Exploring behind the scenes of ‘Dracula’

Atsede Gashaw, 13, arrived in the United States from Ethiopia for heart surgery at the Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. Her surgery and treatment were paid for by Mending Kids International, a nonprofit that arranges hosting by local families for children who need life-saving treatment.

“The New Annotated Dracula” by Leslie Klinger explores the ‘delicious minutia’ behind the original Bram Stoker novel “Dracula.”

By Melonie Magruder /Special to The Malibu Times

Just in time for the Halloween weekend, and for those who have always wanted to know everything vampire, along comes Leslie Klinger’s new book, “The Annotated Dracula,” with a century of scholarly dissertation and research spanning half the globe to fill in the blanks.

Klinger, a Malibu resident and daytime tax attorney, said he was drawn to the 19th century novel, that has inspired countless books, plays, films, television series and Halloween costumes, because it offered the opportunity for researching obscure anecdotal histories from a bygone era. His exploration yielded “endlessly delicious minutia,” that appealed to a “tax attorney’s mania for details,” he said.

Klinger’s literary career stems from a lifelong fascination with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic who done it series, “Sherlock Holmes.” His first book, “The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes,” published in 2004, similarly investigated theories, biographies and literary “minutia” in the Holmes collection for the benefit of an apparently vast subspecies of the literary obsessed.

“For the past one hundred years, Sherlockians have played a game of researching references and clues in the Sherlock books to determine, ‘Is Sherlock Holmes a real or fictional character,'” Klinger said. “The answer is always, ‘Yes!'”

In the annotated Holmes, Klinger, who teaches a course at UCLA Extension on Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, offers hotly debated arguments on some more arcane details of the detective series. It is theorized, for example, that Dr. Watson’s mysterious wound, referred to in several stories as, at times, being in his leg and other times being in his shoulder, was actually one gunshot wound from a handmade bullet that split within Watson’s body and traveled to various regions.

“So when I was done with Sherlock, I felt a void,” Klinger said. “I liked the writing process and my wife Sharon, suggested I look at ‘Dracula.’ With my accumulated knowledge of Victorian times, it seemed natural.”

Klinger’s research took him from Seattle to London to Transylvania, but started with the voluminous notes that “Dracula” author Bram Stoker kept during the seven years he was writing the book, published in 1897.

“Stoker was interesting,” Klinger said. “An Irish theatre critic, he managed the Lyceum Theatre in London in the 1880s and ’90s and was part of a circle of celebrities. He wrote 14 other books, all forgotten, but he kept meticulous notes on references he consulted and character descriptions.”

One of the more enduring “Dracula” myths, Klinger said, was the contention that the character of Count Dracula was based on a 15th century prince, “Vlad the Impaler,” known for his particularly sadistic enthusiasm of placing the heads of his opponents on stakes.

Stoker never visited Transylvania, Count Dracula’s purported hometown, Klinger said, but he did read a book about Wallachia, the region of Romania that bred Vlad.

“Dracula means ‘son of the dragon’ in ancient Romanian,” Klinger said. “Stoker just borrowed the name.”

Klinger’s research, including that of Sherlock, yielded a treasure trove of trivia that he carefully organized into several appendices and footnoted factoids, printed in the margins of the book, so the reader may follow the story behind the story.

“For example, the original manuscript contained an alternate ending, where the Castle Dracula was destroyed,” Stoker said. “We think the publisher insisted on a different ending so that there could be a sequel. If you read the published version, Count Dracula disappears in a puff of smoke at the end, perhaps to return again.”

Klinger was allowed to examine the original manuscript, currently in the private collection of Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, and studied the volumes of Stoker’s notes housed at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, where a Dracula festival takes place every year.

Stoker died in 1912, never having the opportunity to see the successful franchise his book was to become.

“What’s interesting is how the character of Count Dracula has morphed into a different image than [what] Stoker first wrote,” Klinger said. “Starting with Béla Lugosi’s film version in 1931, we’ve had several dashing Draculas from Louis Jourdan to Jack Palance to Frank Langella to Gary Oldman. Stoker’s original Dracula is described as being tall and skinny with a white moustache and bad breath.”

The character ultimately became the figure of a heroic outsider, Klinger said. Vampires are now celebrated as a kind of romantic loner.

“With Anne Rice’s ‘Lestat’ and ‘Buffy’ (“The Vampire Slayer”), vampires are no longer just evil,” Klinger said. “Maybe this is a response to a feeling of alienation that we all have. Vampires have super strength, so they’re not afraid. This makes them something admirable.”

Klinger is not sure what his next quest will be.

“I haven’t settled on anything yet,” he said. “Maybe ‘Frankenstein.’ Now that’s a story!”

Les Klinger will sign copies of his book “The New Annotated Dracula” at Diesel, A Bookstore in the Cross Creek Plaza Nov. 2 at 3 p.m.