First published in 1897, Abraham "Bram" Stoker's Dracula is one of those rare works of literature that, while being thoroughly steeped in the genre out of which it arose, in this case Gothic fiction, nevertheless manages to transcend their origins. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that Dracula is one of the most influential novels of all time, inspiring not just many imitators but also whole genres of fiction and ensuring that the vampire is one of the enduring archetypes of Western mythology.
Like most people, I knew the character of Count Dracula long before I read the novel in which he appears. As a kid growing up in the 1970s, before the advent of inexpensive VCRs, I watched old movies on Saturday afternoons on local TV channels, among them the many Hammer films of Peter Cushing and Christoper Lee, which, as it turns out, were important influences on Dave Arneson. It was Christopher Lee's portrayal of Dracula that has probably stuck with me all these years as the interpretation of the titular character, despite its deviation from what Stoker himself actually wrote.
I only read the novel for the first time when I was in college and I was initially rather taken aback. Dracula is an epistolary novel rather than a traditional narrative. There are journal entries, telegrams, newspaper clippings, even transcripts from phonograph recordings, and they each shed a different light on the unfolding story of Count Dracula's "invasion" of late 19th century London. This gives the novel a somewhat disjointed feel, particularly since it's told from the perspective of several narrators, some of whom are unreliable or at least ignorant of all that is transpiring. Likewise, the novel is written in a style that sometimes felt stiff and "distant" to me, at least in parts, but I eventually came to realize this was intentional.
The general outline of the novel's plot are well-known: a Transylvanian vampire seeks to acquire real estate in England in order to gain access to a larger population on which to feed and to pave the way for his long-planned attempt to rise to power. What made the novel so fantastic, though, was not its plot but its characters, chiefly Count Dracula himself, who is at once repulsive and attractive. I'm not sure that the character has ever been adequately portrayed in film, as most portrayals tend to over-emphasize his seductive qualities at the expense of his monstrous ones. Dracula-as-Byronic-hero is a common misinterpretation of this character and, while there's little question that Stoker does make Dracula an alluring figure -- by design -- there's also no question that he's a villain and one who must be destroyed to ensure the safety of the world.
Like Stoker's Dracula, I find vampires to be both attractive and repulsive: attractive, because the idea of nearly-immortal damned souls stalking the night is a terrifying one; repulsive, because too few people nowadays look on vampires as unambiguously evil. I suppose that's as much proof as we need to illustrate the glamor of evil, but I can't help but feel disappointment at the way the archetype of the vampire has been so watered-down and indeed neutered of the power it packed in Stoker's day. I think there's still a lot of punch left in vampires but most of that punch comes from contemplating their status as thralls of Hell (whether literally or metaphorically) rather than as forever-young demigods.