"Dracula" Scholar Publishes Translation of "Lost" Version, Investigates the Mystery of "Dracula" in Iceland
Last night Rick and Marty Lagina appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to discuss The Curse of Oak Island. It was … I almost said interesting, but it wasn’t. After 52 years (!) of interest in Oak Island, neither Lagina was able to articulate the Oak Island story in anything resembling a concise or even interesting way. At one point Colbert needed to remind the brothers that while he knows the story of Oak Island, his audience contains many people who do not, so they need to actually explain why anyone should care about its supposed buried treasure. The closest they came to providing a reason was when Rick said he got interested in the idea in 1965 when he read about it in Reader’s Digest, with a close second coming when the brothers explained that there were lots of logs and rocks and stuff underground. Sadly, that was just about a perfect summation of The Curse of Oak Island.
Today, however, I wanted to share a fascinating discussion of a new edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. You wouldn’t think there would be much left to discuss about such a well-known book, which is why I was surprised to discover that there is a new text of Dracula made from an Icelandic adaptation of the book first published by Valdimar Ásmundsson in 1901. The 1901 adaptation is called Makt Myrkranna, or “Powers of Darkness.” I stumbled across this in an article published yesterday on the Iceland Monitor’s website, which interviewed Hans de Roos, the man who resurrected the text for publication, with the help of Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s indirect descendant and a self-styled guardian of Bram Stoker’s legacy.
I will, however, issue one word of caution: de Roos is of Dutch origin and German residence, not Icelandic, and in an article published last week, he said that he translated the text using Google Translate. I can’t say that inspires confidence, and certainly worries me about the book’s $28.95 price tag. So, I too used the power of Google to find out what happened. Fortunately, the book itself indicates (though not on the cover) that the final translation wasn’t done by de Roos alone but by a team of Icelandic speakers. He might want to be a bit more careful about how he phrases things if he isn’t going to make that crystal clear on the book cover or in his press materials.
Here is the heart of the issue, as the book’s website puts it:
In 2014, literary researcher Hans de Roos dove into the full text of Makt Myrkranna, only to discover that Ásmundsson hadn't merely translated Dracula but had published an entirely new version of the story, with all new characters and a totally re-worked plot. The resulting narrative is one that is shorter, punchier, more erotic, and perhaps even more suspenseful than Stoker's Dracula. Incredibly, Makt Myrkranna has never been translated or even read outside of Iceland until now.
According to the publisher, the book contains elements drawn from Norse mythology and Icelandic culture. A blonde Nordic vampire has been added, for example, and de Roos says that linguistic allusions to Norse mythology appear in the text. The story is also radically condensed, eliminating Dracula’s stalking of Mina Harker, and anticipating the stage and screen adaptations in forgoing a return to Transylvania at the novel’s end. Oh, and this version adds primitive Dracula-worshipers who sacrifice nude virgins in an underground chamber to satisfy their master’s bloodlust.
This wouldn’t really be a shocking development on its own. Adaptations of famous works are a dime a dozen and have a long history. In ancient times, for example, it was expected that translators would adapt and update the works they translated in order to make them palatable for their readers. The Romans produced many unusual adaptations of Greek texts. Many Victorian translations were rather free, particularly in verse.
It’s also not entirely unprecedented that in a new preface that Bram Stoker wrote for the Icelandic adaptation, the author lied through his teeth and pretended that Dracula was a true story: “I emphasize again that the mysterious tragedy described here is completely true as far as the events as such are concerned, although in certain points, of course, I have reached a different conclusion than the people involved.” This is no different than the attestations of veracity that have been part and parcel of Gothic literature since the days when Horace Walpole pretended that The Castle of Otranto was based on a true story.
But what’s interesting here is that the Icelandic Dracula provides a bit of a mystery.
According to the publisher, the Icelandic Dracula contains material that appears in Bram Stoker’s notes for the book but not in the published version released in 1897. No one knows exactly how this happened, and no paper trail exists to document how Ásmundsson acquired the rights to the book or what, if any, contact he had with Stoker. De Roos explained the conundrum:
In these notes, for example, we find the idea that the Count had a mute housekeeper woman; exactly such a rare character is included in Makt Myrkranna, but not in Dracula. Taken all together, the chance that all such similarities occurred at the same time by pure coincidence is extremely low. Therefore, it seems plausible that Stoker may have passed an earlier draft of Dracula to Valdimar. But who exactly worked out which part is impossible to tell. Especially the erotic scenes are more likely to have been created by Valdimar, in my opinion. Bram Stoker was very critical of nudity and sexuality in fiction. In later years, he even pleaded for strict censorship. Valdimar, on the other hand, used to poke fun at Victorian prudishness. I even suspect that he used Count Dracula as a speaking tube to voice his own unconventional ideas about love. […] I would say that Stoker must have granted Valdimar some sort of license to work out an earlier draft of Dracula for an Icelandic audience, but left him quite a lot of freedom to add his own flavour and ideas to the story.
De Roos, who has devoted his life to Dracula scholarship, is overly excited by this Icelandic version, and in his articles and interviews he declares it to be superior to the original. I have not read the Icelandic version to evaluate it myself, so I must defer to author Amy Gentry, who made an excellent case that the Icelandic version is overstuffed with recycled pulp fiction elements—cannibal blood cults, psycho zombie wives, floridly bad writing—that undercut the Gothic tone and grandeur of the original. My guess is that after devoting so many years to the Icelandic Dracula de Roos has become infatuated with it out of proportion to its value. I can sympathize a bit. When I translated The Orphic Argonautica, it colored the way I looked at the Argonaut myth for quite a while because I had worked long and hard on that particular version of the story; similarly, my translation of the Akhbar al-zaman has shaped the reference points I use in thinking about medieval myths and legends. We tend to love best that which we know best.
Update: After thinking about this more, I decided I disagree with de Roos on most points and will explain why tomorrow.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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