We recently took a road trip and to take our minds off the horrible monotony of the New Jersey Turnpike, we listened to horror stories, including one by Bram Stoker and one by Edgar Allan Poe. We were surprised to discover that the two masters of the macabre had completely different approaches to writing. Stoker showed; Poe told.
Here is the beginning of Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest.” He gets right into it with an urgent need to hurry that is shown in dialogue, with galloping horses, and by the bafflement of a passenger who stops the carriage at what we know is his peril.
When we started for our drive the sun was shining brightly on Munich, and the air was full of the joyousness of early summer. Just as we were about to depart, Herr Delbruck (the maitre d’hotel of the Quatre Saisons, where I was staying) came down bareheaded to the carriage and, after wishing me a pleasant drive, said to the coachman, still holding his hand on the handle of the carriage door, “Remember you are back by nightfall. The sky looks bright but there is a shiver in the north wind that says there may be a sudden storm. But I am sure you will not be late.” Here he smiled and added, “for you know what night it is.”
Johann answered with an emphatic, “Ja, mein Herr,” and, touching his hat, drove off quickly. When we had cleared the town, I said, after signaling to him to stop:
“Tell me, Johann, what is tonight?”
He crossed himself, as he answered laconically: “Walpurgis nacht.”
In the “Masque of the Red Death,” Poe’s style is descriptive. He breaks all the modern rules of writing by simply telling his story and doing it so effectively, it is terrifying:
THE “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal — the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.
But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys.
The stories were startling in their contrasting approaches. After listening to both, we came away with a strong opinion about which one of these writers had the more effective technique. We wonder what you think.