In 1897, a fifty-year-old Irish business manager of a London theater created one of the most iconic figures in all of fiction, Dracula. Bram Stoker's creation wasn't the first vampire-there'd been at least two novels featuring vampires published previously-but his Count created the template that has been used countless times since.
"Countless" isn't merely a figure of speech. Search for "vampire" at Amazon and you'll get more than forty thousand results in books alone, and that number's climbing. A similar search involving movies and television yields about 3,600 results.
Nearly all of these, such as the "Twilight" and "Vampire Diaries" series, have nothing in common with Stoker's creation-apart from bloody fangs. The latest entry, NBC's "Dracula," claims to be a more faithful descendant to its late-Victorian forebear. Based on the first two episodes, however, that resemblance is skin-deep.
It's gorgeous skin, to be sure. Filmed in Budapest, the costumes, scenery and production evoke late-Victorian England, down to the plummy accents. Readers of the novel will recognize the characters: Jonathan Harker, his fiancée Mina Murray, her flirtatious best friend Lucy Westenra, the Count's faithful servant, Renfield, and Abraham van Helsing.
Mind you, more than a few liberties have been taken with them, however. Harker is a journalist, not a lawyer; Murray is a brilliant medical student, and Renfield hasn't eaten a single fly and is unlikely to.
None of this would matter if "Dracula," the TV series, were faithful to the spirit of the novel; but it isn't.
To understand why, it helps to understand the role Christianity plays in the novel. By this, I don't mean that Stoker set out to write a specifically Christian tale or that he thought of himself as a Christian writer or even as a Christian.
But what I do mean is that its imagery and story are indebted to Christianity, and do not make sense without it.
For starters, in Bram Stoker's version, Dracula, whose name means "son of the Dragon," i.e., the Devil, is literally an anti-Christ. Jesus shed his blood to bring men eternal life-Dracula takes other's blood to give himself eternal life.
While most people know about Dracula's aversion to crucifixes, that's only one of the many Christian symbols and rites Van Helsing and company employ against the powers of darkness. As he tells his charges, they are "ministers of God's own wish," striving so "the world, and men for whom His Son died, will not be given over to monsters, whose very existence would defame Him."
In some ways all you need to know about NBC's "Dracula" is that in its version, Van Helsing and Dracula are allies. Indeed, it was Van Helsing who awoke Dracula from his slumber.
And what Van Helsing awoke, while a monster, is an attractive and often-sympathetic one. He is more than a blood-sucking demon. He is also a "freedom fighter" of sorts, waging war against a shadowy cabal known as the Order of the Dragon.
Played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers who previously played another monster in Showtime's "The Tudors," it's easy to forget who the monster is supposed to be, especially when his enemies are so stuffy and he is, as one cast member put it, "stronger, sexier, and naughtier" than Stoker's original.
Then again, demons often are, which doesn't make them any less demonic, a fact that was not lost on Dracula's original creator.