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Powers of Darkness: The Icelandic and Possibly Lost Version of Dracula

I was so excited when I first heard several months ago about the publication of Powers of Darkness. This book creates a whole new mystery for Dracula scholars and fans to puzzle over.

Powers of Darkness is the new translation into English of the Icelandic translation of Dracula. It reveals many surprising changes between the Dracula we know and the Dracula read in Iceland for over a century.

You see, in 1900, in Iceland, a man named Valdimar Asmundsson published in serial form a translation of the novel Dracula in the journal Fjallkonan. The book was later published in book form with a preface written by Bram Stoker. For a long time, scholars were aware of this preface which was not included in the 1897 publication of Dracula in Britain, but everyone assumed Makt Myrkranna, the name given in Iceland to Dracula, which translated means Powers of Darkness (I’ll refer to it by this title going forward) was a straightforward translation of the novel.

However, Hans C. de Roos, Dracula scholar, recently discovered it is not the same and has translated the Icelandic version of the novel back into English so scholars can compare the two versions. The result is that the Icelandic version can clearly be seen to have drastic and notable differences to Dracula. How drastic? As Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great-grandnephew, explains in his preface to Powers of Darkness, the Icelandic manuscript is divided into two sections. The first describes Harker’s time in Dracula’s castle, and the second describes Dracula’s time in England. The description of Harker’s time in the castle in Dracula is 22,700 words, but in the Icelandic version, it is 37,200 words—a 63 percent increase. The rest of the novel is 137,860 words in Dracula, but in the Icelandic version, it is a rushed 9,100 words—a 93 percent reduction. Obviously, the word count alone reveals significant changes.

The next most noteworthy change is that Harker’s section is written as a diary, as it is in Dracula itself, but in the Icelandic manuscript, the first-person diary, letter, and recordings format is dropped to be replaced by a nameless narrator who describes all the action. Also, the expanded scenes in Dracula’s castle introduce several minor characters, including a beautiful young woman who tries to seduce Harker. In the later section, she shows up in England as a countess. The second section is very rushed and reads more like plot summary than a thought-out and developed storyline. For example, it will simply state that a conversation was held rather than detailing the dialogue of that conversation.

Several of the characters also have different names. Harker’s first name is Tom rather than Jonathan. Mina becomes Wilma, which Roos notes is also a shorter version of Wilhelmina, as is Mina. (Roos also suspects the name Mina, which scholars continue to debate about the origins for, may have derived from a governess within Stoker’s brother’s family who was named Minna.) Lucy is Lucia in Powers of Darkness, and while most of the other characters have their usual names, several other characters appear in the storyline who are not in Dracula itself, and most notably, Renfield is completely absent.

The biggest change concerning the characters, however, is the way Dracula is treated. He is far more visible in London, appearing at dinner parties, and befriending Lucia and Wilma, after being introduced to them as Baron Székely by Lucia’s uncle. His purpose also appears to be different. While in Dracula, the Count seems to have little purpose other than to quench his thirst for blood, in Powers of Darkness, he seems intent on playing a political game. His speeches to Harker make it clear he is not a fan of democracy; instead, he seems to be wanting to create some sort of new world order, and he also has several other foreigners and diplomats who gather about him in England and seem to be aiding him in these pursuits. Once Dracula is destroyed, these foreigners quietly leave England and one commits suicide. The Count’s death is also notable because he is killed in England, and when he is killed, he is simply killed. There is no passage here as in Dracula that shows a peaceful expression coming across his face as if he is relieved to be freed of his vampirism. Nor does Wilma, unlike Mina, show any pity for him; she is not as linked to him either, never drinking his blood as in Dracula.

A more nuanced difference between Dracula and Powers of Darkness is the language used in the latter—numerous words throughout the book seem to have been inserted specifically for an Icelandic audience, and several references are made to Icelandic mythology. This change makes it clear that Asmundsson as translator probably was taking liberties with the text to make it more palatable to an Icelandic audience, but how far did he take it? Is he responsible for all the changes in the novel, or just some of them? To what extent was Bram Stoker aware of the changes made?

We could easily believe that Asmundsson just decided to rewrite the novel and make it into something different as he serialized it, and then getting tired of it, decided to rush it to an end. This supposition doesn’t explain everything, however. Why would Asmundsson have so drastically changed and expanded the scenes with Harker at Dracula’s castle if he had the full novel to serialize? Also, several of the differences in Powers of Darkness reflect Stoker’s notes for Dracula and ideas he had that he did not incorporate into the final version of Dracula.

No one has the answers to these questions, but personally, I believe Asmundsson was working from an earlier draft of Dracula that somehow fell into his hands; in the introduction, Roos speculates on different ways the manuscript might have made it to Iceland or who may have put Stoker in touch with Asmundsson. I believe the fact that several of the changes reflect Stoker’s notes makes it clear that Asmundsson did not act alone but in conjunction to some degree with Stoker. Stoker apparently approved of the publication of his novel in Icelandic since he provided the introduction. The question, however, is did Stoker know about all the changes made? Even if Stoker had provided an earlier manuscript of Dracula, Asmundsson clearly took some liberties with it by introducing references that would be more familiar to Icelandic readers.

The only way answers could be found to all the questions this new edition of Dracula raises would be if the manuscript Asmundsson worked from were to be found. At this time, however, that seems unlikely. Even so, Powers of Darkness adds to the mystery of Dracula. It opens new interest in Stoker’s writing process and how Dracula may have evolved over time into the novel we have today. Ultimately, I found Powers of Darkness a far less satisfying read than Dracula, although it certainly has its interesting moments. I think the scenes with Harker are the best, and yet, that the Harker chapters were significantly reduced in Dracula from what appears here is a sign to me that Stoker knew how to separate the wheat from the chaff to make his novel more powerful, frightening, and nuanced than if he had retained everything in those opening sections of what I believe is an earlier version of Dracula. He also realized what was not working and obviously improved upon it in the later sections of the novel. Other than the possibility of small changes made by the translator, I suspect what Powers of Darkness reflects is an early draft of Dracula. It will be interesting to see if more information is eventually discovered about the novel to help us better understand why Stoker would have let this version be published—if he did—and how his novel developed to become the classic it is today.

This new edition has both an informative preface and introduction and there are also 352 annotated notes in the glosses of the pages pointing out plot and character differences between Dracula and Powers of Darkness, including Icelandic wordings of interest. There are also a few illustrations. Altogether, anyone who is a lover of Dracula will want to read this book.

For more information about Powers of Darkness, visit the book’s website www.PowersofDarkness.com.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, beginning with Arthur’s Legacy and including Lilith’s Love, which is largely a sequel to Dracula. His scholarly nonfiction works include King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula