We all know what Dracula looks like. Bela Lugosi and innumerable Hammer horror movies starring Christopher Lee have fixed the Count in our imagination. He’s tall, gaunt, interestingly pale, with slicked back hair, and a set of unfeasibly large canine teeth. He sports a cloak, and what appears to be an evening suit which can often make him look like a nightclub doorman or a shifty croupier at a Mayfair casino dealing from the bottom of the pack. When commissioned to provide the illustrations for a new edition of Bram Stoker’s enduring tale, artist John Coulthart decided to keep his work faithful to the source material.
Coulthart had previously been commissioned by the same publisher to illustrate Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with which he had similarly “opted for fidelity to the text and period details “:
Despite its epistolary form, Dracula is much more readable (in a contemporary sense) than Frankenstein, so more people will have read Stoker than Shelley; but the sheer scale of cultural mauling that Dracula has been subject to means that—as with Frankenstein—even the allegedly faithful adaptations often deviate from the novel. The lounge-lizard vampire that everyone knows was a creation of Hamilton Deane’s 1924 stage adaptation, the success of which led to Tod Browning’s film and Bela Lugosi’s performance (which I’ve never liked); film and theatre may have made Dracula universally popular but the Lugosi stereotype has overshadowed the more powerful and violent character that Stoker gives us, with his bearded face, hairy palms and glowing eyes. So that’s who you see here, although the restrictions of time and brief (one picture per chapter) meant that some of the moments I’d have liked to illustrate had to be forfeit. Poor old Renfield gets short shrift, and some of the minor male characters are out of the picture altogether.
Regardless of the constrictions of time and remit, Coulthart’s illustrations for Dracula are among the very best ever produced, as his detailed work fully captures the intense, eerie, menacing, and almost dreamlike atmosphere of Stoker’s novel where you can “believe in things that you cannot.”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Dracula-Prince of Darkness’: Behind-the-scenes footage with Christopher Lee
‘Dracula 1972 A.D.’: Behind-the-scenes with Christopher Lee in ‘Prince of Terror’
Dames, Dracula, & the devil: The erotic fumetti of Italian artist Alessandro Biffignandi
The blood dripped from Dracula’s fangs: The golden age of Hammer Horror movie posters
Dracula on drugs: Bela Lugosi ‘fesses up to being a dope fiend, 1955
The Gorbals Vampire: The child-eating monster that terrorized Glasgow in the 1950s
Attention children of the night: Bela Lugosi’s Dracula cape is for sale
Bela Lugosi as Jesus Christ
For sale: Extremely rare antique ivory vampire killing kit