The following is an essay written for the online Coursera course “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World.”
Even those who only know Dracula from a breakfast cereal or Sesame Street character can acknowledge the pervasiveness of the icons and themes of Bram Stoker’s famous Vampire throughout our culture. Even greater than the terror induced by the blood-sucking villain, however, is the cognitive tension Stoker creates throughout the novel through his use of correspondence, journals, and telegrams. The observant reader experiences a juxtaposition between the fear of anticipating whether a character has endured an outcome and the reassurance that the author (at least) has survived to complete the entry and deliver it to someone able to preserve and distribute it.
The reader’s tension begins to build from the first several chapters consisting of Jonathan’s journal. Just as we begin to wonder, for example, if Jonathan’s run-in with the three vampiresses will end in his demise, it dawns on us that he must indeed have survived to write the very journal entry we’re reading! Yet having realized this, we subsequently forget the logic as we get caught up in the drama of each new encounter. Even at the end of the novel when Professor Van Helsing describes, in his own hand, his final encounter with the same Undead ladies, we must, in order to preserve the mystery that makes reading the novel so enjoyable, forget that he has already come through the other side of the ordeal.
To fully appreciate this writing technique, the reader must enter a “suspension of disbelief.” With the exception of those with eidetic memory, few individual have an exceptional capability of attention and recall. Yet with our heroes, each writer is able to capture verbatim the dialog spoken by various characters. On the other hand, many religious faithful accept the veracity of Scriptural texts which have typically been written many years after the events they record occurred as well.