This past week, I had the chance to read Doug Lamoreaux’s novel, Dracula’s Demeter. The novel endeavors to take a brief, haunting episode from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and expand it into a full-length novel in its own right. This is the story of Dracula’s sea voyage from Transylvania to England.
In Dracula, Jonathan Harker is locked in his chambers in the Count’s castle. He hears the sounds of heavy boxes being dragged from below, the hammering of nails, and ultimately the sound of a wagon and horses heading into the distance. He infers Count Dracula is leaving the castle with fifty boxes of earth he’d seen earlier in the novel. Later, a ship called the Demeter washes ashore in Whitby, its dead captain lashed to the wheel. Only his log hints at the mysterious happenings on the ship. The only cargo is fifty boxes of Earth. The only “passenger” a great dog or wolf, which runs off into the night.
The Demeter’s voyage was dramatized in the 1922 film Nosferatu and produced some of the film’s most effective and terrorizing scenes. What’s more, Dracula’s sea voyage in the original novel does inspire a number of questions. How exactly did a ship with a dead crew find its way into Whitby harbor. After all, the captain was lashed to the wheel, holding a crucifix. It’s not like Dracula himself could steer the ship, or could he?
Dracula’s Demeter uses the log of the Demeter from Bram Stoker’s Dracula as an outline. The logbook in Stoker’s novel gives us the name of many of the ill-fated ship’s crew: Petrofsky, Olgaren, and Abramoff. We know there are two mates and a cook, and the first mate is Romanian, while most of the crew is Russian.
Lamoreaux fills in the back stories of these men. The cook is an old Scotsman on his last sea voyage, looking forward to retirement in Whitby. One of the men has severe back pain and must take laudanum just to function. Lamoreaux adds an undocumented passenger to the mix—an English scholar who must flee Romania quickly because the daughter of an official claimed she was pregnant with his child. As the story unfolds, we find that not all aboard are who they seem, but the captain has reasons to keep their secrets in his official log. This allows a story to unfold that is at once consistent with Dracula but also offers a few surprises.
Lamoreaux remains true to Stoker and his Dracula is unquestionably a villain. We see him kill in grotesque ways and manipulate people both aboard the ship and in Whitby. Like the story of Demeter’s voyage, Lamoreaux adds to the character of Dracula without contradicting Stoker and we come away with an even more frightening and villainous creature than before.
I first encountered Doug Lamoreaux through an article he wrote at Vamped.org called “The Old Vampire and the Sea.” In the article, he presents an intriguing way to read Dracula. The novel is told in dated journal and diary entries, so the idea is to read each one over the course of a year on the dates of the entries. I’d love to give that a try next year. However, I did note that I read Dracula’s Demeter very nearly on the dates of the novel’s sea voyage.
Finally, just as a reminder, in a little under two weeks, I will be signing my vampire novels at Boutique du Vampyre in the French Quarter of New Orleans from 3 to 6pm on Saturday, August 22. If you’re reading this and can be in New Orleans that weekend, I’d love to see you there!