Cleveland Comhrá: Dacre Stoker
By Bob Carney
“You travel down the path of your insignificant life in ultimate complacency. Safe in your modern world of machines and oblivious enlightenment. Blind to the ancient pagan evils that rot the ground beneath your feet because you refuse to pay them heed.”
– Van Helsing, from the book Dracula the Undead, by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt
Dacre Stoker is the great grand-nephew of Bram Stoker. A native of Montreal, he taught Physical Education and Sciences for twenty-two years in Canada and the U.S.. He currently lives in South Carolina with his wife Jenne.
Together they manage the Bram Stoker Estate. I was very pleased to speak with Dacre about his own books, his Irish influence in his writing and all things Dracula.
What made you follow in Bram’s footsteps?
I taught in two very fine schools, but I got to the point where I was just a little burnt out. I didn’t want to become a grumpy educator. I had an opportunity to become a Director of a land conservancy, preserving land in the great outdoors. So I did that, but it was a two-thirds job leaving me with extra time.
I also had a feeling, as my wife did, that we needed to know more about the Stoker family background. We knew about Bram and my own grandfather was rather famous himself, he was the inventor of Ozone Therapy.
The guy I was named for was a World War I submarine commander for the Australians. My father’s generation, there were three brothers and the last one remaining called me up, he was living in Montreal, and said, “Dacre, you’re the only one of the six grand-children that really cares about the family history.” Because I had asked him many questions over the years.
“I’ve been diagnosed with heart disease and I’d like you to come to Montreal, I want to give you access to all of my papers.” Jenne said, “Dacre, if we don’t do it now, all this information will be lost and it may never come back to the family.”
About the same time, I was contacted by Ian Holt, he had a movie script and wanted to turn it into a novel and wanted a Stoker involved. He asked if I would do research and try my hand at writing.
I didn’t know if I could write my way out of a paper bag, but I knew I could do the research. I also wanted the power of veto if I was going to put my weight and family’s name on something. I didn’t want it to be just another slasher horror story.
The rest is history. I got into it slowly. I’ve had good writing partners, editors and agents. With the research I do and good co-authors, it’s been very good.
How important is it to protect the legacy of Bram and Dracula?
Protecting and promoting. The protection part is pretty well gone in a way, it’s in the public domain and has been since 1962. Ian Holt could have gone ahead and done whatever he wanted with the Dracula story. The only protection is if I’m involved, because I can jump in and say “Hey, we gotta do this.”
There have been many adaptations on stage, screen, comics and print that are not true to what Bram’s vision was, but, I’m also wise enough to understand that that’s still a pretty good homage to him and the story he created. Not everyone may like some of the material out there, there are definitely some I like better than others.
In your book “Dracul” co-written with J.D.Barker, Dracul says, “With the final beat of your heart, you will take your place at my side.” When Bram tries to object, Dracul says “Codail, mo mhac.” Sleep my son in Irish. Yet you never explain it’s meaning.
What we figured, we put a lot of little easter eggs in the book. Nowadays, most people have a phone and are able to google anything. We wanted to challenge people a little bit. I’m a former school teacher; we can’t spoon feed people forever.
Dracula is such a multi-faceted book and gets better with a little research. JD and I were of the same mind; the book is like an onion; the more layers you peel off, the better it gets. I think that’s what makes for a good book. I think it’s good for people to have a little ownership in deciphering aspects of the story.
Is Nanna Ellen’s character based on the Dearg doe, the female vampire from the Waterford legend?
Nanna Ellen is based on the real Ellen Crone, who was the Stoker’s nanny. We merged her with the Dearg doe story. It was a perfect way to take the real person and apply some real Irish folklore that I was brought up on, and just as Bram did, blur the edges of reality. She really did come to the Stoker’s as an orphan and stayed with them many, many years. She was a big part of the Stoker family.
With a book like this you can read it and enjoy it, but if you have a little knowledge of Irish language, history and folklore, it allows you to get in to it. Sometimes I get into books like that a little too far!
After Ian Holt contacted you, how long did it take for “Dracula the Undead” to come out?
The book took about four years to do, because when I was first contacted by Ian, I said, “Look, I’m not going to jump into this thing. First i need to do some research.” I went to the museum in Philadelphia where Bram’s actual notebook lives, plus I had my job to do and Ian wasn’t in a rush, he’s a screenwriter in New York and had other projects he was working on.
It was probably five years between meeting Ian and Dalton purchasing it and getting it out on the market. The other books didn’t take as quite as long. Once I was able to establish and find where the intial research lies. And I also got connected to other researchers and scholars who took me seriously, once they heard what I was doing and that I was a Stoker family member.
I think the most important moment was when I contributed to the literary canon of Dracula. I was lucky, I found in my cousin’s (Bram’s great-grandson) attic in his home on the Isle of Wight, this box of books. It contained a journal of Bram’s. That journal was the first source material about Bram’s life that anyone had ever found.
The Dracula notes, we know they were sold at auction after Bram’s death. Nobody knows how they ended up at the Rosenbach Museum in Philidelphia around 1968. There was also an interview Bram did with Jane Stoddart in British Weekly Magazine in July of 1897, where he spoke a little of himself and his personal remembrances about Henry Irving.
Finding that journal that he kept while he was a university student at Trinity in Dublin and when he got his first job working for Henry Irving opened up his life to us a little more. It’s not just a diary, it was a journal that he kept where observations and things he wanted to keep record of… many of those things you could tell it was his practice of writing, there was some poetry, some prose and descriptions.
Interesting thoughts and humor. I quickly contacted a scholar, Elizabeth Miller, she had been one of the two people who deciphered the Dracula notes for the Rosenbach Museum.
Bram’s handwriting is absolutely terrible! Elizabeth and I were entralled for about three months as we read and transcribed everything that he had written. While we going through it, we kept hoping we would find something about vampires or mythology, but there wasn’t anything on that.
There was such a super wide range of things, that it gave us the idea that Bram Stoker was very aware of everything going on around him. He was like other members of his family, willing to do something to make his community better. All the siblings and their mother were activists.
Finding these things out about Bram during my research stage, and also using them and publishing them gave me much more credibility in the academic world. Plus I’ve used that information in the fictional books as well. To take something that Bram made reference to that was interesting and put something that really happened into the story makes it that much more real.
In “Dracula the Undead” one of the characters is describing some of the events taking place at that time in history, such as the explorers being lost in Antartica, was that a reference to the Shackleton expedition?
Exactly! That was a book that I loved, true life outdoor adventure. I’ve been to Alaska and winter camped all over the country. That goes back to those “little easter eggs”, we let people know when the story is taking place and the things that were influencing the characters at that time, it makes the story feel real.
Can you tell me about the collaboration on the new graphic novel? What is a graphic novel?
When I started all this, I didn’t know what one was either. I’m sixty-three, the last comic book I read was Mad Magazine or something like that when I was twelve or thirteen.
Essentially, a graphic novel is sort of a comic book for grown-ups with a hardcover and a bigger price tag. Chris McAuley and I wanted to get into graphic novels.
“The Virgin’s Embrace” is based on a short story by Bram called “The Squaw.” Bram had been to America many times and loved the West . He met many Native Americans and knew the plight of the people in the early 1900s. (That story is a commentary on the mistreatment Native Americans were subjected to.)
We took Bram’s story and created a script, five panels to each page, two bubbles of dialogue per panel. We had to boil down a story in a graphic form so the picture tells the story along with the dialogue and information panels you put in. Then it was sent off to an artist, you have to pay the artist up front, which is why we are crowd funding our next project, based on Bram’s “The Lair of the White Worm.”
There’s another hybrid we did called “Dracula’s Bedlam,” it’s more of a mixed media. That was done with McAuley, John Peel and myself. It’s a look into some of the inmates at Dr. Seward’s Asylum.
What will the new one be called?
“Dracula the Return; Cult of the White Worm.” It continues the story of Dracula. Did Dracula really die at the end of Bram’s story? He was stabbed with a Bowie knife as opposed to a stake being driven through his heart, his head wasn’t cut off or garlic put into his mouth. This isn’t really a spoiler, Dracula didn’t die. How did Dracula become a vampire? We took some liberties and built on a lot of that.
I have a special attachment to Bram’s last book, (The Lair of the White Worm) because he was not well when he wrote it. He had suffered a stroke and had lost sight in one eye. He only wrote it because his publisher pleaded with him to write one more supernatural story.
The book does not always get good reviews, because he was pretty out of it when he wrote it, but there are some pretty cool elements to it. This is also based on a story from Irish folklore (The Oilliphéist, oll meaning great and péist meaning serpent, worm or monster reptile, that lived in the River Shannon. “Nellie” of Loch Ness fame is supposedly one of these creatures.) Our story has to do with that power, and of course, Dracula.
Is it important to you to include Irish culture and folklore in your writing?
Yes! Culture, folklore, language and history. I still have relatives in Ireland, all of that heritage is important to me and none of us want to see it disappear from the Stoker family legacy. This is my way to keep it alive and learn more about it.
Dacre Stoker’s Comments on the Name Dracula:
A few years back in one of my Speak Irish Columns, I mentioned the phrase droch fola, which means evil blood in Irish. My limited research showed that Bram Stoker did not use this as the basis for Dracula’s name. Dacre Stoker shared his thoughts about the idea with me.
“Here’s my theory, jokingly I refer to myself as a literary forensic detective. Bram did not write much about his writing, but in his notes, there’s a reference to a castle that has to do with that name. Now lets just hold that aside for a second.
“I’m also convinced during Bram’s seven year illness as a child, that he was probably blood let by Uncle Edward Alexander Stoker, based an a paper he wrote on dealing with fever and the benefits of blood letting. Now Bram would have been zero to seven years old, would he have remembered if someone said “Oh, we have to get rid of the bad blood in this poor boy?” Who knows. But there’s a chance that he heard it early in his life somewhere.
“The most definite evidence we have comes from a reference in Bram’s notes that it comes right from a book called “An Account of the Pricipalities of Wallachia and Mudavia.” It talks about Dracula in the Wallachian language, which means devil, and is assigned to some one who commits cruel actions or evil cunning. He wrote that in his notes. In his book he has Van Helsing explain who this devil was, who has the brain of a criminal with great cunning.
“To me it’s obvious he got the name out of that book, but he may have been drawn to the name because of the connection to the Irish phrase. You don’t have to write down those kind of things when you’ve been brought up with them. I think we’re on the same page that this may have been in his consciousness because of his illness and local folklore growing up in Ireland.”