Why We Need Mina-Centric Dracula

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As one of the most adapted work of literature, Dracula has had many reinterpretations. At first the story was about simple good vs evil, the group of gentlemen fighting against the evil vampire, to romantic anti-hero vs xenophobic group of misguided men, the character of Dracula saw many incarnations. Next to Dracula himself, Abraham Van Helsing was reinterpreted the most. Sometimes he was a gentle old professor with in-depth knowledge of vampires who wished to help his friends (Edward Van Sloan), or sometimes he was an intelligent and strong-willed vampire killer who was not afraid to physically grapple with Dracula (Peter Cushing), or just a madman (Anthony Hopkins).

However, we never really saw much reinterpretation on Mina… other than being from a damsel in distress to being a star crossed lover. Tragic thing is, Mina’s character has so much potential for reinterpretation, and huge appeal for today’s audiences.

Who Is Mina?

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Mina is often regarded as “That second victim the good guys managed to save”, or love interest for Dracula. However, Mina is actually the main architect in Dracula’s downfall.

It was Mina who organized the different accounts, such as diaries and newspaper clippings regarding strange happenings to make sense of the situation, and typed them into one document. Mina also interviews Renfield to learn more about Dracula. After she was bitten by Dracula, Mina’s telepathic link to Dracula becomes very crucial in tracking down Dracula.

Mina is displayed as an emotional center of the protagonists, as well as the vital intellectual member of the group. Men were baffled before Mina decided to help, and once she provided the brain and her heart, Dracula was doomed.

What Is The Problem?

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Despite the crucial role Mina played in the downfall of Dracula, her role was downplayed in…virtually all the adaptations except in Nosferatu and its remake. In that remake, the character based on Mina lures Count Orlock (Dracula) and destroys him by making him stay till the sunrise, which resulted in her death as well. Other than that…well, she was typical damsel in distress, or love interest of Dracula. There’s Mina from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which would be closest to the novel’s Mina. This version of Mina was the leader of the group, who recruited and controlled bands of unstable characters. But we are yet to see strong and intellectual Mina in strictly Dracula adaptation.

In many cases Mina is robbed of her intellect, which distinguished her from other victims of vampires (until today).

For example, in Dracula (1932), Mina is a naive daughter of Dr.Seward who is easily seduced by the exotic count, and ignores Van Helsing’s instructions. Mina does not fare any better in Horror of Dracula (1958); in this Hammer Horror flick, Mina is a wife of Arthur Holmwood, who unwittingly lets Dracula into her house. In any other movie, Mina never plays major role in the destruction of Dracula as described in the novel. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Mina is a tragic heroine who falls in love with a random guy she sees on the street (who turns out to be Dracula, of course). I do not really need to give much examples here. Just grab a random Dracula-based movies, and you will never see that Mina who fights against Dracula.

Why Is This Happening?

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The most obvious reason for downplaying Mina’s role would be Dracula himself. He is the titular character, and the star of the story. Dracula gained the fame as the undying vampire king, almost like Satan in terms of charisma. If such a figure is to be defeated by a victim, the audiences may not find him threatening (at least that would be what the creators seem to think). In addition to this, the picture of iron-willed vampire hunter vs the evil vampire king is still the popular picture. This led to the emphasis on Van Helsing and other vampire killer characters.

In the early vampire movies, women generally played the victim, and based on that cliche, Mina was robbed of her quality. Later on, Mina became a tragic lover in favor of romantic Dracula, which is in some ways, worsen her character in my opinion. So Mina falls in love with a man who caused the death of her best friend, and becomes a subject to so-called destiny because she looked like Dracula’s wife? Also, considering how Dracula treated women in the past (his three vampire women, the woman who was killed by the wolves when she begged Dracula to return her child, and Lucy), I am not sure if Dracula would be the ideal lover people make him out to be. Well, Dracula did admit that he is capable of love, but he said that to the three vampire ladies. I have a feeling that his “love” has a terrible consequence.

Also, I suspect that many contemporary writers found her conservative perspective distasteful and somehow thought turning her into a tragic lover more redeeming. Mina openly displays her dislike of “New-Women” in her diaries, and admits being happy to assist Jonathan as a good wife. Her knowledge of train schedule was a result of Mina helping Jonathan with his travel plans. Mina might be intelligent, but many of her actions are based on the Victorian conservative good-wife stereotype. I can assume that many contemporary readers found this distasteful and wanted to alter her character for more modern touch. Sad thing is that Mina’s strength was robbed in the process – without her intelligence and will, Mina is indistinguishable from other victims.

Why Do You Want Mina-Centric Dracula Then?

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Mina in the novel has a crucial role which was never portrayed in any of the adaptations, so making her the emotional and intellectual center of the group would refresh how people perceive Dracula. Also, Mina gets to have two battles – against Dracula, and against the men surrounding her. The latter would be a pitch to those who despise the conservative depiction of Mina in the novel.

Despite Mina’s contribution, the male protagonists treat her as if she is a helpless damsel- they appreciate her contribution, but order Mina to stay home while they are out to hunt Dracula, and Jonathan Harker’s epilogue states that Mina should be thankful for their service for her and completely ignores Mina’s crucial contribution to the destruction of Dracula. Considering that many Dracula reinterpretations pretty much bend the accounts in novel for their preference (the most common school of thought is that the most of the characters’ thoughts in the novel are not what they really meant…), it would not be impossible to imagine Mina being frustrated with how men treats her but hides it in her diaries. It will also be interesting to see how Mina tries to protect herself despite the men’s ineffectual protections. After all, Dracula was successful in invading Mina’s bedroom although the Van Helsing and others have already experienced the same attack on Lucy. Perhaps Mina will have an open confrontation with the men, especially with Van Helsing or Seward, regarding how they are approaching the Dracula matter and play lead role as a result.

By turning Mina into the main character, we get to see the woman’s struggle in Victorian men’s society as well as her battle against the vampire king. Combining these two struggles will create intense drama with multiple layers. In addition to this, the recent pop culture trend saw the emergence of strong female characters, such as Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road, and casting Mina in such a role would help the trend to prosper.

This approach can also shed a new perspective to other characters as well. For example, what kind of man should Jonathan Harker be in order for Mina to fall in love with him? What kind of conflict would he have with Mina, or other men who might expect Jonathan to “care” for his wife? Also, how would this change Mina’s interaction with Dracula? This time Mina will not be helpless victim or helplessly in love, which will be something new to the audience not too familiar with the original Dracula. This will also attract those who are not happy with how women are traditionally portrayed in vampire movies, and who knows if we will see another masterpiece from those encouraged by the trend?

We have seen similar attempts made with Sherlock Holmes – by focusing on his eccentricities and anti-social behavior, Sherlock managed to paint the updated picture of Sherlock Holmes and made it mainstream. The new depiction of Sherlock Holmes based on the aspect not familiar to the public helped to revive people’s interest in the detective and launched another boom in Sherlockian tradition. I believe it is about the time with Dracula.

But this time, it will be Mina in charge. Not the immortal vampire king, but the woman who brought down Dracula.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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38 Comments

  1. Adnan Bey

    I don’t know why, but vampires have always held a special place in an entertainer’s heart and have always been popular. I guess it’s the exhilarating fear of being bitten by a seductive being and having a taste for blood.

  2. Teddy Childs
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    Bram Stoker’s Dracula will always be my favourite vampire novel!

    • It has certainly solidified all the vampire cliches. I believe Dracula was the first popular vampire fiction to use the cliche where the victims become vampires. In Polidori’s Vampyre, Le Fanu’s Carmilla, the victims are never brought back as undead. I haven’t fully read Varney the Vampire, but I think his victims never come back.

      It might be interesting to note that Varney the Vampire had that “vampire seeking part of the story”, and according to H.P Lovecraft Literary PodCast, Varney curses his fate as a vampire and at one point he is prosecuted by the villagers. Too bad that it was not as good as Dracula.

  3. Jay Rockwell
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    Mina had all the makings of a modern woman even within the timeframe that the story was set in.

    • Yes, she was pretty high-tech for the time. Not only she was good with recording devices, she was also a train-geek of a sort! It would not be far-fetched to make Mina a kind of tech-geek in “modern version”. More I look at Mina, I wonder why the writers do not see the opportunities.

  4. Great article. There are many instances in the novel where Mina is proactive and takes action instead of just reacting to what’s going on around her.

  5. Venus Echos

    Thank you so much for this article. I have to admit I blindly fell into the masses and did not give Mina her dues. I appreciate you bringing this valuable information to the forefront. Sometimes that is what is needed to change directions and perceptions. This analysis makes me want to read The Lesbian Vampires and see how the love interest is portrayed in that genre.

    • It is an easy pitfall. Honestly, I did not think much of Mina until I read the bog post that points out Mina’s strength in the novel, and I had to read the story to appreciate her character.

      Problem is that Mina’s cool actions are concentrated in the latter half, after Lucy’s death. And this is the part where Dracula is “missing”, and the most readers are only interested in Dracula, so Mina’s part tended to be ignored. Plus, her exploits are not action-oriented, which makes it hard to make it appealing in movies. The crucial part of her assistance was Mina’s organization of important documents, but how are the writers going to sell that to the audiences expecting to watch the menacing Count hunting women in night? I think Mina-Centric Dracula has to be promoted in very clear way, without distraction from Dracula or Van Helsing. The good catchphrase would be “The Woman who killed Dracula”.

      Have you read “Carmilla” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu? It is perhaps the oldest vampire novel with lesbian tendency(it is generally considered that Carmilla is lesbian).

  6. Michaud
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    I’m spending the majority of my semester writing about “Dracula” for my thesis; I wish it was culturally acceptable to write about monsters all year round!

    • i have a friend who did her whole MA thesis on zombies! and it was totally, totally fascinating.

    • Gothic is a rapidly expanding area of academic research. Have you tried contacting the International Gothic Association?

  7. Have you watched Showtime’s Penny Dreadful?

    • I haven’t, but heard few things about it. Due to the spoilers, I cannot say much about how I feel about the show

      • Mina only makes a brief appearance but she is a full-on vampire.

        THanks for the article!

  8. shar vue
    0

    Love Mina from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

  9. Mina Harker is awesome and any movie that portrays her as a screaming damsel in distress who falls over her feet for Dracula won’t do her justice.

    • Sadly, that was her portrayal for the most of time… except Nosferatu and its remake. In those movies, character based on Mina(funnily they changed her name to Lucy in 1979 version, but no one is fooled. She is married to Jonathan, and is the second victim) sacrifice themselves to destroy Dracula. Not quite the portrayal I was thinking of, but much better than other depictions.

  10. Columbus
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    Book can be renamed ‘We decided to hide things from Mina in order to protect her and now we are REALLY screwed until Mina saved us.’

  11. Any article that is akin to Dracula is of upmost interest to me.

  12. HeatherDeBel

    Great article! I never thought of Mina as such a strong character in the novel, but I certainly see your point. The problem is all of Stoker’s characters are pretty flat, and except for the daunting presence of Dracula, the plot is pretty flat as well. It is sad that through time Van Helsing and other male characters have become more complex, while Mina hasn’t. and let’s not forget, what about poor Lucy? The sweet, but less-“pure” version of Mina who falls victim first. Of course the tropes of these two women lead to what Carol J. Clover talks about in “Men, Women, and Chainsaws,” namely how the female virgin survives horror films while the promiscuous one doesn’t…

    • Mina still does get a point for being more proactive than other victims of her time. Lucy is an interesting character too, because she was sometimes considered “opposite” of Mina. It is rather ridiculous that some scholars consider Lucy more feminist character than Mina because Lucy wanted to marry all three men… To be honest, I sometimes read Dracula criticism to see how far the scholars can go. It was also amusing to learn that Neil Gaiman thought Quincey Morris was either Dracula’s henchman or the Count himself when he read Dracula as a child(see Gaiman’s introduction for New Annotated Dracula by Leslie S Klinger)

  13. Media adaptations have not always been kind to the heroine!

  14. Mina is a fascinating character. She’s innocent, sweet but also quick-witted and rarely faints.

  15. I loved the book from beginning to end, but the one thing that sticks out at me is the character of Ms Harker.

  16. Many people see Mina as the ideal Victorian woman, who was devoted to her fiancee and whose actions centered on pleasing him.

    • There’s that notion, and I think that’s why people want to turn her into Dracula’s secret lover. However, considering the surprising amount of liberty writers take when they adapt Dracula, it would not be impossible to make Mina a secret rebel.

  17. Brilliant commentary on Mina’s character in the book. She really feels more feminist than other female characters of the time.

  18. Nice piece from Mina Harkers side of things.

  19. Have you watched NBC’s Dracula series?

    • I haven’t yet, but I know the basic premise. Making Dracula disguised as an inventor and having him teaming up with Van Helsing was very interesting idea. But I heard that the series was cancelled, unfortunately.

      • It was, but it’s very good and worth watching.

        There’s a part where Jonathan Harker is upset about Mina pursuing her own career as a doctor because he sees it as her not trusting him to provide for them when they’re married, and Dracula makes him realize she has her own career aspirations that are just as valid as his.

  20. The novel ‘Mina’ by Marie Kiraly retells the Bram Stoker’s original tale from Mina’s perspective. It’s brilliantly feminist, and portrays Dracula not as monstrous, but as a sentient lover, who sparks Mina’s sexual awakening; liberating her from Jonathan Harker’s stuffy, patriarchal views of gendered marriage roles.

    It portrays her ‘conservative good-wife’ persona, as well as Dracula’s ‘evil’ actions, as a symptom of mere ‘appearances’, and the ideology of the time – throughout Dracula, we only really see things from the ‘heroic’ male perspective (Van Helsing, Harker etc.) – and of course even her diary isn’t completely private. Once we are allowed in to Mina’s mind, and to hear her inner thoughts and feelings, she is both strong and intelligent, AND the ‘lover’ figure. In fact, the two traits are completely intertwined. Definitely one to read, and one that explores a lot of the ideas covered here.

  21. Could part of the reason her part is downplayed be due to the sexual nature of Dracula and his victims? There is a definite sensuality about Dracula and his first victim, Lucy and it can be seen between him and Mina as well. Though I for the life of me can’t piece it together… then again I haven’t read the book in a very long time.

  22. Reading this article while re-reading Dracula for an M.A. course on horror. Thanks for the new perspective on Mina!

  23. I really think Mina is a character that needs to be taken directly from the text, devoid from other interpretations, in order to reimagine her in any new Dracula adaptation or whatnot. I think that the movies and such have almost bastardized the interesting format of the original story – the unique formatting, and how so many tropes of modern fantasy novels originate from that. Mina’s “The Chick” (the obligatory female member), Jonathan’s “The Normal Everyguy Who Gets Thrown Into Events Way Over His Head (meaning he should probably be played by Martin Freeman in any new adaptation), Van Helsing is “The Obligatory Guy Who Has A Clue On What’s Going On”. So I really wish that people would look more to that as an inspiration.

  24. Emily Deibler

    Yes yes yes. I am disturbed at Dracula adaptations’ tendencies to reduce Mina’s agency and essentially make her a satellite character to a romanticized Dracula–who assaults multiple victims in the novel. It takes the narratives of those who suffered and gives that agency to the abuser, and, as you mentioned, Mina’s participation in the plot is pivotal to killing the monster who robbed her of her best friend. And the surge of Mina/Dracula romance? Don’t get me started. Someone please save Mina Harker.

  25. ArticKnight
    0

    Mina is crucial character because the very translation of her name means Love which Dracula yearned for but was also afraid because it meant light which was against everything Dracula stood for since he was the symbol of darkness.

    He realized he loved her and when he understood she loved another he found no reason to continue…to ensure her safety… he didn’t struggle to keep himself safe and he trusted himself to a band of unarmed human slaves purposely so that Harker, Arthur and Helsing could find and destroy him…Not many people understand this kind of selfless love,devotion or sacrifice these days…it’s a pity…

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