The Many Faces of Van Helsing
An anthology edited by Jeanne Cavelos
To be published in trade paperback by Berkley in May, 2004
Van Helsing would, I know, do anything for me for a personal reason, so no matter on what ground he comes, we must accept his wishes. He is a seemingly arbitrary man, but this is because he knows what he is talking about better than any one else. He is a philosopher and a metaphysician, and one of the most advanced scientists of his day; and he has, I believe, an absolutely open mind. This, with an iron nerve, a temper of the ice-brook, an indomitable resolution, self-command, and toleration exalted from virtues to blessings, and the kindliest and truest heart that beats--these form his equipment for the noble work that he is doing for mankind--work both in theory and practice, for his views are as wide as his all-embracing sympathy. I tell you these facts that you may know why I have such confidence in him.
--from Dr. John Seward's letter to Arthur Holmwood, Dracula
Bram Stoker's Dracula has become one of the most famous novels in history. In it, the vampire Dracula faces off against his opponent, opposite, and alter ego, Abraham Van Helsing. Both Dracula and Van Helsing have become icons: the vampire and the vampire hunter. Yet while the character of Dracula has been endlessly examined, Van Helsing is arguably one of the most well-known yet least explored characters in literature. Stoker provides us with an intriguing character outline in his novel, but neither Stoker nor any of the authors who have built upon his work have filled in that outline.
A doctor, lawyer, scientist, and philosopher, Van Helsing seems the ultimate man of logic and reason. Yet one of his greatest tools in fighting horrors is his personal experience battling his own internal demons. Van Helsing suffers from melancholia and periodic breakdowns into hysteria. In addition, his wife is insane. On every front, Van Helsing is engaged in a war against chaos: in himself, in his marriage, and in the world. This may be the chaos of emotions out of control, of sexual desire unchecked, of unadulterated evil. Armed with garlic, cross, and stake, Van Helsing is determined to repress, restrain, and contain this chaos, which reaches its fullest embodiment in Dracula. Van Helsing's character resonates because of his powerful opposition to the villain, which echoes some of the most compelling relationships in literature. As Victor Frankenstein is to his monster, as Jekyll is to Hyde, as Holmes is to Moriarty, as ego is to id, Van Helsing is to Dracula.
While we know this much about Van Helsing, we don't know much more. Like most things in Dracula, Van Helsing's character remains vague and underdeveloped. Yet this very lack of detail and depth provides the ideal conditions for myth to grow, and over the years it has, turning Dracula and Van Helsing into powerful archetypes that can take on an endless number of specific faces.
Stoker's novel has been adapted into many different forms, and in each we see a slightly different Van Helsing. He may be selfless, ruthless, brilliant, foolish, fanatical, vulnerable, or neurotic. He may be an intellectual or a man of action; a loner or the leader of a team. In film, he has been portrayed by Academy Award-winners Laurence Olivier and Anthony Hopkins, and by top character actors such as Nehemiah Persoff, Nigel Davenport, Peter Cushing, Frank Finlay, and Richard Benjamin. Some films and TV shows have expanded Van Helsing's fight to include his sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. Others have transplanted the core of Van Helsing's character into a variety of vampire hunters, the most recent, the infamous Buffy. Through countless novels and over 127 feature films, TV movies, TV series, and video games, we have glimpsed some of the many possible faces of Van Helsing, as Stoker's original story has been expanded into an epic struggle ranging across the planet and through all time periods.
With the new film Van Helsing, to be released by Universal on May 7, 2004, interest will again be focused on Bram Stoker's novel. But this time the spotlight will not be on Dracula, but his nemesis. Popular actor Hugh Jackman, star of the current hit X-Men 2, will show us yet another face of Van Helsing. Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, the man behind the phenomenally successful The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, this movie promises to be a big hit for Universal, and they plan to promote it as their big summer release. Categorized as an action/adventure/comedy/horror/thriller, the movie will have Van Helsing battling Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and the Wolf Man. It looks like it will be great fun and will generate a lot of interest in Van Helsing. But this will not be the vehicle by which the outline of this iconic character is at last filled in.
The exciting opportunity of exploring the mysterious and undefined depths of Van Helsing's many faces remains for this anthology. We know almost nothing about Van Helsing's past. How did he become the man we meet in Dracula, with "the temper of the ice-brook"? How did he gain the secret knowledge of vampires? When did he first face evil? How did he meet the wife, and what drove her to insanity? What killed his son? What experiences led him to the belief that "All men are mad in some way"?
Van Helsing's past, however, is not the only mystery. All we know of Van Helsing we learn through letters and journal entries. What truly drives this archetypal vampire-hunter?
*Is he a saint-like figure committed to saving others from evil, as Seward believes? If so, how much evil has he seen in his life? How vulnerable does he find his fellow man, and himself, to temptation? What has led him to say he has "known so many sorrows and the causes of them"? Has he ever lost faith in the face of so much despair and death? How narrow or vast is his quest? Is he a great hero, a tragic hero, a reluctant hero, an antihero?
Or is he not a hero at all?
*Is Van Helsing a fanatical xenophobe, labeling whatever he doesn't understand evil? Is he on a mission to kill all vampires so he can maintain the purity of the human race?
*Is he a purveyor of superstitions that can drive men to murder, like the witch hunters of Salem?
*Is he a puritanical zealot, driven by disgust for the wanton sexuality--particularly the sexuality of women--associated with vampirism?
*Is he a mad scientist?
*Is he the lone voice of science and rationality in a world seething with animal appetites? Is he the voice of the conscious trying to repress the unconscious? And what does he carry in his own unconscious?
*Is he on a quest for vengeance?
*Is he a vampire himself, killing off inferior competition?
*Is he a dull, narrow-minded man of equations blind to the transcendent beauty of immortals?
*Is he a man of rare vision, able to see evil for what it is when all around him seem blind to it?
*Does he enjoy spending long hours in the bedrooms of beautiful, unconscious young women?
*Does he thrill as he drives "deeper and deeper the mercy bearing stake, whilst the blood from the pierced heart spurts up around it"?
*Is he a good man who is doomed, Cassandra-like, to always be doubted, shunned, and condemned?
*Is there a reason Van Helsing spends so much time with male friends, while Dracula is attracted to females? Did Van Helsing feel anything when, years ago, Seward sucked infected blood from a wound in his hand?
*And what is Van Helsing's ultimate fate?
This anthology will explore the many possibilities inherent in this fascinating character, who seems inescapably bound to evil. Because Van Helsing is timeless and iconic, he might be put into any place, during any period--past, present, or future--and provide fascinating insights about both his character and the human condition. In addition, a few stories may explore his ancestors or descendants.
The anthology will contain twenty original short stories about Van Helsing, from both new and established writers. I am looking for material that is incredibly well written, fresh, moving, and horrifying, and even more, that provides insight into the human condition. If you're familiar with the Dell Abyss horror line that I edited in the 1990s, then you know the kind of material I like. Edgy, intense, literary works are welcome. Standard vampire stories are not. No pornography. No poetry. Works that cross genres are okay, but the majority of the book will focus on horror.
My guess is that many writers may be drawn to portray Van Helsing in unsympathetic ways. I want a wide range of stories to explore the many possibilities, both positive and negative. But be aware that the greater portion of the book will present Van Helsing in ways that readers will sympathize with him.
I will be an active editor. If there is a story I would like to include, but I feel it could be made stronger, I will work with the author to achieve that goal.
I intend to make this the best anthology of the year, so only send me your story if you feel it's one of the best stories of the year.
If you haven't read Dracula recently, I strongly recommend you do so.
No multiple submissions.
Length: up to 8000 words
Pay: 8-10 cents per word plus pro rata share of 50% of the royalties
(all subject to special consideration by me)
If you have questions, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. NOTE: e-mail submissions are strictly prohibited and will be deleted without being read.
Mail your story to
P.O. Box 75
Mont Vernon, NH 03057