Horror Symbol Web: Dracula, by Bram Stoker, John Truby, The Anatomy of Story, p. 243–244
The horror genre is about the fear of the inhuman entering the human community. It is about crossing the boundaries of civilized life — between living and dead, rational and irrational, moral and immoral — with destruction the inevitable result. Because horror asks the most fundamental question — what is human and what is inhuman? — the form has taken on a religious mindset. In American and European horror stories, that religious mindset is Christian. As a result, the character web and symbol web in these stories are almost completely determined by Christian cosmology.
In most horror stories, the hero is reactive, and the main opponent, who pushes the action, is the devil or some version of the devil’s minion. The devil is the incarnation of evil, the bad father, who will lead humans to eternal damnation if not stopped. The moral argument in these stories is always couched in simple binary terms: the battle between good and evil.
The symbol web also starts with a binary opposition, and the symbolic, visual expression of good versus evil is light versus dark. The primary symbol on the light side is of course the cross, which has the power to turn back even Satan himself. The dark symbols are often different animals. In pre-Christian myth stories, animals like the horse, stag, bull, ram, and snake were symbols of ideals that would lead a person to right action and a higher self. In Christian symbolism, those animals represent evil action. That’s why the devil is horned. Animals like the wolf, ape, bat, and snake represent the lifting of sanctions, the success of passion and the body, and the path to hell. And these symbols exert their greatest power in darkness.
The vampire Dracula, one of the “undead”, is the ultimate creature of the night. He lives off the blood of humans whom he kills or infects to make them his slaves. He sleeps in a coffin, and he will burn to death if he is exposed to sunlight.
Vampires are extremely sensual. They gaze longingly at the bare neck of a victim, and they are overwhelmed by their lust to bite the neck and suck the blood. In vampire stories like “Dracula”, sex equals death, and the blurring of the line between life and death leads to a sentence far worse than death, which is to live in an unending purgatory, roaming the world in the dark of night.
Dracula has the power to turn into a bat or a wolf, and he usually lives in ruins that are crawling with rats. He is a uniquely European character in that he is a count, a member of the aristocracy. Count Dracula is part of an aging, corrupt aristocracy that parasitically feeds on the common people.
Dracula is extemely powerful at night. But he can be stopped if someone knows his secret. He shrinks at the sight of the crucifx and burns when sprayed with holy water.
Other classic horror stories that play with this symbol set are “The Exorcist” and “The Omen”. “Carrie” uses the same but reverses its meaning. Here the Christian symbols are associated with bigotry and closed mindedness, and Carrie kills her evangelical mother by teleporting a crucifix into her heart.