I am teaching Stoker’s novel Dracula as I work on the second edition of my book on The X-Files (Expediente X: en honor a la verdad) which should be published at some point next Autumn, coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of the series’ launch in 1993. The episodes in The X-Files on vampirism (“3” and “Bad Blood”) are not really among my favourites, and it is not my aim to discuss Stoker’s impact on Carter’s series. Rather, I want to explore, if only partially, in which sense Dracula works as a proto x-file in its plunge from science into pseudoscience (or worse).

            The X-Files (1993-2002) was an extremely popular series created by Chris Carter for Fox TV. It was expanded into two films (1998, 2008), a couple of new series (2016, 2018), comic books, novels, videogames and action figures. The series’ protagonists are Agent Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Agent Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson). Together, they investigate as part of the FBI but also apart from it the stand-alone cases known as ‘the monster of the week’ and a string of conspiracies in a long serial known as the mytharc or the mythology. The conspiracies deal with soon-to-happen alien invasion and colonization, though in the newer series the intervention of the aliens has been questioned and what remains is very human patriarchal villainy.

            Mulder and Scully spring from Carter’s twin needs to believe in the irrational (Mulder’s motto is ‘I want to believe’) and to apply pure rationality to the fantastic (Scully is a physicist and a forensics expert). Unlike what is habitual, the man, Mulder, is in The X-Files a defender of the irrational (or a pseudoscientist as he has been called by Daniel Malloy) whereas the woman, Scully, defends scientific proof above superstition and paranoia. Since the series narrates essentially Mulder’s quest for the truth of the conspiracies he chases, Scully is reduced to subordinating her own rational beliefs to his whims, as his loyal sidekick. No wonder scientists as prominent as Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins protested against this approach, calling instead for a series that would debunk conspiracy and superstition.

            Mulder and Scully are descendants of Holmes and Watson as many viewers and scholars have noticed. Arthur Conan Doyle published his first Holmes short story, “A Study in Scarlett” in 1887, in Beeton’s magazine Christmas Annual. Stoker’s Dracula, issued ten years later, is usually linked to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla (1872), an association confirmed by Stoker himself (not only were both authors Irish but Stoker had worked as a young man for the Dublin Daily Mail, co-owned by Le Fanu). Stoker, however, had a closer association with Doyle, of whom he was a fan before they met; the admiration was mutual, as Doyle congratulated Stoker on Dracula in a lovely, friendly letter.

            According to The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia, which offers details of their collaborations, Stoker “thought he could use [the Sherlock Holmes stories] as a model in a first version of Dracula” apparently featuring “a specialist of psychic research named Singleton, a policeman named Cotford and a Watson-like history teacher named Max Windshoeffel”. These names do appear in Stoker’s “Notes for Dracula”, preserved at the Rosenbach Museum (you may download the text, available online in a facsimile version). And if you’re really, really curious about Stoker and Doyle, you may read the former’s 1907 interview of the latter here.

            I have come across diverse comments online about how wonderful it would be to have a Holmes / Van Helsing crossover. Yet, I have only come across one academic study about their connection, published by a Ukrainian scholar in a Croatian journal: “Sherlock Holmes, Van Helsing, James Bond i Jack Trbosjek: žanrovske strategije suvremene ukrajinske povijesne kriminalističke proze” by Sofija Filonenko, Književna smotra, 2022, 53 (202(4)), p.125. Apparently the essay deals with the use of “mystery formulas” in 21st century Ukrainian popular fiction. I’ll take this as proof that nobody else in the academic world has noticed how Holmes and Watson become Van Helsing and Seward in Stoker’s Dracula. I’ll add that Van Helsing and Seward are also close to Mulder and Scully, though there is also much of Mina Murray in Scully. Both are intelligent women personally affected by contact with the monsters and both participate actively in chasing them.

            The film adaptations have done the secondary characters in Dracula much disservice. I won’t go down the labyrinth of tracing Van Helsing’s presence in popular fiction (remember that terrible 2004 film with Hugh Jackman?), nor into the causes why only Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) has a remarkable Dr. Seward (played by Richard E. Grant). What interests me is the construction of the novel’s plot as a proto x-file.

We have in Dracula a very long teaser, the initial chapters with Jonathan Harker being abused in Transylvania, followed by the section during which the Count attacks Lucy and nobody quite understands what ails her. What follows is a prolonged clash between science and superstition in which the main voice is that of an accomplished scientist (like Scully) willing to believe that some problems require going beyond science (like Mulder). This is not the territory of the fantastic (likeThe Lord of the Rings), nor that of Holmes’s reality in which the supernatural is debunked (as in The Hound of the Baskervilles). In Dracula absolute rational modernity needs to fight not so much the primitive (the Count himself adapts well to life in London) as the unnatural, which is not quite the same as the supernatural. In the process science is lost (and loses).

            Dr. Seward, a psychiatrist, invites Dutch Dr. Van Helsing, his “old friend and master”, to treat his ailing beloved Lucy because he “knows as much about obscure diseases as any one in the world” (besides, Seward had saved Van Helsing’s life by curing him from gangrene). Van Helsing, Seward writes in his letter to Lucy’s fiancée Arthur, “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”. Van Helsing also possesses “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”. Van Helsing’s letter accepting Seward’s invitation carries the initials “M.D., D.Ph., D.Lit., etc., etc.” after his name, presenting him as a polymath familiar with both sciences and the humanities.

            There is always a point in an x-file in which rational normal life is tipped over and Scully needs to readjust her worldview to accept the strange theories Mulder defends. This is done in Dracula in three scenes, one from Chapter XIII and two more from Chapter XV (actually the second scene from this chapter has a different focus as I will show).

            In Chapter XIII Dr. Seward narrates how, after Lucy’s death by exsanguination, Prof. Van Helsing asks for “a set of post-mortem knives” which, Seward assumes, must be for an autopsy. Van Helsing abandons his scientific façade callously declaring that “I want to operate, but not as you think. (…) I want to cut off her head and take out her heart”. The dialogue continues with Van Helsing upbraiding Seward for his unprofessional reaction (“Ah! you a surgeon, and so shocked!”) though he attributes this to Seward’s love of Lucy. The younger man protests: “if there is no necessity for a post-mortem and nothing to gain by itno good to her, to us, to science, to human knowledge—why do it? Without such it is monstrous”. Van Helsing, however, gives no scientific reason; instead, he demands total trust from Seward. This is how pseudoscience defeats science.

            In Chapter XV, Van Helsing takes a step back into science and shows Seward ‘evidence’ of Lucy’s undead condition one week after her demise: her intact body and the even sharper white teeth, with which she has been biting children. Van Helsing, Seward observes, “did not seem to notice my silence; at any rate, he showed neither chagrin nor triumph”. Van Helsing launches then into a tirade about how Lucy’s soul has a chance of salvation because she was bitten while sleep-walking, forcing the still doubting Seward to face the fact that the girl is now a vampire (“oh, you start; you do not know that, friend John, but you shall know it all later”). Seward’s blood “turns cold” when his friend declares “There is no malign there, see, and so it make hard that I must kill her in her sleep” because “it began to dawn upon me that I was accepting Van Helsing’s theories”. Realising the change, Van Helsing says “almost joyously:—’Ah, you believe now’?” And as Scully has often told Mulder, Seward replies: “Do not press me too hard all at once. I am willing to accept”.

            Taking advantage of Seward’s new pliancy Van Helsing repeats his plan of attack: “I shall cut off her head and fill her mouth with garlic, and I shall drive a stake through her body”. The next step is the other key scene, which consists of bringing Quincy Morris and Arthur Holmwood round to the necessity of performing this atrocity. Arthur reacts “in a storm of passion”, stressing that “Not for the wide world will I consent to any mutilation of [Lucy’s] dead body” but he is soon persuaded that Van Helsing has no dark motive to suggest the misdeed. Arthur ends up staking Lucy with astonishing violence in Chapter XVI, never wavering and using the hammer “like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake”.

            There is a funny, horrific moment at the beginning of The X-Files’s episode “Bad Blood” when Mulder stakes a pizza boy be believes to be a vampire through the heart only for Scully to discover that his sharp fangs are fake. However, neither Van Helsing nor Mulder can be wrong and once the Rubicon is crossed into the territory of pseudoscience the rest of the x-file can only be a wild ride.

            In Dracula, once Lucy’s body has been destroyed the last obstacle is Mina Harker (née Murray), the dead/undead girl’s best friend. In Chapter XVII she is given the whole grisly tale (Dr. Seward has her listen to his phonographic diary for her to transcribe it into typewritten text). Far from fainting as Seward expects, she finds hope among “all the multitude of horrors” in “the holy ray of light that my dear, dear Lucy was at last at peace”. Mina believes in vampirism because she has read her husband’s Transylvanian diary. Thus she quickly recovers from the shock and makes her offer to become the official recorder in the chase of the Count: “Let me write this all out now”. Once she believes, and is later herself bitten by Dracula, the novel becomes a thriller focused on the monster’s chase, like any other x-file. Interestingly, a note by her husband Jonathan closes the case. Seeing how worried he is that they only have a mass of documents but no hard evidence of the events, Van Helsing closes the novel: “We want no proofs; we ask none to believe us!”, words which complete his fall from scientist into pseudoscientist. He will write no papers on the vanquished fiend for any of the learned societies to which he belongs, no one else will learn from him.

            As Sagan and Dawkins protested, any x-file is a missed opportunity to teach the truth of rational scientific evidence. Talk of disease becomes talk about saving souls by magical means in Dracula, for which no scientist was really needed. A journalist or a policeman would have sufficed (or a proto-FBI agent…). Gothic horror prevails above science fiction. Mina and Jonathan, Arthur and Seward are restored back to mundane life with no PTSD, under Van Helsing’s avuncular care, but although the private drama ends well, the rest of the world gets no useful insight into vampirism. If another vampire attacked after Van Helsing passed away, Britain would be defenceless. In Holmes’s empirical hands Count Dracula would have been explained away as a poor thing dominated by a blood disease. Britain would have been protected from viral infection by others like him, possibly with a vaccine. Sagan and Dawkins would have approved, though the x-philes (as the series’ fans are called) would have complained. Being an x-phile myself, I understand the problem: we love mystery too much, and science suffers for it.