I recently read Bram Stoker’s Dracula as preparation for a talk on the meaning of monsters—a kind of theology of monsters. I had never read Dracula before and, to be honest, had never had any interest in vampires despite their current popularity. However, several things about the novel surprised me.
First, it was much more focused on the destroyers of vampires than the vampires themselves. There is no sympathy for Count Dracula who in one passage is described as “a white leech.” Because of love and friendship, those who unite to destroy Dracula actually are stronger than this supernatural enemy. They hunt him down and kill him. Evil is on the run in this story.
Second, the story re-asserts the spiritual reality of good and evil. When a villager discovers Jonathan Harker is going to Dracula’s castle, she gives him a crucifix. Like a good English Protestant, Harker regarded the crucifix as Catholic superstition, but it does, he discovers, repel Dracula. In the battle against Dracula, consecrated host and holy water are used to ward off Dracula and to destroy the coffins in which he takes refuge during the day. Although one can argue that these Christian symbols are used too much like magic against Dracula, they are at least Christian and quite powerful in the story.
But what most intrigued me is the use of garlic, wooden stakes, and wild roses as weapons against vampires. Christian theology asserts both special revelation and natural revelation are important, so it is interesting that the weapons are both spiritual and natural. Stoker’s vampire hunters wear garlic necklaces to ward off Dracula, drive a wooden stake through the hearts of vampires to kill them, and place wild roses on coffins to keep them from rising again. Why are all these quite natural things so effective against vampires?
Perhaps it is because vampirism is both a rebellion against God and nature. Stoker makes clear that Dracula is a demonic reversal of Jesus. Jesus gave his blood so others might live, Dracula takes blood so that he will live while others die. Dracula, however, also refuses the natural order of life and death—from dust to dust.
Garlic may have been said to repel vampires because for centuries it was thought to protect from the plague and other diseases. Or because it is effective against mosquitoes—another deadly bloodsucker. But on a more elemental level garlic is what gives food—and life—flavor. Garlic stirs thoughts of good food and boisterous Italian families–human community.
Since a vampire rebels against nature, it is natural that a wooden stake must be driven through its heart. The simplicity of a wooden stake literally drives home the point of our mortality. It ends the vampiric parody of eternal life. The natural must pierce the proud heart of the vampire. The words humus, humility, human all share the same root related to the earth and the ground. When humbled and destroyed, vampires turn to dust.
That a wild rose could keep a vampire in its grave is elegant. Perhaps the rose is a testimony that although fleeting, this mortal life is beautiful. Roses wilt and we grow old and die. But we wait in humility for the true resurrection—where we are not merely undead but alive forever in Christ.