Monday, April 2, 2018

Adapting Dracula (Part Two)

This is a series of posts sharing my ideas/considerations while getting ready to adapt Bram Stoker's novel Dracula for the live stage.

Two: Re-examining Harker

I first read Dracula in comic book form sometime around 1966. My first copy, a paperback, my parents purchased for me within a year of that.  Since then I have seen dozens of different versions, up to and including at least seven motion pictures (actual versions of the novel) and more than that many audio as well as live theatrical versions.

One thing in time emerged as a considerable problem.  Who is the protagonist?

The title character of course is the antagonist, but who is his opposite number?  Most would probably answer "Van Helsing" which makes little sense structurally--the middle aged scholar doesn't even appear, nor receives any mention, until over third of the way into the novel!

Second choice most likely would be Mina, going all the way back to the motion picture Nosferatu.  The Coppola film, the Wildhorn musical, at least three play versions I know of go this route.  But the mere fact it has been a popular choice makes me pull away.  To be honest, I feel England to be protagonist much as Middle Earth is the pro-tagonist of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. That seems to me an extremely difficult idea to dramatize, though.

Consider this, however.  The first character we meet proves to be Jonathan Harker.  Sadly he ends up almost always portrayed as the most boring leading man imaginable, a simple clerk of no great presence or character.  Certainly that is how I viewed him.  Until I looked further.

What do we know about Harker, really?  We know Mina--a strong, intelligent and very deep-minded young woman who inspires devotion in others--chose to marry him.  He is an orphan, to the point where not a single word about his family even comes up, although he's been all-but-adopted by a successful businessman, Peter Hawkins. We also know he escaped from Castle Dracula by climbing down a sheer cliff, then wandering in the Transylvanian wilderness for several days at least until some nuns found him, almost delirious.  He says, after his wife has been bitten by Dracula, he will follow her rather than let her be in the darkness alone.  And he strikes the killing blow against Dracula.

Does this sound like some typical clerk?  I would argue not.  Rather it speaks of someone very physically strong and with vast reserves of courage, a man of great passion despite his occupation.  In fact, he sounds rather like an idealized version of Bram Stoker himself!

I began to see Harker as a Northern lad, someone sired in the hardy moors of that area of England, not far from Whitby!  Someone who instead of settling on the career of Solicitor rather lifted himself up to that position by raw talent and willpower.  I even began to hear his voice differently.  Rather than the typical London tones of Daniel Radcliff in Woman in Black I began hearing him as Kitt Harington in Game of Thrones.  A more blunt, less refined voice, less diplomatic but utterly resolute in the face of hardship.

Doesn't this sound far more like someone Mina Murray would fall for?

To be continued

No comments: