Del Toro’s The Strain: Dracula meets Fringe

Guillermo del Toro, director of the Academy Award-winning Pan’s Labyrinth, and crime- fiction writer Chuck Hagan have joined forces to co-author The Strain, the first volume in a vampire trilogy that should be one of the “big books” of the summer. Released simultaneously in 20 languages, it will be difficult to walk into a book store anywhere in the world after June 2 and not find a display of The Strain putting the bite on you for your book-buying dollars.

I’m betting you will find piles of the books in every airport bookstore, but The Strain may not make the best in-flight reading.

If you watched the first episode of Fringe on Fox this year (and thanks to the powers that be, unlike most TV series I enjoy, this one returns in the fall), you will wonder who thought of the scenario first. A passenger plane lands at a major airport (Boston’s Logan in Fringe and New York’s JFK in The Strain), and everyone on board is dead. Okay, in The Strain, it turns out that four people aren’t quite dead, but that’s just a technicality. Those four folks have sore throats, and you shouldn’t expect them to live happily ever after.

In fact, all of those corpses sitting bloodless in their cramped airline seats have throat problems as well, and it won’t be long before they disappear from the local morgues and make their ways to the homes of the bereaved. And, just as viewers learned in Fringe, the richest man in the world is also the sinister presence behind all the weirdness in The Strain.

The first thing that occurred to me as I read Dracula many years ago was, Where are all the vampires? If Dracula bites two people and they turn into vampires, and those new vampires each bite two people and they turn into vampires, and so on, it doesn’t take long before vampires are everywhere. But that didn’t happen in Bram Stoker’s book.

Although del Toro and Hogan definitely pay homage to Stoker—it is no coincidence that the vampire hunter in The Strain has the first name of Abraham—the authors also borrow a bit from Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, as the plague of vampirism that hits New York increases geometrically.  However, we don’t get down to the last guy standing in the first volume, although Robert Neville would have felt right at home here.

The question is: Can Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, head of the Centers for Disease Control’s team in New York; Nora Martinez, his assistant; Vasiliy Fet, a savvy exterminator who can think like a rat; and Abraham Setrakian, a Holocaust survivor, team up to stop the onslaught of blood-suckers? It is always a good idea to bet on the good guys in the first book of a trilogy.

These authors made their bones in theatrical realms.  Stoker managed the Lyceum Theater for Sir Henry Irving, and, according to some sources, he wrote much of Dracula while he was backstage at Irving’s performances. Matheson is as well-known as a script writer for television’s Twilight Zone series and for motion pictures like Stir of Echoes as he is for his novels and short stories. Del Toro’s Mimic, with Mira Sorvino, showed his directorial talent, and Pan’s Labyrinth combined fantasy and horror in new ways.

While all three are master story tellers, their fiction is obviously influenced by their work in the visual arts, and readers are given strong mental images of characters and settings. This is the strongest aspect of The Strain. As del Toro and Hogan’s protagonists try to stop the vampires, the backdrop of Manhattan and its infrastructure’s rapid destruction are the real stars of the book.

Quite a lot happens in this first installment, making one wonder what is left for two more lengthy books. But then again, there is a whole world outside NYC and the security systems at airports don’t have anything to detect vampires yet, do they?


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