Lara Rutherford-Morrison – University of California, Santa Barbara
Part Two: Bringing the Body into the Digital Book. You can read part two here.
When people talk about the downsides of e-books, they often complain that e-books lack a connection between reader and body—without the physical texture, weight, and smell of the book and its pages, the e-book can seem (forgive the pun) rather bloodless. Interactive e-book apps, like PadWorx’s Dracula: The Official Stoker Family Edition (2010), attempt to draw the body back into the reading experience in a different way, by incorporating finger strokes and the reader’s manipulation of the tablet into the process. Some aspects of the Dracula app are more successful than others, but the ebook is particularly effective—sometimes startlingly so—in its evocation of the body, both through the reader’s actual participation and the book’s virtual body-horror. Blood—clearly central to Stoker’s novel—is a major theme throughout the app: users activate special effects by pressing on pulsating, red “buttons,” and a number of scenes (such as the stabbing scene mentioned in my previous post) involve blood gruesomely splattering across the screen.
Simulated though the blood may be, these scenes are visceral and scary, and, at their best, evoke the reader’s bodily awareness in unexpected ways. During the scene of Lucy’s first blood transfusion, for example, we see a tube with a needle at the end snake across the text. The bottom of the text is missing; to bring it to the surface, the reader must press on the needle. As the tube fills with blood, the missing text appears, describing the return of Lucy’s colour, and the subsequent shakiness of Arthur Holmwood, her blood donor. When the tube fills completely, the image on the screen begins to blur—mimicking Arthur’s growing unsteadiness. Though the text is from Seward’s diary, the reader thus inhabits Arthur’s point of view: we play the character of Arthur as he pumps blood through the tube, and his blood, enlivening Lucy, is also our blood, enlivening the text on the page; as his vision blurs from blood loss, we experience a echoing inability to decipher the text. It is a strange and intense moment of identification with a character, with his bodily connection with Lucy mirroring our own bodily connection to the (virtual) book.
In some cases, interactive e-book apps can seem like little more than novelties. The Dracula app certainly has its share of effects and animations that do little more than say, “Hey! Look at what the iPad can do!” But it is in moments of real horror—when, for instance, the reader has to smear her own virtual blood across the screen to turn the page—that the e-book app’s potential to create powerful and transformative narrative encounters becomes apparent. Time will tell if interactive e-books are a revolution in literature, or merely a fad spurred by the popularity of tablets. In either case, they are remarkable in their reimagining of the book as a multimedia convergence of text, image, sound, and game, and for their subsequent reimagining of the reader as a spectator and player. For Victorian scholars, the interesting thing will be to see how future interactive e-books might invigorate and make strange works that, like Dracula, are already deeply familiar.
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>