Sunday, May 15, 2016

Renfield, Slave of Dracula

Barbara Hambly, author of the historical vampire tale THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT and several sequels, also wrote a stand-alone vampire novel, RENFIELD, SLAVE OF DRACULA (2006). As the title implies, it retells the events of DRACULA mainly from Renfield's viewpoint. It begins on a night, shortly after his commitment to the asylum, when he escapes and runs toward Carfax Abbey during a dinner party given by Dr. Seward for Lucy Westenra and her mother. The story is told partly through letters and journals, mainly Renfield's diary, and partly in third-person narrative passages largely focused on Renfield and Seward. As in Stoker's novel, Seward comes across as an intelligent, introspective man. He strives to apply modern, humane practices for treating patients, in opposition to the harsh methods advocated by his subordinates at the asylum. We also get fresh perspectives on other characters in DRACULA, such as Mina. But the major emphasis, of course, centers on Renfield's background, his deeply troubled mind, and Dracula's seduction of him. His mental bond with the vampire causes him to experience fragments of the other characters' lives in dreams, which allow the reader to glimpse events from the original novel outside Renfield's direct experience.

In Hambly's retelling, Renfield becomes a former merchant who spent many years in India, where exposure to exotic cultures and strange phenomena has left him open to the supernatural. While he lies helpless in the asylum, his mother-in-law and sister-in-law search for his wife and daughter, who have apparently gone into hiding. His fervent wish to reunite with his family drives his quest for power through the consumption of life-force. Soon enough, though, he realizes the danger of relying on the Count for help or protection. Further complications ensue, behind the scenes of Stoker's narrative. Hambly ingeniously weaves in these new plot elements in ways that never violate the "facts" as presented in the original, occasionally incorporating verbatim passages from DRACULA (conscientiously identified as such). The result is a thoughtful and highly polished variation on the familiar story, with a sympathetic, believable exploration of the title character. The author has plenty of room to work, since in the classic novel Renfield remains enigmatic. On film, although usually seen as pitiable, he has been portrayed as little more than the Count's minion, either a minor villain or comic relief.

For fans of Hambly's THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT: She offers several short pieces in her various fictional universes, including her vampire series. "Sunrise on Running Water," a spinoff from those novels, takes place on board the Titanic:

Sunrise on Running Water

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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