By Matt Cutugno
Indio, CA, USA
I recently discovered the short stories of this famous author, and I have thoroughly enjoyed them. Best known for Dracula, Mr. Stoker was a unique writer whose finely crafted work, rooted in masterful use of the English language, humbles modern horror writers.
"Dracula's Guest" is probably his most famous short story, as it is said to have been in fact a deleted first chapter from his famed novel. In it, a naïve young Englishman visiting Munich takes a carriage ride on Walpurgis Night (a kind of Halloween). Not heeding the warnings of his driver and innkeeper, the man decides to take a short cut through the woods near an abandoned village that is said to be "unholy."
Part of the fun of reading Stoker is that his characters don't know things that readers do realize. The writer makes it credible that this brash young man would be so ill-advised as to go out on his own, and of course we understand that something bad is going to happen. In this case he stumbles into an open field, where lightening reveals he is actually in a cemetery. He is subjected to a mysterious, beautiful woman seemingly asleep atop a tomb, and then fearsome wolves which track him. Exhausted, he swoons and when he awakens, a wolf is licking his face. He is finally rescued in the morning by military personnel sent to help him by none other than Dracula.
Another notable short story is "The Judge's House," a truly creepy tale. Once again, an unsuspected young man agrees to stay in a "haunted mansion" because he craves peace and quiet to pursue his scholarship. Mr. Stoker's elegant prose makes us soon aware that this well-intentioned plan won't work out for the scholar.
Bram Stoker (1847-1912)
The mansion's former owner was a "hanging judge," and his ghostly presence is felt immediately in the abundance of rats roaming the wallboards at night. At first the visitor doesn't mind them—he simply chases the rodents away and resumes his study. Finally, one rat in particular, larger and more menacing than any other, proves to be more than a match for the intrepid scholar. Even as readers see the inevitable deadly ending approach, we are surprised by the expert writing.
Bram Stoker's prose is so very impressive. The writer's intelligence comes through in clean, clear narrative. It would be unfair to call him a genre writer. He was simply a great writer, one who happened to enjoy scaring his readers.