Society, Dracula, and the Triumph over Evil

            Dracula-Untold1


With the recent release of the new film Dracula, there has been some renewed interest in the original work by Bram Stoker.  Dracula is a profoundly Christian work, and its insights could prove fruitful for discussion.  In this paper, I will argue that although modern, skeptical society provides Dracula, sin, and evil a powerful opportunity, good can triumph through a combination of faith, tradition and superstition, and the benefits of modernity.

Dracula can be a representation of evil and the sins of selfishness, materialism, and lust.  Dracula’s attacks make people feel “miserably weak” (137) in their sickness, and Lucy reports that “sickness and weakness are selfish things” (137).  Dracula is also very selfish in his want of blood, where he will kill for it.  He thus can be a representation of selfishness.   When Dracula was cut by Jonathan’s knife, “a bundle of bank-notes and a stream of gold fell out” (326).  Dracula bleeds money.  He also buys homes in upscale neighborhoods throughout London.  Dracula can thus be representation of materialism.  Dracula, a vampire obsessed with the exchange of bodily fluids, can also be a representation of the sin of lust.  Dracula is “the father or furtherer of a new order of beings, whose road must lead through Death, not Life” (322).  His new order of being he chooses to be formed from the modern, progressive capital city of London.

The modern, skeptical society of the British leave then open to an attack from Dracula, and thus sin.  When planning for his empire, Dracula tried to “find out the place of all the world most of promise for him” (341).  He chose London.  London at the time was the capital of the greatest empire in world; a home of modern thought and skepticism. Van Helsing described the modern age as being “so skeptical and selfish” (201).  Of course, selfishness and other sins can easily grow where selfishness is already present, but skepticism too works in the favor of Dracula and sin.  Skepticism destroys faith and religion, which are key forces of good, as the skeptic can “see nothing but a travesty of bitter truth in anything holy” (354).  Atheism and agnosticism were growing intellectual movements at the time, posing a threat to religion and tradition moralities.  This skepticism would help Dracula “for in this enlightened age, when men believe not even what they see, the doubting of wise men would be his greatest strength” (341-342).  In a literal sense, people refusing to believe in the existence of vampires would help him, but in a metaphorical sense, the doubts of wise men on topics such as sin would necessarily help sin to fester.  With “wise men” such as Nietzsche and others doubting the existence of objective morality and instead support relativism, people would be much less likely to oppose sin. After all, how can one oppose something if one does not think it exists?  Of even our heroes, Van Helsing says, “a year ago which of us would have received such a possibility [of vampires existing], in the midst of our scientific, matter-of-fact nineteenth century?” (254).  The modern scientific world focuses on what is, and not what ought to be.

This lessening of morality is evident in the book from the example of the New Woman.  When Lucy is killed by Dracula, she is transformed into the Un-dead herself.  Her “purity” is replaced with “voluptuous wantonness” (225).  She has the same “features of Lucy Westenra. Lucy Westenra, but yet how changed” (225).  She quite literally becomes a new woman.  The pure, chaste, pretty earlier state of Lucy stands in stark contrast with new sexualized woman of Lucy.  Being a vampire, she too then becomes a symbol of evil and sin.  The New Woman thus is an example of the decay of moral values present in 19th century London.  As long as the skepticism is allowed to grow in London, the people will be easier targets of Dracula and sin.

However, the forces of good can fight against Dracula and sin through faith and religion.  Van Helsing arms his team each with a “crucifix” (265) and a “sacred wafer” (266).  On a literal level, Dracula is repulsed by the crucifix and the Eucharist, but on a metaphorical level, sin too is repulsed by Christianity and the Eucharist.  Mina reminds the reader that “the taste of the original apple… remains still in our mouths” (195).  As humans, we are given to sin and the temptation has been with us ever sense the fall, but Christianity and particularly the Eucharist have the power to help us overcome the evil and sin around us and in us.  Van Helsing says that “we have on our side power of combination” (254).  Combined in unison through a church (or The Church, whether it be Catholic or Protestant, for Stoker), we can help each other in our own fights against sin.  In Whitby, “the steps are a great feature of the place. They lead from the town up to the church” (73).  Symbolically, the civilization of the town is fallen, but the church maintains its high position on the top of the hill.  Following the faith will not be easy, and Mina remarks that for “faith it would be easier to die than to live, and so be quit of all the trouble” (380).  However, we must endure the trouble and live out the faith to triumph.

Tradition and superstition can help the forces of good to overcome Dracula and sin.  When attacking Dr. Seward’s ward, Dracula made sure that “all the manuscript had been burned” (304), including the diaries and Van Helsing’s collection of superstitions about vampires.  Dracula wants the current superstitions destroyed and wants new ones from being formed (which is what would happen with their diaries).  Metaphorically then, sin would benefit from the destruction of tradition and superstition too.  Van Helsing arms his team to fight Dracula with “garlic” (265), which they only know the benefits of through superstition and tradition.  Lucy remarks, “how true the old proverbs are” (64).  The old proverbs, such as Aesop’s Fables, teach moral lessons and instruct those who hear them how to be better people.  Lord Godalming, being of the nobility, is a symbol too of the role of tradition in fighting against evil and sin.  The role of the nobility in fighting evil is of course not new in British Literature, stemming back to the role of knights.  Mina compares the company to a tradition force of knights saying, “we go out as the old knights of the Cross to redeem more [souls]” (341).  That the nobleman Arthur and the others (as knights) lead the fight against the evil of Dracula and thus sin shows the value of tradition.  Van Helsing says, “tradition and superstition… are everything. Does not the belief in vampires rest for others—though not, alas! for us—on them?” (254).  Unlike in the novel where only a handful of people have personal experience with Dracula, we all know of sin through the personal experience of our conscience, but tradition and superstition and invaluable in forming our consciences.  We cannot prove through science or pure reason that murder is wrong, but we are told it is and rightly accept it on the basis of authority and tradition.  The superstitions of Paganism played their role as satisfying humanity’s spiritual needs before Christianity, and in many ways prepared the world for Christianity.  As Van Helsing says, “to superstition must we trust at the first; it was man’s faith in the early, and it have its root in faith still” (348).

The moral lessons from superstition and tradition are instrumental in supporting traditional morality and the fight against sin and evil. (From a Catholic perspective, the “tradition” mentioned could easily be interpreted as Tradition as well, and thus be even more important in humanity’s fight against evil.  However, I am unsure if Stoker was a Catholic).  The New Woman plays a role related to superstition and tradition as well.  Mother were largely responsible for raising their children and teaching them right from wrong.  Van Helsing explains the need for “good women, whose lives and whose truths may make good lesson for the children that are to be” (197- 198).  In the crucial task of raising children with faith, morality, and tradition, the New Woman is not to be trusted.  The undead Lucy, a symbol of the New Woman, “held something dark at its breast” (225).  It had a child there, and had been sucking the blood of children for days.  In contrast, Mina had a “sorrowing man’s head resting on me, as though it were that of the baby that some day may lie on my bosom, and I stroked his hair as though he were my own child” (245).  Mina takes care of her child and loves and helps it to grow, but the New Woman only sucks the life (blood) out of the child, representing their hopes of heaven.

The benefits of modernity and science can be used to combat Dracula, sin, and evil.  The third grouping of items with which Van Helsing equips his team, besides the holy items of faith and the garlic of tradition and superstition, is modern technology: a “revolver” and “electric lamps” (265).  Although modern society is the spot where Dracula thinks he can best attack, there are of course many positive benefits from modern society to fight Dracula, evil, and sin. After all, the villagers near Castle Dracula are certainly equipped with both faith and superstition, but they do not triumph over Dracula as Van Helsing’s team does.  The difference is using the forces of modernity against Dracula, evil, and sin.  Van Helsing realizes that “our enemy is not merely spiritual” (265) and thus his team, “for other enemies more mundane, this revolver and this knife” (265).  Unfortunately, evil has devotees in human form too.  For example, violence would ultimately be needed to stop the Jack the Rippers of world.  Van Helsing sees the benefits of the “resources of science” (254).  The transfusions prolong the life of Lucy, and can be symbolic of all of modern medicine and its healing powers.  Lucy explains the spiritual benefits, saying, “health and strength give Love reign” (137).  The most obvious benefit of modern society in defeating Dracula on a literal level is money.  Jonathan says how, in a case of trouble, “Judge Moneybag will settle this case, I think!” (355). But metaphorically money can have a powerful role in defeating evil too.  Mina notes “of the wonderful power of money! What can it not do when it is properly applied; and what might it do when basely used” (378).  When it is abused, of course much bad can from it.  But when properly applied, money can be used to fight disease, end poverty, and build churches.  Thus, through a combination of faith, tradition, and modernity, good can triumph over evil individually and socially.

Written By: Dominic LaMantia

Finding God Through Tolkien, Part II – The Fall of Man

Tolkien


The world of Middle-Earth crafted by J.R.R. Tolkien in his famous books The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion tells more than simple fantasy tales. While these stories introduce compelling and memorable adventures and characters, Tolkien weaves Catholic themes throughout his works. Both the races of elves and men in Middle-Earth, and their fallen nature, are detailed from their awakenings in The Silmarillion, displaying many parallels with the Biblical account of the Fall of Man.

When Eru Ilúvatar, who like God is a singular all-powerful being that holds the power of creation, populates the world, the elves are granted a chance to enter Valinor, the Undying Lands, and live alongside the Valar, overseers of Arda, in light and happiness. Their idyllic existence, however, is soon marred by the introduction of pride and greed through the creation of the precious jewels embedded with light, called Silmarils, by Fëanor, most skilled among all the elves. Morgoth, fallen among the Valar, steals the jewels from Valinor and drains the light from the land with the aid of Ungoliant, a giant accursed spider, bringing darkness to the Undying Lands and shedding blood on its shores before fleeing back to Middle-Earth.

When Fëanor and the Noldor, his followers, realize what happened, they are filled with rage, and swear a terrible oath to follow Morgoth, reclaim the Silmarils from him, and fight anyone who withholds the gems from them, beginning a quest that ultimately results in tremendous losses. One of their most terrible crimes, however, beyond forsaking the protection and promises of the Valar, occurs before they even leave the sanctity of Valinor. In their flight back to Middle-Earth, the Noldor come into conflict with the Teleri, seafaring elves in possession of ships required to cross the sea, resulting in a kinslaying where elves kill fellow elves. This rapid fall and betrayal of the Noldor brought on by the Silmarils and Morgoth’s actions show great similarities to the Fall of Man told in Genesis. The corrupted influence of Morgoth and Ungoliant on Valinor mirrors the temptations presented by the serpent in Eden, and the following kinslaying of elf by elf deepens the seriousness of the elven fall just as Cain’s murder of Abel further separated man from God.

Tolkien’s men display further parallels to the Bible’s Fall of Man through his telling of the Downfall of Númenor in the final section of The Silmarillion. Here, the poisonous influence of the serpent from the Garden of Eden can be distinctly found in the deception of Sauron, who convinced Ar-Pharazôn the king that men should be granted access to Valinor just like the elves. The subsequent invasion of the Undying Lands by a Númenorian fleet results in the entrapment of the army underground and the total submersion of the isle of Númenor into the sea along with all its inhabitants, save the Faithful who escape to Middle-Earth. The crimes of those who try to go against the will of the Valar are punished, as Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, but those who remain free from the influence of Sauron survive to reestablish their kingdom.

And yet, despite these terrible crimes committed by humans and elves alike, in the end God remains with them. When Morgoth’s victory over the elves is nigh complete, a lone envoy seeks out Valinor and appeals to the Valar for mercy and assistance. His call is answered, and the Valar send a powerful host to Middle-Earth to vanquish Morgoth. The remaining elves are then given a choice to return to Valinor or remain in Middle-Earth; some believe they are unable to return after all those years, but others accept the pardon. The Faithful of Númenor are also granted mercy by the Valar in their escape from the sinking of their home, and even the fallen followers of Ar-Pharazôn are given a chance at redemption, as Tolkien writes that they will be given the chance to fight against Morgoth in the final battle of good against evil. So too will God always forgive the crimes of man, and take everyone into His Kingdom who truly repents.

The Silmarillion is very much a tragic tale of suffering and defeat for the elves and men of Middle-Earth, but rich in the messages it outlines on the dangers of greed and anger and the endurance of a forgiving God. Like the earliest men of the Bible, Tolkien’s elves, which are oft portrayed as ideal beings in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, commit atrocities to their own kind in a blind desire to reclaim the Silmarils. His Númenorians, ancestors of the great realm of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings, are held in high esteem as well, yet have a faulted past in their submission to Sauron’s influence. No beings are perfect save God Himself, but that does not mean He will forget His people who have fallen. So long as redemption is genuinely desired, God will always welcome His people into His Kingdom, and like the elves in Valinor, humans shall enjoy eternal salvation in Heaven.

Written By: Richie DeMarco

Characters and Choices – Finding God Through Tolkein : Part I

ring


The world of Middle-Earth crafted by J.R.R. Tolkien in his famous books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is more than a simple setting of fantasy epics. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and his passion for his religion is clearly expressed in his creative works. Beyond being entertaining stories of adventure, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings present Catholicism through both characters and history. The basic struggle between good and evil over the fate of the One Ring, and the incredible temptations of power exhibited through that small object, constitutes the main plot of The Lord of the Rings, and each character reacts differently to its allure, quite representative of the various degrees of resistance that real-world Catholics display in their daily lives.

Looking at some basic examples: the wizard Saruman falls prey to the Dark Lord Sauron’s promises of power, and he falters from his path of leading the free world to becoming an ally of evil, striving to defeat the realms of men before Sauron and thus find the Ring for himself. The prince Faramir, who captures Frodo Baggins and thus the Ring itself, states that he has no desire to take or use the Ring, and sends Frodo along on his journey with better provisions. These two display clear-cut instances of giving in to the promises of evil and flat-out rejecting them, but our lives are rarely so simple. In between these two extremes of corruption and total resistance, the enduring struggle of the Hobbit Frodo more closely resembles real life. Frodo carries the One Ring for the majority of The Lord of the Rings, his strength slowly waning until he ultimately rejects the chance to destroy the Ring in Mount Doom, claiming it for himself in the climactic moment of the story. To balance out Frodo’s failing, his companion Sam slowly grows in strength, guarding Frodo and ensuring that their quest is completed, even singlehandedly entering an enemy tower when Frodo is captured. This relationship between the two protagonists is representative of the struggles and assistance that anyone faces in the real world, and displays the importance of positive influences of peers.

When temptation and sin call to a person, what friend would not step in to help steer them back to the right path? Acknowledging our weaknesses and areas in life where we are struggling to a close and trusted friend can provide that extra boost to help us overcome them. There comes a time in all of our lives when we act as Frodo did, succumbing to some great temptation, no matter how long we have held out. It is at those times that we all need a friend like Sam to steer us right. To use his own words on the slopes of Mount Doom, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get!” We all need friends in our lives that will pick us up when we are down, not just when we are upset, but when we face challenges as well. In times like these, look to fellow Knights for aid, who are striving to live the same life as taught by God and undoubtedly face similar difficulties themselves.

In return, there will come a time when we are all called to help our friends with their own burdens. Catholics are called to serve others, not unlike Sam’s own actions in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien understood the various reactions that fellow Catholics have to the temptations of sin, and his characters display varying degrees of resistance, showing the various facets of all people at different times in life. No one person is perfect, and neither are Tolkien’s characters, whether they are mighty wizards, everyday men, or fictitious Hobbits. We all come across some temptation like that of the Ring of Power in our lives, but we must decide whether to approach any given situation as Saruman, Faramir, Frodo, or Sam. At our strongest, we can reject temptation entirely as Faramir did, and at our weakest, let us hope that those around us will seek to guide us back to God’s way, and forgive us for the wrongs committed.

Tolkien’s characters do indeed also remind us the importance of forgiveness, following God’s own example, despite the sins committed. Upon Frodo and Sam’s return home to their haven of the Shire after the destruction of the Ring, they find their fellow Hobbits oppressed under the rule of ruffians serving Saruman, who sought both profit and revenge against the Hobbits for his loss in the wars earlier in the series. Yet upon the doorstep of his own home, Frodo pardons Saruman, despite the destruction all around them, saying, “I will not have him slain. It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing”. Frodo, who suffered so much throughout the story, is able to overcome any desire for revenge and think soundly, remembering mercy even as his countrymen called for Saruman’s death.

Everyone is capable of mercy and forgiveness, even though we all fail at various points in life, too, as Frodo did. Like him, we cannot allow our faults to restrain us from doing what is right going forward. We can always be forgiven by God, and we can always seek to follow his example and forgive those who have wronged us, no matter how seriously. These lessons can be seen in so many real world examples, such as Pope Saint John Paul II’s forgiveness of his attempted assassin. Tolkien’s works may be fictional stories, but they hold deep Catholic values and lessons exemplified by many of his characters, both through their weaknesses and their strengths. Even Saruman, who attempted to conquer Middle Earth for his own, and then sought revenge on the innocent Hobbits, was forgiven by Frodo, who despite his own failures was able to return to the right path. The stories of Middle Earth may have a stark contrast between good and evil, but the characters have believable human qualities, a mixture of strength and weakness, from which all readers can learn.

Richard DeMarco is a junior in the Georgetown University College, studying both history and German. He is the advocate of the Georgetown Knights of Columbus.