Iceland’s Dracula

draculaHere’s an odd piece of literary trivia. People in Iceland have been reading an entirely different version of Bram Stoker’s famous vampire novel Dracula than anyone else in the world, and we all were none the wiser. The Icelandic translation of Dracula is titled Powers of Darkness, and while the book starts out the same way, it is really not a translation at all. It’s more like Dracula fan-fiction that tells a similar tale.

In 1900, Icelander Valdimar Ásmundsson translated and published Makt Myrkranna in his newspaper. It purported to be a translation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the horror story of a young lawyer who finds himself imprisoned by Count Dracula, and the exploits of his friends who help defeat the vampire. But in 1986, Dracula scholar Hans Corneel de Roos realized the Icelandic text was wholly different from the one originally published in English. For 86 years, any Icelandic readers of Dracula were unknowingly reading a different book than everyone else in the world.

The biggest difference between the Icelandic text and the original is that the former takes place almost entirely in Dracula’s castle, whereas the latter moves between England and Transylvania. It takes about three-quarters of Powers of Darkness for the protagonist—”Thomas Harker” instead of the “Jonathan Harker” of the original—to finally uncover the count’s secrets. (In the original, this section comprises just a quarter of the book.)

There are also significant differences between the later sections of the two books. In the original, after we leave Harker in the castle, the narrative continues in an epistolary style, with the plot unfolding across letters and newspaper clippings. In Powers of Darkness, the point of view suddenly flips from Harker’s diary to an omniscient narrator:

“While Thomas Harker hovered between hope and horror in the castle of Count Dracula, his beloved fiancée, Wilma, spent her time at the bathing resort at Whitby, on the east coast of England.”

In essence, Powers of Darkness is an expanded, more grotesque version of Harker’s adventure in the castle, followed by 50 pages of summary describing what happened after he left. It’s like a detailed Cliffs Notes. There is also an over-the-top ritual sacrifice of three nubile women.

So it sounds to me like the author set out to translate Stoker’s work, but found the novel’s unique storytelling style that involves newspaper clippings, diary entries, and so forth too difficult to work with. Then, after summarizing the end of the book, he decided to pad it out by including more action involving Harker in Dracula’s castle. It wasn’t until an English translation of Powers of Darkness became available that the differences were clear for readers around the world to see.

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