May 26, 2015

From Dracula To Blade Runner

Sarah Marshall discusses the history and influence of Bram Stoker's Dracula here for Lapham's Quarterly.   Ms. Marshall compares the Dracula story and the immigrant narrative, but I think it also prefigures the alien invasion narrative, in which the invader takes on the coloration and the habits of the locals and blends in so successfully that they believe they cannot defeat him.

After his emigration on the doomed Demeter, Dracula terrorizes the novel’s narrators not just by his predation of their women, but by his mastery of English accent and mannerisms, and his accrual of English property. Yet he has made this desire for complete absorption into English life clear from the beginning: in one of the book’s most telling and oddly poignant moments, Jonathan Harker enters Dracula’s study and finds him “lying on the sofa, reading, of all things in the world, and English Bradshaw’s Guide”—a railway timetable.

Dracula’s obsession with mastering even the most inconsequential habits of English life, and his almost solicitous insistence on his own incompetence as a counterfeit Englishman, tinges his villainy with something both more complicated and more commonplace than horror: Dracula is a supernatural potboiler, but it is also an immigrant’s story. In Dracula’s desire to master his adopted tongue, we can find evidence of his sinister dissembly, but we can also, if we wish to, envision a rather more endearing figure, and a deeply human one. Stoker’s Count is a man casting off the caul of an inhospitable homeland, seeking acceptance in a new country by following its demands, and becoming—as the saying would later go—more English than the English.
Surely this kind of "dissembly" as Ms. Marshall puts it is the stuff of enduring sf terror, as we find it in such films as The Thing, I Married a Monster From Outer Space, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and their various remakes, as well as works by Philip K. Dick and other masters, in which we cannot tell the "real humans" from the android "imposters."  Keep watching the skies, the ships, the pods, the replicants, your dreams...

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