Invasion Literature: Armies to Aliens to Vampires
“This was the being I was helping to transfer to London, where, perhaps for centuries to come, he might, amongst its teeming millions, satiate his lust for blood, and create a new and ever widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless” – Jonathan Harker, Dracula
Vampires are ubiquitous in popular culture. While Bram Stoker didn’t invent the vampire, his 1897 novel Dracula remains the most influential of all vampire stories.
It’s pretty safe to say that most people are familiar with the popular imagery of the novel: Dracula’s castle, Transylvania, drinking blood, garlic, stakes through the heart, shape-shifting, and so on. These images, and many more, have all long passed into popular culture, even if far more people have seen one of the unbelievable number of Dracula films, TV versions, or other adaptations than have read the original novel. And there are a lot of adaptations – the Wikipedia page on “Dracula in Popular Culture” is over 10,000 words long!
Dracula: The Original
There is no doubt that the film versions of Dracula played a large part in popularizing the novel. But there are other reasons the novel remains a classic, still selling in large numbers today and overshadowing the rest of Stoker’s writing. For one, the novel is an extremely well-crafted page-turner. It draws on the Gothic and the supernatural, on adventure stories and travel narratives. It also creates a central monstrous character who is simultaneously captivating and repulsive, charming yet sinister. It is just a great novel – I’ve read, and taught, the book so many times my copy is battered, highlighted, and bookmarked all over the place.
The second reason Dracula has remained so popular is that it draws on so many contemporary anxieties and popular concerns of its time, and beyond: the independence and rights of women, popular scientific theories, understanding insanity, the concept of the “born criminal”, the appeal of the monstrous, and so much more.
Then there’s invasion.
Dracula as Invasion Literature
Episode 1 of Words To That Effect (listen here) looked at the invasion literature of William Le Queux and the article on John Buchan and Erskine Childers (read here) considered other contemporary novels of German invasion. But a fear of invasion does not, of course, have to be fictionalized in a novel of straightforward, realistic military attack from another nation. Many of the novels of this period reflect what is often called “reverse colonization”, an anxiety that British colonialist expansion and aggression abroad would have terrible consequences for the Britain itself. H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, published in serial form in the same year as Dracula, represents this with an alien invasion. The Martian invaders are militarily superior and they land in England and proceed to destroy the country with systematic and unfeeling abandon.
Bram Stoker’s novel does much the same thing. Dracula’s arrival in Whitby, in the North of England, may be more clandestine and mysterious (on a ship which runs aground with a crew of dead sailors) but his intentions are no less focused on invasion. As Dracula begins to prey on women and create more undead followers to do his bidding, the narrator Jonathan Harker and his group of friends and colleagues realize the threat to the British Empire is very real. Dracula is undone only by the talents of a mixed Anglo-Saxon group (in this case British, American, and Dutch) who can combine British aristocracy and the middle class, scientific modernity and a knowledge of the ancient and the supernatural. The threat of invasion is thwarted, at least for the time being.
Much like Dracula himself, invasion fiction can take many forms.