By Bram Stoker
First published in 1914
Available online at Project Gutenberg
OK, here’s a one-question pop quiz: for those of you who haven’t yet read “Dracula’s Guest,” is this a story about:
- A. A vampire?
- B. A werewolf?
- C. A mujina?
- D. A really testy rex cat with an irrational bias against commercial travelers?
- E. None of the above?
The incautious among you likely said “A.” No, the answer is “E,” because it’s difficult to determine what the supernatural menace is in “Dracula’s Guest.” Suffused with an atmosphere of ill-defined dread, it reads like an antecedent to the “strange stories” that Robert Aickman wrote a few decades later.
You might be wondering how a piece of fiction written by Bram Stoker with “Dracula” in the title can be anything other than a vampire story. I can only assure you that such is the case. I know it seems a violation of the writer/reader bond, something akin to having the word “Yeti” in the title of a Harlequin Romance. Nonetheless, “Dracula’s Guest” doesn’t qualify as a vampire story by any reasonable-person standard.
The nature of the threat isn’t the only thing that’s unclear about “Dracula’s Guest.” How it came to be written is also mysterious.
“Dracula’s Guest” was first published in 1914, as the flagship story in the first posthumous collection of Stoker’s short fiction; he had died two years earlier from complications following a stroke. In her preface to the anthology, his widow Florence Stoker wrote:
“To his original list of stories in this book, I have added an hitherto unpublished episode from Dracula. It was originally excised owing to the length of the book, and may prove of interest to the many readers of what is considered my husband’s most remarkable work.”
Later, some literary critics became skeptical of this “deleted chapter” narrative, chiefly because:
- The unnamed main character in “Dracula’s Guest” is not at all like Jonathan Harker in Dracula; the protagonist in this story seems both older and more brash.
- The style of the story doesn’t match that of the novel.
- From a structural perspective, the episode doesn’t fit easily into the plot line of Dracula, at least as it was presented to the public.
Early drafts of Dracula indicate that Stoker did excise some elements of the novel prior to publication. The questions remain, however, regarding how and when “Dracula’s Guest” came to be written. In the end, all we have is the story itself.
It starts as almost every classic Hammer Film did; only Ingrid Pitt is missing (she’s probably off tending bar). The protagonist, in Peter Cushing fashion, leaves the rustic German inn where he’s staying in order to take a leisurely trip via carriage into the unfamiliar countryside. Naturally, both the innkeeper and his driver warn him that he must be back by dark because it’s Walpurgis Night. (Note: It’s never Guy Fawkes Day or International Jazz Day in these stories.)
The anonymous protagonist takes no notice their concerns, and seems to be distantly amused at his driver’s increasing concern as they get closer and closer to the ruins of an abandoned village.
Finally, even though (a) he has only a vague idea where he is, (b) bad weather is blowing in, and (c) his driver is agitated and wants to return, our protagonist displays the self-immolating tendencies of so many supernatural fiction heroes and announces that he’ll carry on solo from here, thank you very much:
“‘You are afraid, Johann—you are afraid. Go home; I shall return alone; the walk will do me good.’ The carriage door was open. I took from the seat my oak walking-stick—which I always carry on my holiday excursions—and closed the door, pointing back to Munich, and said, ‘Go home, Johann—Walpurgis-nacht doesn’t concern Englishmen.’
“The horses were now more restive than ever, and Johann was trying to hold them in, while excitedly imploring me not to do anything so foolish. I pitied the poor fellow, he was deeply in earnest; but all the same I could not help laughing. His English was quite gone now. In his anxiety he had forgotten that his only means of making me understand was to talk my language, so he jabbered away in his native German. It began to be a little tedious. After giving the direction, ‘Home!’ I turned to go down the cross-road into the valley.
Those crazy Germans get upset about the slightest things, don’t they?
In any case, our hero soon finds himself trying to outpace a hailstorm, as darkness falls with an alarming rapidity. This, the middle section of “Dracula’s Guest,” contains some of Stoker’s most vivid writing. He had an incredible talent for describing landscapes and weather; I can easily imagine a parallel universe in which he became a happy correspondent for the journal of the Royal Meteorological Society.
Naturally, the protagonist needs to find shelter, and discovers that his only option is the ruined village that his driver was deathly afraid of. The first intact building he finds is a crypt. After that, however, he learns that assistance can arrive in unorthodox ways…
“Dracula’s Guest” is certainly atmospheric, with a degree of structural oddity that works in its favor; it’s quirky, in a good way. Despite that, I suspect that the story would have slipped into obscurity by now, were it not for its association with Dracula.
Nonetheless, I can recommend “Dracula’s Guest” as a good brief intro to Stoker. Like a savory appetizer, it makes you think that the chef might’ve whipped up something extraordinary for the main course.