Bram Stoker’s gothic masterpiece, Dracula (1897), is one of the most iconic vampire stories of all time, crossing over from literature to cinema and inspiring countless remakes, from eighties classics like The Lost Boys to the teen romance, Twilight. Since its publication, Dracula has been translated into at least 29 different languages, including Icelandic. But just how does Iceland’s version of this classic novel differ from the original, and what were the origins of these differences in the first place?
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Written and translated by Valdimar Ásmundsson, the Icelandic version of Dracula, Makt Myrkranna (1901)—roughly translated to The Power Of Darkness—is a vastly different story from the original, both in tone and subject, creating something of an academic puzzle amongst literary scholars. For years, this mystery has remained buried under multiple theories, from duplicate publications to potential ghostwriters.
Inspired by the Icelandic Sagas
First, let us look to Chapter 3 of Stoker’s original version, when the titular Count mentions his kinship to the infamous Viking warriors, Icelandic berserkers: “ […] Here, in a whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Odin gave them, which their Berserkers displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, aye, and of Asia and Africa too, till the people’s thought that werewolves themselves had come.”
Stoker gives away his source material when he mentions werewolves. The Book of Were-Wolves was published in 1865 and was an immediate hit among the literati of Europe. The author—an English priest by the name of Sabine Baring-Gould—had previously travelled to Iceland, taught himself the language and translated some of the Icelandic Sagas, thus proving himself to be one of the more reliable sources we have when looking at literary translations from that period.
Note that Bram Stoker describes The Count as having the ability to shape-shift in his novel, taking the characteristics of a wolf or a bat on a whim. In fact, this is one of the most famous traits of vampires as we know them today.
This same ability is mentioned in the Icelandic classic, Egill’s Saga, particularly the Icelandic superstition of eigi einhamir, or “not of one’s own skin.” One way of recognising a shapeshifter was to carefully study the creature’s eyes; despite a full body transformation, their eyes remained the same, allowing villagers and townsfolk the chance to apprehend the paranormal culprit.
Strangely enough, the Icelandic version of Dracula removes all reference to both berserkers and shapeshifters. Instead, the novel is largely condensed, with the focus instead placed on punchier action, entirely new characters, eroticism and an entirely reworked plot.
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This new version was serialised in Ásmundsson’s newspaper, Fjallkonan, starting in 1900, leading critics to ponder whether he had played fast and loose with translation, or essentially reimagined his own story. This was not uncommon in Icelandic translations at the time. Many writers would abridge and change novels to fit into Icelandic literary traditions.
Rising From The Dead
In 2014, literary researcher Hans de Roos set out to compare, study and document the differences between Dracula’s Icelandic translation to the original work. What he found was that the translation cut out nearly all of the scenes taking place in England and, in fact, added over 15,000 words to those taking place in Romania. He also included explicit references to lust, a subject that Bram Stoker himself had been know to avoid.
Further attention was brought to the subject in May 2017, after the former editor of the horror magazine Minotauren, Rickard Berghorn, announced that he had found a Swedish version of the text that closely resembled the Icelandic one, only it had been published in the native newspaper Dagen in 1899. This version was titled Mörkrets Makter, again translating to The Power Of Darkness, and was found to be longer in length, but containing all the parts of the Icelandic text, making it the number one contender as the novel’s first translation.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, both the Icelandic and Swedish publishers were known socialists and the change in theme and story aligns with both parties politically. To add a further conundrum, the preface of the Icelandic translation was written by Bram Stoker himself and actually hints at the vast differences between the original and Icelandic text. Could this titan of the horror genre been in on the mishap all along, and if so, why?
As Bram Stoker said, “There are mysteries which men can only guess at, which age by age, they may solve only in part.” It would seem that, for the moment, we can still only ponder as to the discrepancies between the two works, all the while acknowledging that Makt Myrkranna was likely one of the first of thousands of reworkings to have arisen since Dracula’s first publication.
Makt Myrkranna is now available in English, complete with a foreword by Dacre Stoker, (Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew) whilst a loyal translation of the original Dracula is now available in Icelandic, released in 2013 and written by Gerður Sif Ingvadóttir. With so many versions now available, literary scholars are spoilt for choice when it comes to delving ever further into the study and appreciation of vampiric literature.