Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I think Dracula has an overlooked relationship to the Yellow Peril trope

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_peril
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/YellowPeril

Dracula is not usually mentioned when discussing the Yellow Peril fear in fiction.  But I shall explain why I think maybe he should be.  (Note, The above linked Wiki sites could add Dracula in the future, but as of my writing this Post they don't mention Dracula).

Fu Manchu was not the very first such character in fiction.  What he's usually considered to be is the first who's a really good Charismatic Super-Villian,, but even that's disputed.

Fu Manchu himself was originally a much more sympathetic character then he's given credit for.  He has a Code of Honor, and was originally an extreme Revolutionary fighting to liberate the East from the British Empire.  Which makes me inclined to view him as being a lot like an oriental version of Paul Feval's Henri Belcamp or Fergus O'Breane., or Jules Verne's Captain Nemo.  And there was a genuine mutual respect between him and the British detective opposing his schemes.

The Yellow Peril Trope also has a strong connection to Gothic Horror.  H.P Lovecraft and and some of his known influences like Robert W. Chambers. 

Above is a Police Sketch style drawing of how Dracula is actually described in Bram Stoker's Novel.  You may notice he looks kind of Asiatic.  The kinds of actors that pop into my head as someone who could look close to that are the ones that used to float around for The Mandarin before Iron Man 3 was cast.

In the Novel he is described as a Sezkely, and takes great pride in his believed descent from Attila The Hun.  Attila like Ghengis Kahn is among the historical figures that Yellow Peril style Super-Villians tend to look up to or identify with. The way western ones often tend to admire Napoleon Bonaparte or Alexander The Great.

The Novel also has a West vs East theme to it.  About an Ancient Evil from the old uncivilized Eastern Europe coming to infect Modern London.

And the Book does predate all or most major fictional works with a Yellow Peril theme.  And is only two years after the term is believed to have been coined in Germany.

It is no secret that Dracula is a very well known, popular and influential novel.  So why would it's connection to the Yellow Peril trope be overlooked?

To being with, Stage and Film productions have always cast White Actors to play him (with no offensive make up job like they get when they play Fu Manchu or a Fu Manchu knock off).  Bela Lugosi actually was more ethnic then most, but still did not have the features seen in the sketch.  And Dracula's appearances in Comics and Animation have followed suit.  So most people think of someone like Christopher Lee when they visualize Count Dracula.

Another reason is the overemphasis on his thin connection to Vlad Tepes, which was originally only a small thing Stoker threw in and by no means central to how he viewed the character.  None the less it has taken over how people choose to expand on his history.  Here is a good discussion of that issue.

Vlad Tepes himself had some Asiatic ancestry too probably.  So why would that contribute to Dracula originally being a Yellow villain being obscured?

First off would be more of the above reason, Cinematic depictions of Vlad always use white actors.  Hollywood typically just sees Europe and thinks white (especially when pre-1500), being uninformed that Eastern Europe was and is more ethnically complicated.

Another reason however is characterization.

While the Dracula of Stoker's Novel chooses the Asiatic aspect of his Ancestry to take Pride in, (Attila as discussed already).  Vlad Dracula was the opposite, he hated the Asiatic Turks, and thus hated the thought of sharing any kinship with them.

So, that's my rambling for today.  I hope I've given fellow Nerds something to think about.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Jared, that's an interesting angle. You are right in that there is very much a mysterious East (Europe in this case) aspect to the novel and that one main way of reading the novel is a fear of the outsider, or foreigner, taking over Britain (personified in property and womenfolk in novel) and so I see a strong trope similarity.

    The outsider is a theme through the vampire genre - be it on a macro or micro level - and a connection in with the "yellow peril" might be (unconsciously) added in programmes such as Penny Dreadful - where the first vampires are found beneath an opium den. Indeed the use of vampires as a simile for addiction is also very common.

    Thanks for linking to my article btw.

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