While many are familiar with the story of Dracula, few have bothered to read Stoker’s classic epistolary novel. It follows, through letters and journal entries, the lives of Johnathan Harker─prisoner of the Count’s castle─and his cohorts who will stop at nothing to rid the world of vampiric evil. But it’s not all fangs and fright, and some would be surprised to learn the novel is largely a Christian allegory, albeit a theologically flawed one (i.e. the mystical mumbo jumbo of religious iconography).
The distortion of the communion is one of the largest themes in Stoker’s Dracula─really in all vampiredom─as the Count extends his physical existence through the drinking of human blood, disdaining the eternal life offered through Christ’s blood and His perfect sacrifice. Although Dracula possesses a kind of immortality, it is a soulless one. It is this distortion of the resurrection and the illusion of life everlasting that the vampire offers his converts. At the heart of the vampire story is the distinction between the temporal and eternal, between physical and spiritual life.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.John 6:53-54, NIV
While the historic vampire myth grew out of superstition and an ignorance of science, the vampire literature of the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment periods was, and continues to be, deliberately centered on perversions of religion through the erotic. As such, these stories, particularly those of the 19th century, tend to focus on the conflict between the orthodox decorum of Christianity and the permissive sensuality of paganism. Again, between earthly pleasure and heavenly treasure (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Stoker’s story is different only in that its vampires, while sexually deviant, are never portrayed as anything other than demonic monsters in need of a good staking. Indeed, so much of Dracula revolves around the Christianity (nominal or sincere) of the main characters and their refusal to submit to vampiric seduction and influence. Even when tempted–as Harker was in the presence of the “weird sisters” and as Arthur was at the sight of the voluptuous bloodthirsty Lucy–the protagonists clearly recognize the contrast between good and evil, something sorely lacking in postmodern lit.
Thus are we ministers of God’s own wish: that the world, and men for whom His Son die, will not be given over to monsters, whose very existence would defame Him.Professor Van Helsing in “Dracula” by Bram Stoker
If indeed the vampiric ritual is a perversion of communion, we need to start with a baseline understanding of the nature of communion. Communion is first and foremost a proclamation of the gospel, symbolically displaying the death of Christ until He comes again (1 Corinthians 11:26). Communion must not be confused with salvation or seen to contribute to it; we are justified by grace alone through faith alone (Galatians 2:16, Romans 5:1). Instead, it points to the reality of God’s fellowship with His people through the death of His son, Jesus Christ. Just as a wedding ring does not make one married, but represents the reality of the marriage, so too is communion a reminder of the union we have with Christ when He raises us to new life.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.Luke 22:19-20, NIV
Lest anyone think I’m reading my Christian worldview into Dracula, let’s consider what happens to Mina in Chapter XXI when the heroes burst into the Harkers’ bedroom to find the Count standing over Mina, forcing her to drink from a wound at his chest. Dracula victoriously proclaims Mina as “flesh of my flesh…blood of my blood” (Genesis 2:23-24). It is this unholy communion that unites Mina to Dracula going forward, even allowing her to sense what he senses and track his position under hypnotism. This connection makes her a threat to the others and presages her final conversion to the Undead should the men not put Dracula to death.
As for me, I am not worthy in [God’s] sight. Alas! I am unclean to His eyes, and shall be until He may deign to let me stand forth in His sight as one of those who have not incurred His wrath.Mina Harker in “Dracula” by Bram Stoker
What does all this say about salvation? The Christian is united to Christ through faith, of which communion is an illustration. In the work of penal substitutionary atonement, God imputed our sin to Christ while Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, Christ having paid the penalty in our place to satisfy God’s demand for justice. Thus our salvation is the salvation that Christ earned and that we receive through our union with Him. If one is not united to Christ through faith, he or she is like Mina, wedded to another who cannot offer salvation but only damnation. In Stoker’s novel, this agent of chaos is Dracula, an antichrist in his own right.
But to fail here, is not mere life or death. It is that we become as him; that we henceforward become foul things of the night like him─without heart or conscience, preying on the bodies and souls of those we love best. To us for ever are the gates of heaven shut; for who shall open them to us again? We go on for all time abhorred by all; a blot on the face of God’s sunshine; an arrow in the side of Him who died for man.Professor Van Helsing in “Dracula” by Bram Stoker
Even now, on my fifth (or is it the sixth?) reading of Dracula, I am discovering new depths to the metaphor. (It’s also just a really fun read!) Sure, much of the novel could be read as a Freudian interpretation of Victorian sexuality, as many of the vampire works of the period had ties to contemporary sexual mores, but Stoker’s novel stands out particularly in its themes of salvation and redemption. While I’m not sure Stoker fully understood the Biblical theology of these themes, he did touch on an important truth: you cannot serve two masters.
The madman Renfield understood his allegiance to Dracula was one of Master and servant, as did Mina when she declared herself unclean in the eyes of God due to her “marriage” to Dracula. So let us dispense with any misguided notions of inclusivity. The Word of God is clear: you are either a servant of Yahweh, the one and only True God (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6), or you are a servant of the devil.
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”John 8:42-47, NIV