Lara Rutherford-Morrison-University of California, Santa Barbara
Part One: Re-Vamping Dracula as an Interactive E-Book
Since the iPad first arrived on the scene in 2010, a variety of e-book apps have attempted to take advantage of the uniquely interactive possibilities of the tablet computer. Many of these apps are designed for educational purposes. For example, Cambridge’s Shakespeare apps and Touch Press’s edition of Eliot’s The Wasteland include supplementary materials like audio-recordings of the texts, critical commentary, performance videos, and images—all aimed at making the text more accessible to readers. These works function similarly to elaborate multimedia versions of Norton Critical Editions, with the effects and additions clearly figured as secondary to the original work. A second category of e-book apps attempts something arguably more ambitious: the integration of the iPad’s interactive features with the fictional world of a text. There are a number of books available for the iPad that combine works of Victorian fiction (including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Treasure Island, A Christmas Carol, and the Sherlock Holmes stories) with illustration, music, and participatory features that use readers’ finger strokes to turn pages, open envelopes, move objects, and so on. My focus in this post, and another to follow, is PadWorx’s Dracula, an interactive version of Stoker’s 1897 novel released for the iPad in 2010. Particularly ambitious in its design, Dracula for the iPad raises a number of questions about media, adaptation, and the body, and opens a path into thinking about both the possibilities and limitations of interactive e-book apps as a narrative genre.
In its marketing materials, PadWorx describes Dracula: The Official Stoker Family Edition as a “revolutionary vision of what an e-book reading experience should be [, creating] the definitive user-driven experience through text, animation, gameplay-like elements and touch screen technology.”[i] In some ways, Stoker’s Dracula is particularly well suited to this format. The epistolary and documentary structure of the novel encourages readers to imagine a great stack of physical evidence; in Dracula‘s traditional format as a print book, narrative entries are labeled as to their genre (including letters, journals, telegrams, newspaper clippings, and sound recordings), but on the page, they all look the same. In the iPad app, each entry is differentiated according to its type, and the reader gets to manipulate virtual pages, open letters and telegrams, read simulated newspapers, and—rather delightfully—listen to Doctor Seward’s phonograph diary. Stoker’s text is accompanied by sound effects and a musical score, as well as illustrations and brief animated sequences. The reader interacts with the book by manipulating objects and pressing on pulsing “buttons” that reveal text and animations.
The cartoonish quality of the illustrations suggests that PadWorx is aiming for the young adult market. While the e-book retains Stoker’s plot and writing (albeit, in a slightly abridged version), the app is nevertheless clearly influenced by the vampires-as-sexy-loner-boyfriends trend typified by Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Each chapter, for example, is prefaced by a contemporary song; most are angsty ballads sung by female singers about forbidden romances, a subject at odds with the actual plot of Dracula, but familiar to anyone who follows contemporary vampire stories.
One of the major questions raised by the app is, Is this Dracula or is it an adaptation? The app uses Stoker’s text, but at what point does our engagement with the text change so much that the work becomes something new and other? There are plenty of changes and additions to books that we accept without suggesting that the book is no longer itself. Illustrations, for example, may offer different artistic interpretations of a text, but few would argue that an illustrated edition of Pride and Prejudice is no longer Pride and Prejudice. Many of the “enhancements” offered by interactive e-book apps would seem to follow in the same vein. The popular Alice for the iPad, for instance, offers the full text of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, accompanied by John Tenniel’s illustrations, which the reader can move and animate through finger strokes and tilting the iPad back and forth. The app is beautifully rendered, and the animations are fun; however, the book is still unmistakably Carroll’s.
The status of PadWorx’s Dracula seems rather fuzzier. PadWorx boasts that its Dracula is endorsed by the Bram Stoker Estate as the “Official Stoker Family Edition”; however, considering the fact that the Stoker Estate also endorses an “official sequel” to Dracula that involves Mina and Dracula’s secret love child, we must take its approval with a grain of salt.[i] I would argue that, while the iPad app retains Stoker’s words and plot, it dramatically alters the reader’s engagement with the story by privileging his or her ‘total experience’ of the app over that of the novel alone. In one memorable episode, the reader turns to a page from Dr. Seward’s diary. After a few seconds, the reader is interrupted by a crescendo of music; a shadow of a man appears; the diary shakes violently; blood splatters across the page, obscuring the text. After a few moments, the blood slowly fades, and the reader can finally discover what has happened: Renfield has stabbed Seward with a kitchen knife. While we have Stoker’s text on hand in this episode, it is preempted by the visuals and sounds of a horror film. The suspense of the text is thus effectively spoiled by the cinematic, for, by the time the reader gets to description of the stabbing, the shock of the moment is already over. That isn’t to say that this shifting of one medium to another is a bad thing—watching blood unexpectedly dash across the page is legitimately creepy (and, in Dracula, isn’t that the whole point?). What I mean to suggest, rather, is that this reframing of the scene materially alters the way that the reader experiences the narrative, even if the actual text being read is the same as any other version of Dracula.
One could debate endlessly about the boundaries between original works and adaptations, and it is perhaps simplest to say that the Dracula app exists along what Linda Hutcheon describes as the “continuum of fluid relationships between prior works and later […] revisitations of them.”[i] I think what is important about the Dracula app in this regard is that it renegotiates the terms upon which we usually encounter literary adaptation. The most common forms of literary adaptation are clearly marked as such: works that translate and reinterpret an original text into another medium, another point of view, another setting. As Julie Sanders argues in Adaptation and Appropriation, we consume adaptations through an active “interplay of expectation and surprise,”[ii] as our thoughts oscillate between our experiences of the new adaptation and our memories of an earlier work. The Dracula app modifies this process, creating a hybrid experience of consuming a Victorian novel and its contemporary adaptation at the same time, a constant and simultaneous shifting between a text and its reinterpretation through picture, film, and game.
Author bio: Lara Rutherford-Morrison recently earned her PhD in Victorian literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research considers the ways that contemporary culture reimagines and plays with Victorian literature and history, in contexts ranging from adaptations of Victorian novels in film and fiction to heritage tourism in the U.K. She can be found at lrutherfordmorrison.wordpress.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[i] Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation (New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 171.
[ii] Julie Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation (New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 25.
[i] See Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt, Dracula: The Un-dead (2009).
[i] PadWorx Digital Media Inc. “Dracula: The Official Stoker Family Edition.” iTunes Preview (2011) <https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/dracula-official-stoker-family/id397702573?mt=8>