Christian themes at stake in retelling of Dracula

Claes Bang as Dracula  It’s Christmas time, so what better fare for Netflix and BBC One to offer us than another version of Dracula? Danish actor Claes Bang stars as the Transylvanian count in three 90-minute episodes.

Reviewer Tristram Fane Saunders argues in The Telegraph that critics who point out that this version has made major changes to the story by introducing an atheist nun and a bisexual bloodsucking Count, are missing the point. He says that the classic story ‘has been reinvented from the beginning’.

It is true -- as one might expect from the undead -- that Dracula has been reimagined over and over again for film, TV and radio in versions based ever more loosely on the character in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel.

However, it seems that modern adaptors are no longer competing to see whose version is most faithful to the original, but are dreaming up innovations never dreamed of by the real author in an effort to compete with fellow adaptors.   

Mr Saunders points out that Mark Gatiss’s and Steven Moffat’s adaptation is replete with modern inventions -- ‘set in a world of phonographs, typewriters and reliable blood transfusions’.
But their wise-cracking version has a more deep-seated problem -- the lack of a spiritual dimension. Remember that the devilish Count is repulsed by Christian religious symbols. ‘Further and further back he cowered, as we, lifting our crucifixes, advanced,’ writes Stoker in the novel.

While not omitting Dracula being vanquished by the Cross, the writers offer a less profound explanation. Tim Stanley’s commentary in The Telegraph on this topic is very insightful. ‘Dracula is frightened of death and the Cross confronts him with a man, Jesus, who was willing to die. They reject superstition and tradition in favour of something far neater, more relatable and very in fashion. Draccy has a psychological hang-up. All this could have been avoided if he’d gone to a therapist.’

In an interview, Mr Moffat said that though he is an atheist, he respected the religious themes of Stoker’s original; he didn’t want to ‘slag that stuff off’.

In other words, the crucifix is included merely as a fashion accessory with no real power. The modern answer to all human problems is psychological intervention. But, in fact, there is no answer to the modern problem of existential despair apart from the hope that the Cross brings – that death is not the end.

Men under fire in trenches and foxholes can testify to the power of the Cross, but Mr Moffat’s dismissal of our centuries-old cultural history as ‘that stuff’ highlights the psychological problem of our cultural elites: while the power of evil deepens all around us, they prefer the darkness to the light. Indeed, if they really wanted to update Dracula, they could have portrayed him hanging around the local National Health Service casualty unit awaiting the arrival of the next stabbing victim – although it would be harder to wring a laugh from that.

As a projection of the power of pure malevolence, of the reality of evil, Dracula is ever undead. If Crucifixes are banned from public institutions, as the UK’s bureaucrats threaten to do, who will protect us? Not many of us will be able to lug around a sharpened stake with us, let alone a tame psychologist.

Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St Pauls, 1995), and Prophets & Priests: the Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement (St Austin Press, 2002).


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