BRAM STOKER & VLADIMAR ASMUNDSON – Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula. The Overlook Press, hardcover, February 2017. Translated by Hans Corneel de Roos.

   It was 1901 when Icelandic writer Vladimar Asmundsson, collaborating with his friend Bram Stoker, began his translation of the Irishman’s novel Dracula for serialization as Makt Myrkranna for the newspaper Fjakkkonan (Lady of the Mountains). It wasn’t until 2014 that Stoker scholar Hans Corneel de Roos recognized something was up, for Powers of Darkness is not only a translation of the Stoker novel, it is a completely different book.

   In Makt Myrkranna, Thomas Harker, a young solicitor travels to Transylvania in the Carpathian Mountains to close a real estate deal for Count Dracula — which is about the last moment the Icelandic translation of the novel looks or reads anything like the original.

   Harker’s adventure at castle Dracula is considerably different from the original Stoker versions, yet there is evidence Stoker himself approved of the book’s approach.

   Dracula here is a far different character than the little seen repugnant presence of the original novel. In the Icelandic translation he is a dirty old man much closer to a James Bond villain, replete with an international organization up to economic skullduggery. In the second half of the book, it draws the attention of Barrington of the Yard and the Secret Service.

   Most startling to the reader is the open sexuality and eroticism of this version. Where Dracula as we know it has a heavily suggested eroticism, claustrophobic and brought to the surface by only a handful of moments. Powers of Darkness has seductive young women, bared bosoms, naked bodies, orgiastic human sacrifices, half human beast-men, and a femme fatale that overcomes young Harker’s Victorian prudery quite easily.

   Gone is all the artifice used by Stoker to lend his fantastic tale its own reality. There are no typewriters, Dictaphones, or other modern methods of storytelling and the epistolary nature of the original is replaced by a flat God-like narrator. Even the race across Europe by train to destroy Dracula in the shadow of his castle is gone, replaced by a too short scene reminiscent of the play and the 1931 Tod Browning film.

   Many characters are changed: Dracula’s brides are replaced by a single bride, the Countess; Mina becomes Wilma and never falls to Dracula’s powers; Lucy’s death is dealt with perfunctorily and without the atmospheric scenes of the “Boo’fer Lady”; Dr. Seward goes mad and dies off page, his madhouse burns, but there is no Renfield, and we are assured Van Helsing is the nom de guerre for a famous doctor.

   We are given glimpses of an elite of decadent European aristocrats drawn to London as if in the forefront of an invasion, and Dracula is portrayed as a lewd old man obsessed with women as sexual conquests, using Social Darwinism to explain the theories he plans to put into place as he conquers English society and England as a new Napoleon. At times, he seems more Carl Peterson than Dracula (shades of some of Hammer’s later Lee and Cushing films or Dennis Wheatley).

   Some of that is suggested by Stoker in the original, but never as blatantly as it is presented here, where Dracula is more the head of a vast criminal conspiracy than lord of the underworld or prince of Satan.

   Vampirism fits into the novel, but little supernatural is shown, and the famous scene of Dracula defying gravity scaling the walls of his castle is explained away with hidden hand and footholds. The entire sub-strata of vampirism as a metaphor for venereal disease is hidden and even the fetid breath and redolent smell of the vampire goes unmarked.

   The first half of the novel, Harker’s journal, is the best part, a more contemporary voice than the original, at times reading like it was taken from the weird menace or spicy pulps of the thirties and early forties. The second half feels tossed off, as if the writer lost interest and hurried to the conclusion, though the changes to the novel may make it better suited to this blog than the original.

   It is an interesting read, for lovers and haters of the famous novel. I can’t say it is any kind of classic on its own, it is not, but as is pointed out by translator de Roos, you do have to wonder how different other translations of the novel are, and where they take the Count and his adventures.