From Kerri Maniscalco’s Hunting Prince Dracula (2017) to J. D. Barker and Dacre Stoker’s Dracul (2018), many modern stories have formed retellings of Bram Stoker’s infamous novel, Dracula (1897). One such story is Joe Hill’s “Abraham’s Boys”, which asks its readers to consider the future of the Dutch vampire hunter, Professor Abraham Van Helsing. It suggests that, since the dramatic destruction of Count Dracula, Van Helsing has experienced many changes. He is no longer a vampire hunter: he is a father, and spends most of his time raising and protecting his two sons, Max and Rudy. Of course, after the horrific sights Van Helsing witnessed throughout Dracula, he fears the creatures of the night, and has forbidden his children from leaving the house after sunset.
“Abraham’s Boys” tells the story of Max and Rudy, who know nothing of their father’s past, and cannot understand his overprotective attitude. To make matters worse, Van Helsing is not what he used to be. His experiences appear to have unhinged him, for he now possesses a wild anxiety that he reflects onto his sons. They live in fear of their father’s unpredictable mood swings, as well as the thick cane that he carries at his side. Yet when Max and Rudy make their way into their father’s office, they begin to realise the depths of his madness. Why are there pictures of murdered women in his office? Were they vampires? Or does their father hide a darker secret? In this gripping follow-up to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Joe Hill tests the relationships Stoker formed in his original novel, whilst questioning the disparities between fantasy and reality. This is a story filled with action, horror, and – perhaps more than anything else – madness.
Joe Hill’s “Abraham’s Boys” breathes new life into a timeless classic. It examines Dracula from a new perspective, questioning the ideals and practices that Stoker’s readers may have taken for granted. Yet despite the originality of this story, it remains true to Dracula, fashioning an entire narrative out of the minute details that are revealed in the novel’s final scene. This is accomplished very successfully: in Dracula, Mina Harker gives birth to a baby whose father is never explicitly revealed. Interestingly enough, the baby is not sat on Jonathan Harker’s knee: it is sat on Van Helsing’s. In “Abraham’s Boys”, Hill examines these details, piecing them together as he explores a future in which Mina and Van Helsing raise two children together.
These children are the focus of “Abraham’s Boys”, for although the story forms a retelling of Dracula, its references to the original novel are subtle. Rather than bombarding his readers with characters and details, Hill leaves them to discover the truth for themselves. This makes reading “Abraham’s Boys” an extremely enjoyable experience, particularly as the story is not tied to the original novel. Although readers who are already familiar with Dracula will benefit the most from this story, it also speaks for itself. By focussing on Van Helsing’s children, Max and Rudy, rather than the renowned vampire hunter, himself, Hill is able to create what can be understood as a standalone story.
“Abraham’s Boys” is both thrilling and horrific: it draws on the horror genre to accentuate Van Helsing’s madness. This might put off some readers, yet it is a trope of gothic literature that should not be overlooked. Moreover, “Abraham’s Boys” blends horror with psychological intrigue. From the moment you begin reading this story, you will feel invested in its characters. You will empathise with Max and Rudy, and want to follow their story through to its conclusion. These feelings are intensified by the fact that, unlike in Dracula, the threat of this narrative is very real. It is not a vicious vampire, but a father with a cane. It is often argued that it is the realist elements of Stephen King’s novels make them frightening. In this respect, Hill appears to have been influenced by his father, for he, too, reveals that the real can be synonymous to terror.
Hill’s story is not a tale for readers who are easily frightened or disturbed. It reflects the darker elements of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and can seem a little gruesome at times. Yet for those readers who enjoy tense, heart-stopping narratives, and for anyone who has ever enjoyed reading Dracula, “Abraham’s Boys” is a story that should not be missed.