Powers of Darkness – The Icelandic Translation of Dracula
When Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897, it was met with critical adoration. People went mad for the strange tale of a mysterious Transylvanian Count in search of his reincarnated lover. What Stoker did for the concept of vampirism led to a cascading wave of popularity that wouldn't peak until after the author's death. One man felt that Bram Stoker's Dracula was good, but it was missing something. That man would become the first fan-fiction writer.
Valdimar Ásmundsson “translated” Bram Stoker's masterpiece in 1901. Ásmundsson's translation would be sexier, more Norse, and much more succinct than the original.
Who was Valdimar Ásmundsson?
Valdimar Ásmundsson was born in Iceland in 1852. He had been bitten by the writer's bug early in life, and subsequently immersed himself in literature. He founded the magazine, Fjallkonan (The Lady of the Mountain). Ásmundsson married a feminist publisher, Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir.
Fjallkonan would serve as the vehicle for Ásmundsson's masterful work of fan-fiction. After seeing the wild success of Bram Stoker's masterwork of horror, Valdimar thought to himself, “I'd like to get me a piece of this action.”
He started publishing a serialized version of Stoker's tale in Fjallkonan in 1900. Ásmundsson did have some thoughts of his own about what Stoker had written. He was a fan, and would have fit in well in the Fan-Fiction community that spawned on the internet in the early 2010s.
Makt Myrkranna - Powers of Darkness
Beginning in 1900, Valdimar Ásmundsson started publishing what he claimed to be a simple translation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. He titled the work, Makt Myrkranna - Powers of Darkness. Once its run in Fjallkonan magazine was done, the story was published as a novel. Bram Stoker himself, unaware of the contents, allegedly wrote an introduction to the novel.
In this introduction, “Stoker” claims that the story is all true. Only the names of those involved have been changed to protect their identities. The intro also mentions both the Thames Torso Murders and Jack the Ripper.
The story of Makt Myrkranna is largely the same as the original. Some elements are exaggerated and others altered. Many characters' names are different in Valdimar's version. There is a greater emphasis on sexuality. Only Count Dracula got to keep his name.
Ásmundsson removed mention of the Viking Berserkers from the novel. Dracula, in the original, at one point praises the bloodthirsty warmongering of these Norse warriors who terrorized much of the ancient world. That part is not included in Makt Myrkranna.
Another alteration made by Ásmundsson is the removal of Count Dracula's ability to transform into animals. Ásmundsson also drags Sigmund Freud into the mix by adding that Mina Harker, Wilma in this instance, went to Vienna to seek treatment from the famous doctor.
Stoker wove subtle hints of sexuality and tension into his work. Ásmundsson opened the floodgates and had Johnathan Harker, Thomas in Makt Myrkranna, obsessed with breasts. The character often remarks on the bosoms of the Transylvanian women.
The story in Powers of Darkness is split into two parts. Unlike Stoker's novel, which was Epistolary in format, Makt Myrkranna has an omniscient narrator in the second half. Valdimar focuses far more on Thomas (Johnathan) Harker's stay in Transylvania. In the Bram Stoker's original, the majority of the novel is set in London. Ásmundsson opts to spend summarize that part in the final 20% of his rework. This refocus makes the novel more of a slow-burn thriller.
Dracula's monstrous nature is explored in more detail in Powers of Darkness. Harker discovers the body of a peasant girl who the count murdered. He also witnesses Count Dracula performing a Black Mass that ends in human sacrifice. Overall, the character of the Count is more developed in Makt Myrkranna.
For fans of the three brides of Dracula, Powers of Darkness will be a disappointment. Ásmundsson saw Dracula as more of a monogamist. His only bride is named Josephine.
Valdimar connects Dracula to various governments. This leads to the conclusion that the Count is plotting world domination. Count Dracula is a Social-Darwinist in Makt Myrkranna. He espouses the idea that the strong should rule over the weak. Weakness itself being contemptible.
There is also a detective character that doesn't appear in the original. Inspector Barrington investigates Dracula's crimes in England.
Finally, Count Dracula does not survive in Makt Myrkranna. In the original story, the Count flees back to Transylvania. Valdimar has the count die after being confronted by a posse led by Dr. Van Helsing.
How Could this happen?
The Dutch scholar Hans Corneel De Roos was the first person to notice that Makt Myrkranna didn't quite line up with the novel it was a translation of. This only happened in 2014. Makt Myrkranna has been the official Icelandic translation of Bram Stoker's Dracula for over a hundred years.
Three theories dominate the discourse on Makt Myrkranna's origins. First, and most obvious, is that Valdimar Ásmundsson set out to write and publish his fan-fiction. His goal was to pass it off as the real thing, and he succeeded. This is also the theory that you will see most often when the story is shared on social media, likely because it lends itself nicely to the modern phenomenon of internet fan-fiction.
Next, we have the idea that Bram Stoker himself is to blame. He gave Ásmundsson a copy of the first draft of Dracula to work off of. Interestingly, this theory has some teeth. The character of Inspector Barrington actually existed in Stoker's earlier notes. He eventually scrapped the character in favor of Dr Abraham Van Helsing taking a larger role as the hero.
Another thing is the inclusion of Dracula's mute and deaf housekeeper in Makt Myrkranna. This character is also from Stoker's earlier notes. Could it be that Valdimar simply made up a lot of the things that Stoker had originally envisioned? It seems unlikely.
The third and final view is the Synthesis theory. Basically, Valdimar Ásmundsson was working off of an earlier draft, and he made the story his own all at once. Talk about having your blood and drinking it.
Not the First Time
De Roos had Makt Myrkranna translated into English, it was published as Powers of Darkness in 2017. The publication, and subsequent media attention, brought the story to the Swedish scholar, Rickard Berghorn.
Berghorn points out that Makt Myrkranna is actually based on a serialization that happened a year earlier in a Swedish publication titled Dagen. This earlier serialization was titled Mörkrets makter.
You can buy an original copy of Makt Myrkranna by Valdimar Ásmundsson for $7500 online. The English version, Powers of Darkness the Lost Version of Dracula, is available for $73 online. So if anyone wants to buy it for me, that would be great.
I leave you with the only review of Makt Myrkranna from the time of its publication. Written by Benedikt Björnsson in 1906:
“Without doubt, for the largest part it is worthless rubbish and sometimes even worse than worthless, completely devoid of poetry and beauty and far removed from any psychological truth. "Fjallkonan" presented various kinds of garbage, including a long story, "Powers of Darkness". That story would have been better left unwritten, and I cannot see that such nonsense has enriched our literature.”