The Quintessential Slayer
In the vampire realm, there is but one name, and one name alone, that's associated with the vampire hunter — Van Helsing. While Dracula himself is one of the most popular literary characters in history, it goes without saying that he would be nothing without a protagonist to decipher his origins and weaknesses, and work to destroy him using intellect, science, religion, psychology, and weaponry befitting the execution.
As far as heroes go — and make no mistake, Abraham Van Helsing is indeed the hero in Dracula — one finds in the Dutch professor all the ingredients a larger-than-life hero should have. That is not to say that vampiric cinema and literature hasn't benefited from the garden-variety reluctant hero, because it has, but what Bram Stoker needed to counter his preternatural fiend was not the average Joe.
With Jonathan Harker, Quincey Morris, Dr. Seward, and Arthur Holmwood serving as the metaphorical mules to his cart, and with Mina acting as his muse, Van Helsing has a base upon which he can execute his plan. By making him a renowned progressive Victorian scientist, philosopher, metaphysician, and man of God, Stoker opened the door to Van Helsing having the open-mindedness necessary to fight what God-fearing folk would consider the spawn of Satan. It's an epic battle rife with spiritual, mental, physical, and metaphorical symbolism that has, over the decades, led to Van Helsing gaining powerful immortality.
Dealing with the Devil
Though there's much to be said about Van Helsing's character, what we focus on here is a key point in Dracula, where Van Helsing, who throughout the novel abides by the rule that discretion is the better part of valor, pulls together all he knows to be true about the black devil and reveals it to the now-allied hunting party.
Through the vast knowledge he possesses, Van Helsing acknowledges many of the characteristics associated with the majority of vampires and vampire hunters that follow in Dracula's fiendish footsteps, including garlic, the crucifix, beheading, confinement to his native soil, and the Host. Here is the crux of the matter, according to Van Helsing:
“The vampire live on, and cannot die by mere passing of the time, he can flourish when that he can fatten on the blood of the living. … He can grow even younger, that his vital faculties grow strenuous … He throws no shadow, he make in the mirror no reflect … He has the strength of many of his hand … He can transform himself to wolf, he can be as bat … He can come as mist which he create … He come on moonlight rays as elemental dust … He can become small … He can come out from anything or into anything, no matter how close it be bound or even fused by fire … He can see in the dark … He may not enter anywhere at first, unless there be some one of the household who bid him to come … He can only pass running water at the slack or the flood of the tide …”
In the 2004 film Van Helsing, an intriguing final confrontation takes place when Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), who possesses a divine measure of immortality, learns of a way to ultimately destroy Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). In this instance, the deliciously wicked bloodsucker can only be killed by a werewolf — an affliction Van Helsing acquires in order to get the job done.
The Holy and the Horrific
For all the wonderful embellishments that film and fiction have added to the vampiric legacy, the basics all harken back to Stoker and his scholarly hero. Perhaps Van Helsing, ultimately, is best described by his former pupil Dr. Seward, who states that his mentor possesses: “An iron nerve, a temper of the ice-brook, and indomitable resolution, self-command, and toleration exalted from virtues to blessings, and the kindliest and truest heart that beats, these form his equipment for the noble work that he is doing for mankind, work both in theory and practice, for his views are as wide as his all-embracing sympathy.”
In no uncertain terms, that is the description not only of a true hero, but one who's able to forgo the rationality of humanity in order to save it from an evil that they don't even realize exists.