Since we’re posting about horror on Mondays here this month, I thought it would be fitting to talk a bit about covers — that can set the whole mood for the novel. But rather than give a showing of many covers, I thought I’d instead take a walk through the evolution and changes of one classic horror novel: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This novel has been in print since it first published in 1897, which is really impressive and suggests just how important this particular book is to our literary history.
It’s fascinating to see how it’s been interpreted over the years and how it’s been repackaged to appeal to different readers and to call attention to different aspects of the story itself. The book had both American and British publication, so the covers vary a bit therein as well. For more details about the history of Dracula’s publication (and where I picked up my source information), check out this site. It’s much more in depth and offers an interesting look at the parallel lives of the book in Britain vs the US. Since it would be a book-length post to talk about all of the cover versions through the years, I’m offering just a sample of some of the most interesting ones. First, though, a couple original covers to see where everything started:
This is the original cover for the novel. The cover is pretty typical of covers in that era, yellow cloth over board (yes, you now know I did take an entire course on the history of the book and that I do, in fact, remember a lot of it). It’s a very simple cover but I think the font for the title does hint at exactly what lies inside: it’s a little bit Gothic, with the R reaching further below the lines of the other letters following it. It’s also red, which stands out a little differently than a black or white would at the time. This is the original British cover, for those interested in the British vs. American publication histories.
This cloth over board cover is the first American version of the novel, published in 1899. Unlike the British version, this one offers us an image on the cover, though we get a bit more of a bland cloth. It features Dracula’s castle on the hill, along with bats along the side. I pulled this cover up from an auction site, which also talks about how there is a gilt sun in the image, too, which you can see if you squint at the image in the valley to the right of the castle. I’m a big fan of the thin and unimposing font and design, as I think it heightens the creepy vibe.
This is the 1901 British edition of Dracula. Quite a difference from the last two covers — this one features Dracula scaling down the castle walls. It’s also only in black and white and looks very much dime-store novel to me, rather than classic.
Just as a contrast, here’s the 1902 US edition — white boards with green and red on it, along with garland in the center. It seems like a weird choice for me, as it feels much more like Christmas novel than a horror. This is a small thing, but I do like the font choice quite a bit; the “c” in particular has a depth and darkness to it that sort of stands out against the rest of the cover. Like the original British cover, too, this one has an “r” that dips below the other letters.
Since I don’t want to make this a history lesson in the publication of the book (you can get that at the site I linked to earlier), I’m going to dive right into offering a ton of different cover interpretations, including some that work marvelously and some which are flops. There’s no particular order to these covers.
This cover scares me to no end. This Wordsworth Classic cover is from 1997, and it features a creepy vampire. Maybe it’s creepy because it feels like it’s quite a realistic portrayal of a vampire: the pale skin, the scraggly hair, the teeth, and the hooded cape. There’s also the layer of the landscape in the background that is dark and spot-on Gothic. As much as the cover creeps me out and I think does justice to the story, it’s also not a cover I’d want to pick up because, even for 1997, it feels quite dated. Perhaps it’s the font for the title and author, along with the picture-style cropping that centers the cover image on the jacket and leaves plenty of room for black space (which doesn’t add to the image at all). Moreover, it strikes me as the kind of book that you’d have to read in high school and wouldn’t enjoy.
This cover rendition might be one of my favorites, despite not sharing a whole lot through image. It was published in 2005 by Back Bay Books (Hachette). What works so well for this cover is the red damask — for me, this reads horror. The half face image, flipped on its side, heightens that creepy factor, as well. And the font is spot on, a gold color that utilizes just the right amount of script. This cover looks plush almost, and I think that works really well for conveying the story; it’s a bit of a trick, if you will. Comparing this one to, say, the cover immediately before it tells two different stories. The last cover is cold and classic, but this one feels warm and current. That warmth, though, isn’t the cuddly kind.
Here’s a cover I love and a cover that would make me pick up the book — this is the 100th anniversary edition of Stoker’s book, published in 1986 (not sure how that works), published by Signet Classics. This is a haunting cover in a very different way from the Wordsworth Classic — this one features the castle on the hill, along with a fog dusted forest of tangled limbs. But there’s also this glow of icy blue in the back of the castle that offers just a little hint at something else. While the font is dated, it, too, contributes to the classic Gothic feel of the novel. I don’t find it obtrusive, as the image really jumps from the cover. Perhaps what I think stands out to me about this cover is how much it’s reminiscent of the first American edition of this novel, right down to the lightness in the valley by the castle.
The first illustrated version of Dracula was the cover posted above in only black and white, with the vampire scaling down the wall of the castle. This illustrated version was published in 2006, and it might be the most uncomfortable cover I’ve looked at of this novel. It reminds me a lot of a possessed vampire — perhaps alien or robotic possession? The hands are like daggers, but it’s the eyes of this vampire that make me extremely uncomfortable. Frankly, this cover reads more like a science fiction novel than a horror novel in execution. The white behind the vampire’s head is a little unsettling for me, too, given how dark the rest of the cover is.
Here’s a really recent rendition of Dracula, published in January of this year by NMD Books. I love the title font; it’s perfectly representational of the horror feel, red and dripping. I like, too, that that font isn’t used again for the (too much) author/preface text below or it would have impacted the power it has. I can’t say, though, much else appeals to me about this cover. While I like the idea of the hand and the necklace chain woven between the fingers, it’s cropped and Photoshopped strangely. The white-gray color is too sharp a contrast with the black and red. The image looks amateur, especially compared to other takes on the cover image.
Let’s go back to a 1957 version, published by Perma Books. Something about this cover screams classic horror to me; it’s quite reminiscent of a lot of the movie covers of the time. This might be one of the few iterations of this cover that doesn’t feature a Gothic typeset, but I think this font works quite well. Aside from being red (a trend, you’ll notice), it’s a bit shivery. It’s got that horror vibe without being over the top nor too obvious. But the illustration and image on the cover? I’m not sure. The blue is actually kind of light hearted, along with the pink box with a yellow sun. The shadowed hand with the claw-like fingers almost feels comical as it reaches toward the woman, which is an actual image, rather than clip art or illustration. While those things don’t really add up to the vibe I get about the book, there is something classically pulp about this cover that I really do enjoy.
This Modern Library edition is from 2001, and the reason I wanted to talk about this one wasn’t the red (though that’s been a theme), nor is it because it fits into the style of all the Modern Library editions. But I wanted to talk about the symbolism here: the neck with a cross on it. One of the things that really stands out to me in looking at the different versions of Dracula is the choice of images used to represent the novel. We’ve seen castles, we’ve seen vampires, and we’ve seen variations on both those themes. But this cover crosses into something completely different, and that’s the symbolic. The cross carries a lot of weight on the cover and offers an interpretation of the story that’s different than so many of the others. I don’t want to say there’s hope in this cover because I don’t think that’s the case; rather, this cover suggests the idea that religion is strong and powerful. It’s over the model’s neck — a place of vulnerability — and protects it.
The last cover I want to talk about is this recent (September 2011) Vintage Spanish edition. I’m not sure why, but I think of all the covers of Dracula, this one might be the most evocative and most provocative for me — it gets to the heart of the story without ever once giving a hint at this being a vampire novel. We know, though, looking at the bare neck. Placing the title and author right there only add to that. I love that this is a painting and not a photo, too, as I think it makes it just that much different and yet conveys the classic feel of the book. We all know what’s going to happen here, too.
I’ve taken a little walk through a handful of Dracula covers, and I’m eager to know what you think — do you like any more than another? Maybe what interests me more is what your favorite covers are; there are hundreds of versions of the cover, some that were published and some that are straight up fan art. Share a link in the comments with your favorite. What better way to set the mood for a good horror read than a gallery of covers of one of the classics in the genre?