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A Feature Review of
Dracula and Philosophy: Dying to Know
(Popular Culture and Philosophy Series)
Edited by Nicolas Michaud and Janelle Pötzsch
Paperback: Open Court, 2015.
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Reviewed by John W. Morehead
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula is one of the most influential books ever written. It has been featured in a number of different forums, including stage plays, films, television programs, graphic novels, and more. It has also led to a wealth of discussion over the years. One of the latest comes in Dracula and Philosophy, an exploration of philosophical issues that come by way of reflection on this classic novel’s horror story.
Dracula and Philosophy is comprised of five sections and twenty-four chapters. Section I is “The Downside of Undeath,” with five chapters. The second section is “A Vampire’s Values” that includes five chapters. Another five chapters make up Section III with “What’s It Like to Be Dracula?”. The fourth section discusses “Why We’re Afraid” of the undead count in five chapters, while Section V explores “From the Dracula Files” through four chapters. This book also includes an introduction, a listing of references, contributor bios, and an index.
Although this book’s primary focus is philosophy in its exploration of Dracula, at times it dovetails with theology. For example, in Chapter 2, “Why Fighting Dracula is Absurd,” author Nicole R. Pramik draws upon the work of Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and theologian. Pramik draws upon his work in Either/Or, Part II and Stages on Life’s Way where he discusses three stages of life that he called “aesthetic,” the “ethical,” and the “religious.” The author then looks at how various characters in the Dracula novel compare to these stages, including Dracula, Johnathan Harker, and Abraham Van Helsing. Pramik concludes that Van Helsing comes out on top when viewed through Kierkegaard’s stages: “Having a religious faith causes him to be a self-realized person who knows what’s right, what’s wrong, what his human limitations are, and where God can step in” (19). But whether the contributors to this volume use philosophy, or the occasional theological lens, the reader will find plenty here to reflect upon.
However, Dracula and Philosophy is not without its weaknesses. Its Introduction barely fills a page and a half, and this brevity means that it does not provide an adequate discussion of the basic issues or a summary introduction to the essays that follow in order to prepare the reader for what is to come. In the absence of a longer Introduction, summaries of the main topics for the various sections would have been helpful. In addition, some of the chapters are so brief that the author’s have little room to adequately explore their subject matter. And while the book includes a listing of references, footnotes or endnotes would have given each chapter more for the reader to bite on. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
John W. Morehead’s research interests include religion and pop culture, particularly in genre related entertainment. His work in this area can be found in places like TheoFantastique.com.