in Weird Tales magazine, surprisingly, I find myself returning to Bram Stoker!

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Then while the flood of moonlight still fell on the marble tomb, the storm gave further evidence of renewing, as though it was returning on its track. Impelled by some sort of fascination, I approached the sepulchre to see what it was, and why such a thing stood alone in such a place. I walked around it, and read, over the Doric door, in German:

COUNTESS DOLINGEN OF GRATZ
IN STYRIA
SOUGHT AND FOUND DEATH
1801

On the top of the tomb, seemingly driven through the solid marble—for the structure was composed of a few vast blocks of stone—was a great iron spike or stake. On going to the back I saw, graven in great Russian letters:

“The dead travel fast.”

There was something so weird and uncanny about the whole thing that it gave me a turn and made me feel quite faint. I began to wish, for the first time, that I had taken Johann's advice. Here a thought struck me, which came under almost mysterious circumstances and with a terrible shock. This was Walpurgis Night!

[page 852-853]

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This post considers “Dracula’s Guest” as it appeared in Weird Tales magazine. “Dracula’s Guest,” penned by Bram Stoker, appeared in the December 1927 issue of Weird Tales and was included in Weird Tales as part of the magazine’s “Weird Story Reprint” series. Usually the last piece in the issue, it commemorated a horror tale previously published either in Weird Tales or some other work.

Weird Tales is an American pulp magazine specializing in horror and fantasy. It was founded in late 1922 with its first issue dated March 1923. Weird Tales was known for printing works of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Seabury Quinn, Robert Bloch and many, many other notable genre authors. Plagued throughout its existence with financial woes, Weird Tales ended its initial publication run in 1954. Subsequently there were several attempts to restart the magazine. With the cessation of the latest attempt to resurrect Weird Tales with the Spring 2014 issue (No. 362), Weird Tales went dormant until Fall 2019. Weird Tales resumed publication in August 2019 with its most recent issue, No. 363.


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Weird Tales was not this story’s first appearance in print. In 1914, George Routledge and Sons, book publishers in the U.K., released Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories.


This collection of nine short stories comprises four tales published for the first time as well as five previously published. Opening the collection, and following a very interesting and short Preface, was “Dracula’s Guest,” being one of the four published here for the first time. That almost wasn’t the case...

In Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories, Florence Stoker pulled these tales together in honor of her late husband’s wishes.


In authoring the “Preface” to this collection, she has this to say about the story making up this post’s focus:

To his original list of stories in this book, I have added an hitherto unpublished episode from “Dracula.” It was originally excised owing to the length of the book, and may prove of interest to the many readers of what is considered my husband’s most remarkable work.

So, according to Mrs. Stoker, “Dracula’s Guest” was edited out of the original text of Dracula only due to concerns regarding the length of the work. “Dracula’s Guest” was intended to be part of 1897’s Dracula! And, it is only due to Florence’s good intentions that it was included in the 1914 collection. Even though some modern scholars dispute Mrs. Stoker’s account that “Dracula’s Guest” was excised from an early draft of Dracula, I tend to believe Mrs. Stoker. Considering that she was actually present when Bram wrote the words.

If not for her actions, “Dracula’s Guest” might never have seen the light of day!

Thank you, Mrs. Stoker.

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In this brief tale (told as a straight first-person narrative—unlike 1897’s Dracula which was written in an epistolary style.), an Englishman is leaving Munich to travel to some unknown location. The narrator, this Englishman, did not heed the warnings of the local people concerning their folk beliefs—especially on this Walpurgis Nacht.

Along the journey, the Englishman learns of a long-deserted village. Against the fervent wishes of his coachman, he decides to explore the village and sends the coach back to Munich. By nightfall, having walked for some time and enduring a storm, the moonlight revealed to the Englishman that he had wandered into a graveyard! Standing before him was a great marble tomb to some forgotten Styrian Countess.

At last, he began to appreciate his plight. He was in a depopulated town and all alone on Walpurgis Nacht—the night when the dead walk! With this realization came hailstones out of the storm. The Englishman ran to the tomb seeking shelter.

Surprisingly, he found he could open the tomb door and happily entered the tomb’s sanctuary from the weather. A lightning flash showed him a beautiful woman asleep on the bier. All at once, he was ejected from the tomb into the storm by some unknown force. The figure of the “sleeping” woman screamed in agony. The unknown power, then, dragged the Englishman into unconsciousness.

Returning to consciousness, the Englishman realized that a large wolf lay upon him. Suddenly, with the arrival of a troop of cavalry, the wolf fled into the cemetery. The troopers were excited to find the Englishman alive and unharmed.

On their return to Munich, it was revealed that the Englishman owed his salvation to his aristocratic host—Dracula!

On a side-note, it is commonly thought that this Englishman was Jonathan Harker on his way to meet Count Dracula.

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The unusual publishing history of “Dracula’s Guest,” coupled with select comments by Mrs. Stoker (in my opinion), added layers of complexity and interest to this short story. And, by appearing in Weird Tales, “Dracula’s Guest” provided a new glimpse into the 1897 classic, Dracula. More importantly, it’s actual publication in Weird Tales exposed new audiences to this lesser known Stoker work.

I certainly speak for myself, but knowing all the background to this story’s publishing history, I think I appreciate “Dracula’s Guest” more as a stand-alone short as opposed to a chapter in a larger novel. While not a significant work in the evolution and expansion of vampire literature, it is nevertheless a fun read.


Good evening.






References


Print Resources


Digital Resources

Stoker, Bram. “Dracula’s Guest.” Weird Tales. Popular Fiction Publishing Company. December 1927. Volume 10 Number 06. [PDF file]. <https://archive.org/details/WeirdTalesV10N06192712>

Online Resources

The Fine Art Diner. “For the Dead Travel Fast: Dracula.” The Fine Art Diner. Blogger.com. 14 October 2011. Web. 12 November 2019. <http://thefineartdiner.blogspot.com/2011/10/for-dead-travel-fast-dracula.html>

Von Ruff, Al. “Publication: Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Stories.” The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. ISFDB. Web. 06 November 2019. <http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?296657>

Von Ruff, Al. “Title: Dracula's Guest.” The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. ISFDB. Web. 06 November 2019. <http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?83927>

Wikipedia contributors. "Dracula’s Guest." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 September 2019. Web. 26 October 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula%27s_Guest>