The Wind Cries “Oolanga”

Having ascertained that we need to spread out the Edgar stretch, we come to “Oolanga’s Hallucinations” a chapter which entails Arabella conniving to get in to see Edgar—which we can work with—and Oolanga skulking about to try to blackmail her into “lub”.

The course of true lub nebber ran smoove.

Eddie Murphy as Buckwheat, doing Shakespeare

All the machinations literally amount to nothing except this blackmail attempt. It’s wonderfully racist, if racism can be wonderful, to say nothing of classist—not just our witch doctor’s race but our lady’s station are the main factors in this grotesquerie.

Oolanga is gone in five chapters, too. And his sole purpose—besides highlighting Edgar and Arabella’s apparently fully justified racism—is to convince Adam that Arabella’s not all well. Not cricket. Not exactly a good guy…er, gal…er, snake.

A bigger problem for us, even if we planned to market this book to racists, which I’m repeatedly assured are a huge market, is that it’s all really boring. The six chapters after the Edgar Stretch are a lot of milling around.

We get “Oolanga’s Hallucinations”, in which he is spurned. “Battle Renewed” which is “Hawk & Dove” and “The First Encounter” done either a third or second time depending on whether those two chapters describe the same or different events.

“Battle Renewed” has the kite break at least—but then it’s instantly repaired! And Watford comes in again with the bird report!

Chapter XVII, “The Shutting of the Door” sums up to Edgar hates everyone and goes back to the one thing he knows loves him—his kite, and Adam gets more mongooses. Caswall also kills his old servant by asking him to talk about the box, which he’s already opened in the Edgar Stretch.

The Aeolian harp emerges. The girls are setting one up in “Battle Renewed”, and the string of the kite resembles the Aeolian harp in sound. (I urge you to go listen to some aeolian harps to understand the questionability of setting one up near the place you sleep and read and eat.) There’s something to this, but I’m not sure what. It’s one of those ideas that could be spooky and cool but never quite goes anywhere. It doesn’t super-evoke snake charming to me, but I don’t know enough about either aeolian harps or snake charming to say.

Chapter XVIII is just unfortunate. (The picture of Oolanga carrying along dead snakes should be back in Chapter VIII, “Oolanga” but is miscaptioned “Oolanga’s black face…peering out from a clump of evergreens”.) The first half describes Adam being followed by Arabella being followed by Oolanga. The second half, which seems to take place hours later, has Caswall watching all this unfold. The description of Caswall being upset over the death of his servant is muddled, as well: Stoker wants to make it clear that Adam doesn’t actually care (any more than Arabella, who is using this death as a pretext to approach Caswall) but the occsaional word choice inclines the reader to think maybe he does care a little.

The idea is that Caswall is upset because old Simon was his only link to his past. But later on we get:

That night Edgar Caswall had slept badly. The tragic occurrence of the day was on his mind, and he kept waking and thinking of it.

The only way this makes sense is if the “tragic occurrence” is this lost link to his past, but it’s really hard (at least for me) to parse it that way. If someone annoys you by dying…it seems like you’d use different words.

Chapter XIX continues the unfortunateness. Arabella tries to worm (hah!) her way into Edgar’s heart but is put off by the fact that he really DGAF. Which is funny because she DGAF either. She’s trying to be normal and warm, and he’s trying to be an English gentleman. And the racism comes out with Caswall suggesting that if Oolanga gives her the slightest bit of trouble, to just shoot him. Our first occurrence of the N-word.

Which, I think, lends credence to my idea that Stoker was rather against the random murder of American blacks he was doubtless reading about in the papers. But doesn’t help us here.

Neither does it help us that—hell, I think this is the FIRST actual dialogue exchanged by Arabella and Caswall, directly. We can assume a lot of things, but all of a sudden, she’s the demure normal one frightened by Caswall’s callous attitude toward a negro she has recently threatened to murder herself. But still she counts the whole visit as a “win”.

I’m gonna run with this notion of “duality” because, holy cats, what the hell else can I do?

Meanwhile, the walk Adam started in Chapter XVIII gets continued, sorta, basically ending with him back at Lesser Hill where he and Nathaniel talk about the mystery of Diana’s Grove which we now find out was purchased by the Marches within Nathaniel’s lifetime and after his tenure as the President of the Mercian Arcaheological Society—and since we also know that Arabella was a little girl there, the Marches had to have come around in the past 30 years. In fact, this passage tells us Sir Nathaniel was looking over the house to see if it were sound enough to “bring the bride to”.

So, Nathan has seen the worm hole, although I guess locked and covered up. Maybe it’s just the room that’s locked, since he says he also almost fell into the hole. And he wanted to spelunk but it was no dice, I guess, from Old Man March. Now he’s saying, “Yeah, that’s how the worm (or whatever) gets out.”

At this point, we’ve had zero incidents of worm.

This cannot stand. We cannot be speculating on the Worm without there at least being an appearance by said Lumbricidae.

Chapter XX takes us back to the walk entered upon in Chapter XVIII tp describe Adam being tailed by Oolanga. Adam circles back to catch Oolanga snooping on Arabella, but the Dastardly Oolanga doesn’t know he’s there so the Good Adam can snoop on him in peace. (The sun is deep in the east suggesting a very early walk, which re-raises the irritation of Caswall watching the town for hours after drawn before seeing these three knuckleheads skulking around.) Also, now her eyes are green-tinted. I guess we gave up on the hippie glasses back after Chapter IV.

For some reason, she makes a date to see Oolanga at 7PM, and this chapter has Adam going back to spy on this meeting, wherein, in short order: Oolanga professes his lub, which is proposes to demonstrate by giving her the contents of the box he stole from Adam, which neither knows contains a mongoose. She responds by bringing out all the racial contempt she can muster, and by being afraid of him but claiming not be afraid of him, and giving Oolanga her gun.

If he wants to kill her, she assures him he’ll hang, because it’s not Germany or Ghana. Which.

Oh, then Arabella, apparently completely aware of Adam all along, invites him to the next chapter, “Exit Oolanga”.

The Edgar Stretch

Chapters XII, XIII and XIV are pure Edgar and they’re actually the best stretch in the book, although occurring as they do in a kind of vacuum, they seem to advance the story on a timeline that seems completely independent of the other characters.

Chapter 12, is about the invasion of birds, which is very clearly a menace and which Edgar “tortured his brain” to find a solution for. The Kite is the answer, but it’s also a new problem, since it casts a pall on every living thing in its shadow. Lilla is especially affected, which leads us to the whole Columba connection, which we actually set up with the staring contest.

After telling us how thorough the pall is, Bram serves up a double whammy:

The inhabitants of the district around took the matter with indifference. They had been freed from the noises and the silence did not trouble them. It is often so; people put a different and more lofty name on their own purposes. For instance, these people probably considered their own view founded on common weal, whereas it was merely indifference founded on selfishness.

This is two paragraphs after:

Everything was affected; gloom was the predominant note. Joy appeared to have passed away as a factor of life, and this creative impulse had nothing to take its place. That giant spot in high air was a plague of evil influence. It seemed like a new misanthropic belief which had fallen on human beings, carrying with it the negation of all hope.

! And then, we get this:

And Edgar Caswall was far too haughty a person, and too stern of nature, to concern himself about even poor or helpless people, much less the lower order of mere animals.

But…but…the whole chapter was about Edgar trying to solve this problem!

Well, we already handled this, so we’ll let Bram R.I.P. on this one. The next two chapters, though, are about Mesmer’s chest. It’s remarkable, really, how early on we are in the book. Clearly Edgar’s mania is supposed to increase in relation to the WW’s menace, but Caswall is not pacing himself.

We’re going to put in a bit before the Kite where Arabella is goading Edgar after his failure with Lilla. Then, after the Kite goes up, we’ll put in some stuff that allows us to build Mimi and Adam’s relationship, more WW badness, and mongoose 2.0.

We can stretch the time out so that the Kite menace is allowed to grow, Edgar can shut himself in to Arabella’s distress, Lilla can get sicker, and Richard and Nathaniel can…do something. Ooh, Richard can dig up something and Nathaniel can go spelunking on his request.

By the way, the book has Richard first calling Adam and Nathaniel “young men”, and later Nathaniel saying he and Richard were boys together. Nathaniel’s treatment of Richard throughout, however, suggests that he is much younger, and not just in spirit. So I think we’ll have him be of vigorous but indeterminate middle age.

In the book, Richard is nearly 80, but Bram Stoker was 65, so we’ll make him be a well-settled mid-60s. Richard can be a vigorous late-40s. Say about 15 years in life, a relationship not quite paternal but more avuncular. (This has been my idea all along but it was muddled by the contradictions in the source.)

I think I’ll have to write this out before being able to determine whether it’s enough to fill out this stretch. In order to get to Mesmer’s chest, we need to drive Edgar a little further around the bend—convince him that he’s not powerful enough to dominate Lilla. It can “make sense” if the kite gives him some sense of power, but drives Lilla away from him.

The subsequent chapters after this stretch are all about Arabella and the Snake…Edgar completely vanishes almost until the end.


As I try to get into the WW’s head, as it were, a lot of other things are clarifying. The way the original story shakes out, the White Worm is talked about a lot, but it doesn’t actually do anything until halfway through the book. This has the muddying effect of making Caswall seem like the main villain.

Stoker was really caught between an old world and a new one, and it’s not clear that he had any idea how a giant antediluvian creature was going to make its way in the world of the 20th century, but with a little focus, we can come up with something really creepy and plausible (insofar as giant monsters can be plausible).

Adding in more bits building the relationships between the characters is helping tremendously for sure, though. While I’m not crazy about how I’ve written the first encounter between Arabella and the mongoose, the basic shape is good: I’ve brought in Mimi, because we need for her and Adam to bond.

Arabella is not going to empty her revolver into the mongoose, though. That she has a revolver is interesting, and a thread that re-emerges later. That she can quick-draw it fast enough to nail a mongoose charging at her at full speed is astounding. Maybe even supernatural. That she can put six bullets into an animal smaller than a housecat—I mean, there’s nothing left of this poor corpse but a red smear on the ground—is unbelievable.

But that this can all be brushed off without so much as a “by your leave” is not credible.

A great part of the tension of Dracula is the element of mannered society confronting an unspeakable evil, and clearly this idea is meant to be revisited. Whence this bloody massacre? Is it because we had to make clear that Lady Arabella is a snake and therefore the mongoose will attack her and since we can’t have her ripped to shreds and we can’t have her actually locked in mortal kombat with a rodent, well, we’ll just give her a gun?

And this to be followed with a debate as to whether or not she’s actually a snake?

I mean, she’s a maniac with a gun! What more do you need?

A more subtle touch is needed, for now, with the mongooses. Our next issue is…once again…Oolanga.

Grasping At Straws

We covered earlier the problematic nature of Oolanga and specifically the questionable horror brought about by the chapter title “Smelling Death”, but the contents of this desultory chapter are not great overall.

Adam sends Davenport back to Liverpool—it’s like 60? 80? miles away?—in order to talk to the guy who knows Oolanga in order to find blackmail on him. He succeeds in this mission, though we don’t know how, and worse, we don’t know why except that Adam wants to use Oolangas super-voodo powers—smelling death—to see if anything fishy is going on at the Grove.

Good lord.

Discovering that Oolanga does smell death at the Grove—a different kind of death than at Mercy Farms—Adam is “serene and settled”. Then we get ANOTHER rehash of Hawk & Pigeon, but this time with the additionally confusing metaphor of Hawk & Snake!

There’s something of interest there. Here’s a really vulgar example of what I mean…

Hawk & Pigeon II (aka “The First Encounter”) has another staring contest, with Edgar, Arabella and Oolanga on one side and Lilla and Mimi on the other. (Adam, once again, is useless.) It ends with the dove invasion which will lead to the kite.

[1] Mimi is the deciding force force in this, but the closest thing we have to a “why” on this topic is that she’s Burmese and knew some snake charmers or snake charming runs her blood or some damn thing.

[2] Arabella is there, though how that came to pass we are given no clues. Since she’s set her cap on Edgar, it would seem to work against her to inflame his passions, but we can make sense out of it.

[3] Oolanga, being pure evil, is a really poor vehicle for making an anti-racism statement.

What do we need here? We need some kind of scene where Lilla and Mimi confab so that Mimi can really contribute. We need a scene (maybe the previous chapter where Adam and Sir Nathaniel are gabbing about stuff we already know) where Adam’s pragmatism undermines his ability to contribute. We need a scene where Arabella goads Edgar into the whole thing.

In our rewrite, Lilla is working on Edgar’s better nature, while Arabella/WW is working on Edgar’s insanity.

Which reminds me, besides making the doves a more gradual thing that come to a head at this point, we need to make the WW’s machinations felt prior to this time. We’ve done a little, but we need to place more clues elsewhere.

Filling In The Gaps

I have a beginning and ending, and there are things that I want to put in the middle, but I do want to be true to the source material, insofar as that is possible. The thing setting me off this time is that it’s NOT possible in a lot of ways. Stoker makes it explicit that Adam is after Lila, not Mimi. The first element of his distrust of Edgar stems at least partly from their competition for young Lila.

But he simultaneously has Arabella constantly at Edgar’s side and the putative next mistress of Castra Regis. (The chatelaine, I guess.) And at some point Adam is going to switch his affections to Mimi.

Hand to God, Chapter VI is all about his jealousy toward Edgar because of Lila and Chapter VII, he’s all

And when a man, though he is young, feels as I do—as I have felt since yesterday, when I first saw Mimi’s eyes—his heart jumps.

Lair of the White Worm, Chapter VII: Hawk and Pigeon

In fact, a few paragraphs later:

“Quite friendly. There was nothing that I could notice out of the common—except,” he went on, with a slight hardening of the voice, “except that he kept his eyes fixed on Lilla in a way which was quite intolerable to any man who might hold her dear.”

Well, he’s just talking about the predatory aspect, not the—

It was not amatory. Even if it was, such was to be expected. I should be the last man in the world to object, since I am myself an offender in that respect.

OK, fine. We’ve already resolved that. Stoker probably wanted Mimi to be the center and Lilla (three “l”s in “Lilla” I just realized…I’ve been saying “Lie-la” this whole time).

This whole exchange gets weird because it sounds like Adam is talking about how he is doomed in his efforts to woo Lilla/Mina because of Edgar, and Richard and Sir Nathaniel chime in to say, well, it’s three-to-one. This expression makes more sense if they’re viewing Edgar as a supernatural threat, but it’s very odd in the context of romance with an unspecified one of two women.

Chapter VIII continues on with another description of the staring contest, one which differs from the previous description in particulars but is clearly the same event, Oolanga’s nefarious backstory, and the murder of the mongoose at the hands of Lady Arabella.

This scene is reminiscent of the scene in Animal House where John Belushi grabs the folk-singing Stephen Bishop’s guitar and smashes it into a million pieces, then hands it back and says, “Sorry.” Except Lady Arabella never says “Sorry”. (And in fairness, the mongoose is attacking her.) Trying to make this NOT comical is a challenge.

This is followed in Chapter IX by the only logical conclusion that Lady Arabella is a snake. Because mongooses only kill snakes, therefore, the Lady is a snake. But of course, mongooses kill LOTS of things:

 Some common prey include small mammals such as mice, rats, and voles, insects, crustaceans, lizards, snakes, eggs, and more.


“That is a good argument, sir,” Adam went on, “but a dangerous one. If we followed it out with pure logic it would lead us to believe that Lady Arabella is a snake. And I doubt if we—either of us—are prepared to go so far.”

“So far as I am concerned, I am to follow blindly the lead of logic. But before doing so we have a duty to fulfill.”

OK, ok, we’re dealing with weresnakes or something here, but if you think Arabella being a completely different creature altogether, like a werevole or a werelobster, is out of the question, keep in mind that we’re about to have a giant, ominous kite ward off a plague of doves.

At some point, though, we have to say, “Look, it’s not 1911. It’s not even 2011. We know Arabella has a connection, and our heroes know Arabella has a connection, to something sinister of the, uh, herpetological variety. We get a bit of recapitulation (I think it’s come up before) about Diana’s Grove being TLotWW, St. Columba being the dove, and Mercy Farm being holy ground.

There’s a good bit in here about the moral vs. the physical reality and the dangers of confusing the two, which will be Lilla’s peril. And then:

For instance, ‘the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much’ is altogether for good. We have nothing of a similar kind on the side of evil.

I’ll have to work this in, because I’ve already established there is something similar on the side of evil.

We’re about a third of the way in, and we’re getting a lot of mileage out of a staring contest and a murdered mongoose. This is about 100 pages in the 1911 text, but around 40 for us.

Which is good, because we have a lot of questions to answer, and we’re going to have to go fairly far afield for those answers.

Redux Redux

I’ve been looking for old projects that I needed to finish, and The Lair of the White Worm has never been far from my mind. On reviewing my notes and the existent prose, there seems to be something worth salvaging here. This could actually be quite a fun read for an admittedly limited audience.

The ending I wrote was particularly interesting, containing a few surprises and some compelling action. So I’m at the point where my ideas for the story are much stronger in my head than the actual ideas Stoker put down. The mongooses…mongeese…mongi…remain, but I’m feeling like there’s less room for Oolanga than I felt at previous points. We’ll see if that particular magic comes back.

Also, re-reading the book to see if I’ve left anything compelling out—most of the effort has gone into filling in the blanks and re-organizing things to make sense—and realizing I didn’t spend a full page detailing the roads one would take to get from Mercia to Liverpool, like some kind of chump. Seriously, though, Liverpool-Manchester train is one of the oldest in England; it makes sense that they’d take it.


I paused my rewrite because I found, as I always find when I take a stab at NaNoWriMo that: a) I don’t really have enough time to burn in November (I need about 50 hours to write 50,000 words); b) The more I write on something, the more I realize that the constraints of NaNoWriMo—50,000 words, one month—are insufficient to write anything worth reading (for me anyway).

Going back over what I had written, however, I wasn’t displeased. It’s rough, obviously and needs to be polished, but I am going to carry on, filling in the blanks and figuring out a few of the blank spots.

I think the first freedom I’m going to take is to not try to follow the original structure. It’s too intensely “All Adam” followed by “All Edgar” followed by “whatever”. But the novel will work a lot better if we rotate between the characters.

Weirdly, when I pulled the document it up, it needed to be restored and the 5K+ words I’d written to wrap everything up were gone. Which sucks. I hope maybe they’ll turn up on the other machine. (Update: Checked and did find them, so, yay.)

One year I’ll take November off and see if I can put together a decent novel in 30 days, full time.

Lila…you got me on my knees

Working backward has been very rewarding. I now have good, satisfying conclusions for my characters—except Oolanga, though I think I know how he’ll play out, he’s gone, like halfway through the book and I’m not that far back. Also, a lot of the character development Stoker skipped is coming through.

Adam, for example, is a little too ordinary, a little too pragmatic, even to be the hero of the story. He’s sort of a catlyst and certainly a major player, and his arc involves coming to grips with unreality. I feel like that was Stoker’s aim for him originally, that he was the audience stand-in, for all the exposition that needed to happen…

Gonna interrupt myself and say, “Oy. Exposition. So much of it.” I’ll have to do a pass and eliminate it. A pass or twelve. Right now I have it clear in my head what’s going on, but if it’s spelled out, it’ll just be boring.

Anyway, I think the hero/primary character of the piece may end up being Sir Nathaniel. His arc will be a restorative one. Lady Arabella and Caswall himself have their heroic moments, believe it or not.

And then there’s Lila. She also has a huge role to play in the story. Right now, without all the characters doing their parts, the story would end with a worm-y victory. So I’m very pleased that there are no pointless characters (Oolanga…oolanga…the wind cries “oolanga”…but I’ll work that out, I swear) and that Lila’s ultimate fate is fitting.

But her fate isn’t her character, exactly. I have amped up her religiosity because it fits so well with her character and can explain Caswall’s attraction to her beyond just, y’know, she was just seventeen, and you know what I mean. But the “problem” with Lila’s character as it currently stands is, she’s just too damn pure. I think it’s clear from the doves—er, white pigeons—in Stoker’s book, that she is an emissary of St. Columba though he goes literally nowhere with that idea.

So, at every point, Lila’s trying to do the right thing.

And as I type that, I realize she will have one fatal flaw: Pride.

Worm White the of Lair

LotWW actually gets less cogent as it proceeds. It’s probably the nature of the human mind to try to puzzle out how confusing situations are going to resolve—which explains the sometimes frenzied, if fleeting, popularity of television shows like “Twin Peaks” or “Lost”.

In the former case, I believe the show was largely misunderstood—like, no one having seen a Lynch film would be likely to believe he was just making a murder mystery. But in the latter it was just “grab people’s attention…oh, crap, now what?” I’m speculating from what I’ve heard of both since I’ve seen neither, though my impression is that’s a common TV thing these days: Grab ’em up front, then sorta peter out when interest wanes. (My current policy is not to spend my very limited TV time on any dramatic show that isn’t fully completed. Who am I kidding, though? I have, like, ten minutes a day.)

The Lair could sort of be seen as a similar thing, though with Stoker’s (likely) mental deterioration coming into play. He probably didn’t remember all the things he had set up, much less how to resolve them all. And this creates some serious issues, some of which I’ve covered already. But the ones that concerns me now are the fates of our characters.

Mike Nelson pointed out quite testily that Adam running off with Mimi leaves Lila to fend for herself against the depredations of Edgar and Arabella. That’s one of those arcs that is weirdly abbreviated: We get that Adam likes Mimi, and you can sorta see how he’d say “Lady Arabella wants her dead, so I’m taking to her Australia, which I can only do if we’re married!” But then they don’t go to Australia, and even their hiding—which puts Lila in jeopardy—is unsuccessful, and they know this and still they don’t fetch Lila from Watford Farms!

If we go back to Dracula—and I’m going by decades old memory here—generally speaking of Mina and Lucy (lol, not to be confused with Mimi and Lila…), Mina is a relatively pure example of femininity (let’s not delve too deeply into Stoker’s psyche) and Lucy is more the wild one, who has many suitors, who is easily seduced by Dracula, but also not his primary goal.

By contrast, Lila is the pure one here. In fact, while Mimi has some sort of snake-charming…awareness?…Lila seems to be the embodiment of the St. Columba nuns. But it’s just not fleshed out!

I can salvage Lila’s fate, though. And she’s the key to Caswall. Meanwhile, Arabella dies in her sleep! Edgar presumably dies being struck by lightning, though we don’t see it. Nathaniel and Richard are simply absent from the final scenes. And Adam and Mimi just wander around waiting for lightning to strike. Oy.

I think, though, the confrontation between Lila and Edgar is the proper climax (pre-climax?) of the book. And it’s very important for: a) the other characters to be doing something important; b) for them to believe that Edgar is indisposed, before leaving Lila endangered.

It was set up, but never utilized (yes, “utilized”) that Nathaniel was a spelunker. If our heroes were investigating the actual LotWW while Lila was imperiled, that would be something. Richard might play a factor in here. Arabella is, as always, the wild card. So far, in my retelling, she and Caswall are actually more tragic characters, though also villainous.

There will be, I’ve decided, a lot more explicit showdown between…uh…kite and snake. I think Caswall’s tragedy has to be more immediate and direct: He’s constantly, consciously choosing the worse of two paths. Regardless of his upbringing, he’s pretty aware of what he’s doing.

Arabella’s tragedy is lifelong. I haven’t quite worked it out, but she’s clearly had a relationship with a giant, evil snake for most of her life—and that’s bound to cause certain tensions as far as contemporary English lifestyles of 1900 go. She’s going to be a big factor in pushing Caswall in the wrong direction. But I think she may, at the end, choose the right path—though whether or not that saves her skin, I don’t know.

So I’m going to start writing backwards to see what outcomes feel right, and we’ll see if I can make the beginning and end meet in the middle.

Let’s Go Fly A Kite

I’ve had to take a couple days break due to non-NaNoWriMo related issues and now much confront Edgar Caswall and his Giant Kite. Although I feel like I get Caswall’s character, or what I think Stoker was going for, the real issue I’m having overall is the absolute pedestrian manner in which most of this prose is coming out.

I’m something of an anti-dialogue bigot—certainly for anything horror-related, sharing HP Lovecraft’s notion that it tends to remove the mystery. But I also see why writers do it so much: It’s easy. You just imagine a conversation and boom, there’s all your exposition without having to do any pesky, y’know, writing.

The real question is how much do I go into each character’s head. Stoker was in Adam’s head for most of the book, even to the point of when the book is wholly focused on Caswall, with Salton nowhere to be found, you get a pretty straight recounting of events without real thoughts or reactions.

Mixed bag: Familiarity breeds contempt. Distance, on the other hand, breeds confusion.

Meanwhile, the English concept of kite runners has been completely eclipsed on the Internet by that Persian (?) book. That makes researching a bitch. I tragically do not have any books on kite-related activities. Maybe. I’ll have to check the stacks.

The Kite and Mesmer’s Chest should be related. The weird thing about the chest, though, is that Stoker presents it to us in Chapter XIII as a mysterious puzzle—and then Chapter XIV is “The Chest Opens”. Well, who needs a mystery.

This is one of those pieces that doesn’t go anywhere, but I think it should. Obviously Stoker was influenced by Mesmer’s less reputable ideas vis a vis animal magnetism, as that is a theme here and throughout Dracula. The chest represents something Caswall should not be tempted by, at his peril, but we don’t have enough back-story on Caswall to appreciate his corruption, if that’s what this is to be.

Gonna hafta backfill.

And after this? More Oolanga. He’s just so barely in the story, it’s like he’s there to make a point (one for Stoker, and an entirely different one fro Price).

Smelling Death is the REAL Challenge

Once I realized that Oolanga just needed to be reframed and given more direct purpose in the story, writing about him wasn’t that hard. Granted, it’ll all have to be rewritten, but I assume that’s true of most everything so far. Chapter IX, too, was easy enough because it’s mostly exposition.

Obviously, all this stuff has to be rewritten. Nobody wants to read 50, 80, 100K words of exposition. I feel like if you’re going to ask people to read something, you need to make it as good as you can. Or at least good enough that you’re not betraying a disregard for their time.

Chapter X in the original manuscript is called Smelling Death. Now. I’m sure. At the time. This sounded pretty badass. Kinda spooky. But today it sounds like a joke, like A Mighty Wind. I’m keeping the title for now, but that’s the just the beginning of the issues here.

There is a pattern, I think, to the way this book is written: Most of the chapters seem to have two distinct parts. One part is referenced by the title. The other…is not. For example, Oolanga is about, naturally, Oolanga. But also about mongoose murder.

“Smelling Death” also has two parts: The hike in the country where Adam uses his mongoose procurer Davenport (not to be confused with his mongoose pimp, Ross) to trick Oolanga into using his powers to smell death to…uh…smell death. From this we learn that lots of people have died at Castra Regis. It is singularly unenlightening.

We also get Oolanga’s reverence at Diana’s Grove, once again suggesting some kind of awareness of and fealty to snake gods. Which again is contradicted by his later attempts to blackmail Arabella.

But the end of this chapter is also contradictory: Adam takes his new mongoose out only to have it put in the thrall of Lady Arabella. There’s some question as to whether this is because there are ordinary mongooses and extraordinary mongooses, and the former pose no problem to Lady Arabella while the latter must be murdered on site.

Then it’s pretty clear she uses some indirect means to kill the enthralled mongoose. The special mongoose, of course, lives until Oolanga sics it on her in his last chapter. (I am still struggling with mongooses as a story mechanic.)

So as this chapter did not help the story back then—oh, there’s yet even more exposition about the staring contest which leads into the next chapter “First Encounter”—I do not expect it to be of much help now. Perhaps I spoke to soon here and should simply elide it.

The big deal about Chapter XI is that it brings The Birds. And The Birds lead to The Kite. Well, I moved the birds up to Chapter VIII, making it absolutely clear that this is the second staring contest, that Oolanga was a part of it, and that something has been awakened in Lila that is in opposition to Caswall’s evil.

That’s right: I’m pretty convinced that Stoker had in mind a good vs. evil struggle between Caswall and Lila. He constantly refers to them battling and the whole book is actually more oriented around their battles of wills than it is the white worm! This raises further issues because Arabella is both motivated by ordinary pecuniary desires and the rather inscrutable motivations of an antediluvian monster, and this is very muddled in the original manuscript.

But for now, we actually get a bit of a break: Chapter XII is The Kite, and it and the subsequent chapters are a deep dive in Caswall’s encroaching madness. I see a parallel between him and Arabella. He has ordinary desires as well, but is also under some sort of (sadly poorly developed) mystical influence.

And we’re off!