Sunday 18 September 2011

The Dracula game

This is another nostalgia post. Years before I read the novel, I was fascinated by Bram Stoker's famous vampire. It only became stronger when I read the novel. But before I read the novel and watched many, many of the movies, my first knowledge of Dracula beyond the traditional images you could find at Halloween and on old poster of movies I did not have the right to watch was a gamebook written by J.H. Brennan called Dracula's Castle. All of his gamebooks had been translated in French at that time and gamebooks was a big craze as a child. His Grailquest series was a parody of the Arthurian legend, not always good, and Demonspawn was a neat pastiche of Conan the Barbarian, done pretty much with a straight face. His Horror Classic Gamebooks were heavy on parodic elements too, but they also borrowed a lot from old horror movies. I loved the book cover of Dracula's Castle, with a Dracula clearly inspired by Christopher Lee. In my mind and until I read the novel, Dracula always looked like Christopher Lee, with the feral, bloodthirsty demeanour that burst from the aristocratic mask.

So anyway, one warm early September afternoon, my brothers and I were bored stiff. It was the last day of a teachers strike and we didn't know what to do with ourselves. We went to a nearby park where we saw an acquaintance, a friend of a friend, who had many gamebooks, including Dracula's Castle. I don't now exactly why, maybe it was because Halloween was already in our minds, but we decided to play a make belief game of Dracula, using the gamebook as source material. I played three characters: William Harker (why not Jonathan Harker? I think because most of my characters were named William and because Jonathan Harker was a XIXth century character and our game was set in contemporary period), Van Helsing (a more sinister vampire hunter, as he was described in the gamebook) and Dracula himself. PJ played a vampire hunter who had stakes that he stick together and turn into a cross (nice little piece of gadgetry) and the others played other vampire hunters. All afternoon, we fought Dracula's minions: vampires of course, but also wolves, devils, zombies, and Dracula, who always had the upper hand. We never got the better of the Count that day, and unfortunately we never played the game again.We were planning a big showdown in the upcoming weeks, when Dracula would be destroyed after we combined our strengths.

To this day I am sad we didn't finish the job. I wish I had played Dracula again, as villains are such interesting characters. It was a silly game really, there was close to zilch of Stoker's story in it, but it had an influence on the years to come. We discovered in the acquaintance we had met a kindred spirit and he became a close friend, even to this day. In our mind, it replaced the Halloween game. Both were children's make believe games, but this one was slightly more adult already, because of the source material. Indirectly, it lead us to Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu. We also and more importantly became curious about classic horror literature and started looking for Dracula, Frankenstein and the others in the local library. The Dracula game sharpened our interest in it. On longer term, it made us discovered other classics, XIXth century literature first then more. All this because we were bored stiff one afternoon.


The Gill-Man said...

I love stories like this! It's amazing how something that might be considered "schlocky" fair can lead to one discovering amazing things! For me, I saw dozens upon dozens of Dracula movies, and read countless comics, but didn't read Stoker's novel until I was in my 20's! This has led to me researching Dracula and vampire folklore extensively, and formulating a novel that I'm currently writing.

While many of those films and comics are of dubious quality, I still hold a soft spot in my heart for them. In many ways, they were the "gateway drugs" for my discovery of the rich history of the vampire myths. Many would look down their noses at those films or your game, but you never know where such things will lead!

PJ said...

Ah, c''était beaucoup mieux que le jeu de "commando vampire" que j'ai joué plus tard avec les jumeaux et Kevin, en essayant de retrouver l'atmosphère. Mettons que ça n'a pas fonctionné comme je l'aurais voulu. Mais il me semble que je n'ai jamais lu autant de livres qu'en sixième année, après ladite grève.

D'ailleurs, au début de la grève, je suis allé faire des tests d'allergie à Québec avec père et mère. N'eût été de la grève, j'aurais manqué un jour d'école (d'ailleurs, on est passé devant l'école au passage, les enseignants piquettaient). C'est dans ce voyage qu'on a acheté les toccates et fugues de Bach sur CD. La musique d'orgue (et la BWV 565 en particulier) est souvent associée à l'Halloween et à l'horreur. Je me demande un peu pourquoi. Mais je suis sûr que ça nous a mis dans l'ambiance aussi à ce moment.

Guillaume said...

@The Gill-Man-I thought you'd like that post. Many of our childhood make belief games would make for great pieces of fiction. The Dracula game was more a live Dungeons & Dragons than a horror story, but still, it was really cool.
@PJ-Je crois que "commando vampires" a été joué après que tu aies lu le roman, je me trompe? Jamais une bonne idée quand le Méchant passe son temps à se sauver. Je me demande pourquoi on n'a pas repris notre jeu de Dracula.

L'orgue est associée à l'horreur pour plusieurs raisons je crois: le son qui a des allures de vent sinistre, l'endroit austère où on le joue, etc.

Guillaume said...

@The Gill-Man-I forgot to say: I WANT to read your novel. We need more traditional vampire stories.