Chosen by Mike Shallcross
There is something oddly Christmassy about Dracula. It might be the cold and darkness of Bram Stoker’s imagined Transylvania, the reminder of loss, or the sense of it being a thwarted journey to find the way home. But Christmas for me doesn’t feel complete without the Count, whether through a rewatch of the classy 1970s BBC dramatization or a burst of Hammer schlock.
The posthumously published Stoker story Dracula’s Guest is usually presented as a prequel to the novel proper, and is widely believed to have been an excised first chapter. But really it feels like a moodboard for the main event. Certainly many of its tropes are assembled here: the inscrutable innkeeper; the superstitious coachman who will travel no further; the necropolitan fairyland that exists outside the towns and cities; the ever-present wolves… in short the sort of Mitteleuropean orientalism that informs our notions of the gothic to this day.
The plot, such as it is, concerns an unnamed Englishman (presumed to be Jonathan Harker, but more wilful and reckless that the conformist, lawyerly character of the novel) who ignores the warnings of his guides and sets out to visit a deserted village on Walpurgis night. On the way he encounters an unseasonal blizzard, the spectre of a beautiful woman “with rounded cheeks and red lips” (in homage to Sheridan le Fanu’s more elegant and sexier vampire novel Carmilla), and finally a ghostly wolf who saves the Englishman from the elements.
As a Christmas ghost story, it is a little fleeting. But there is a pleasing chilling dreaminess to the Englishman’s journey to the cursed village, and the pay-off of the telegram which awaits him upon his return to the inn is quite delicious. Think of it as a bracing shot compared to the richer lingering claret of an MR James or Walter de la Mare. ”The dead travel fast” as the story says, but the journey can still be memorable.
First published in Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories, Routledge, 1914. Widely collected, and available to read here. Mike Shallcross is an editor and publisher specialising in healthcare by day, and a connoisseur of all things gothic by night. He has written for a number of publications including The Wire, GQ, Men’s Health and the Quietus.