I was first introduced to Dracula, or at least whom I suspected to be Dracula (or some relative), at a very young age, and under thoroughly inauspicious circumstances. I was eight, and he had landed himself on the front page of the acclaimed Weekly World News after being discovered in a remote cave in West Virginia. He was shorter and younger, with slightly larger ears and less pronounced canines than I had expected; but what did I know?
It was summer, and I was spending an evening over at a friend’s place who lived in the same apartment complex as I, when I saw the publication resting inconspicuously on his dining-room table. The room was very smokey and dim, except for a bright fluorescent lamp which shined directly above the round particle-board table on which the haunting face of Dracula rested; the apartment smelt of stale cigarettes, and was adorned with Nascar memorabilia and decorative dinnerware. It was here, in this gloomy apartment, where the legend of Dracula came screaming into reality; the ugly brute had found a way to obscure himself throughout the ages, subsisting on livestock and vagabonds I presume, only to be outed on the cover of a grocery-store tabloid.
My gut reaction was to pack up my things and prepare myself for nightfall and Dracula’s imminent siege upon my home: to take up arms along with my nine-year old brother and our dog Brandy against this agent of evil. I thought that surely the Weekly World News would not fabricate something so grave — they were the Weekly World News; they were sold at the grocery store; they even had a picture of him! Much to my consternation, nobody else seemed to care. Why weren’t these magazines flying of the shelves? Moreover, why weren’t there lines at the supermarket for garlic cloves, or crowds of people getting their holy water refilled at the local parish, or flatbed trucks hauling away heaps of sharpened stakes? I was clearly the only person thinking straight.
Once my friend’s father arrived, I conducted a comprehensive interrogation of the matter, and he made it very clear to me: it is real, and I should be worried. All of my fears were being realized. I had now a full-grown man corroborating this story from the Weekly World News. In my mind, either Dracula was real, or the entire world was lying to me — my friend’s dad, the people at ShopRite, the news, scientists and explorers! The next few hours before my mom came to collect me were taxing. Preparations needed to be made (financial and otherwise), the house needed to be inspected and secured, and the word needed to be spread about this blood-thirsty son of darkness and wretchedness poised to descend upon our sleepy town.
As it turns out, I survived the night and all subsequent nights, and the thing on the cover of Weekly World News magazine was not in fact Dracula, but a harmless fictional character named Batboy. Regardless, the memory has remained firmly rooted in my mind ever since. Some things that we experience as children, no matter how small, infiltrate our psyche and burrow into the deepest regions of our mind, whispering to our conscience until they are forcefully ejected or silenced.
I have since read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and found myself looking to find pity and humanity in the character. My adult self was seeking a different perspective, one in which he is only seeking eternal love and companionship, and every one of his victims is only a mean towards that end. My inner social justice warrior wanted to find the wounded animal in Dracula, unjustly hunted by a gang of wealthy thrill seekers, that was only searching for peace and safety. I’ve come to the conclusion however, that the eight year old me was right all along — Dracula is a monster; an afflicted one, no doubt, but a monster nonetheless.
What I learned from my reading of Dracula and my recollection of Batboy was to recognize monsters. The world is full of shades of grey and murky waters, and there are few things as stark as the fact that Dracula is objectively monstrous, but such things do exist and it is imperative that we can identify them.
In a world full of evils and treachery, charlatans posing as philanthropists, and sinister agents seeking to undermine our freedom of speech and all the western values that we often take for granted, let us not mistake Batboy for Dracula, and let us not mistake Dracula for a friend.