At the beginning of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the author assures us:
How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of latter-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.
Bold words. Stoker is telling us he has a true and accurate account – something we should take seriously. Of course that’s hogwash. What follows is a crazy story about lesbian vampire babes, and guys climbing up walls like Spiderman, and some ghoul stashing soil samples all over London so he can feast on the blood of the living.
But it gave me an idea for an odd little exercise in critical thinking. What if Stoker’s story – this collection of journal entries and newspaper accounts, and messages from a ship’s log – were composed of real documents? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone used second-hand testimony as evidence of the paranormal. How would you go about investigating the story behind them?
In the days and weeks that follow, I will be asking cops, lawyers, folklorists, and Dracula scholars to take Stoker’s promise – and his documents – seriously, and begin an investigation. I invite anyone with an interest and a related expertise to write an essay – as short as 300 words – tackling this subject. Tell me who you are, and if you have a website or a book you’ve written, I’ll be sure to mention it along with your essay. Try to answer any or all of the following questions:
Who would you need to question, if you lived in the 19th century? How would you research them today? What are the weak points in their testimony, and what aspects of their accounts are truly challenging? Could you develop a working hypothesis that explains Harker’s harrowing experience, or the scene in Lucy’s crypt? Or any of the other paranormal experiences these people describe? And who are these witnesses, really? Who is the Count they spend most of the book pursuing? Was Dracula framed?
Check back in, and hopefully we’ll get some answers. I know we’ll have fun.