October’s here and with it we start to get into some fun, Halloween themes! Guys, if I haven’t said it already, I love this time of year. I live in New England, so hereabouts the leaves started changing in early September. Looking out my window, I can see every shade of red and orange, plus some yellows, greens, and browns. October in New England is breathtaking and it is one of those times that I am so, so happy to live here.
Also, it’s my birthday. Like, literally today. Just throwing that out there! I’m not celebrating or doing anything special. To be honest, my best friends are getting married on Sunday, so most of today is being spent running around doing wedding things. The rehearsal dinner is tonight, and I’ve got to get my nails done this morning. I’m such a klutz, though, so I hope they last until Sunday! When I got married, I got a French manicure six hours before the wedding – chipped within the first hour. Oh well, I’m going to do my best, I want things to be pretty for her. She’s worked really hard for the last two years on this wedding, and gosh darn it, it better be everything she ever dreamed of!
Okay, I might treat myself to a hot apple cider. I live for hot apple cider. And it’s my birthday, so there.
This week’s Book Blogger Hop question asks if we’ve ever read Frankenstein or Dracula. My loves, I have read BOTH. And I think they’re fantastic. I know a lot of people give these two books a hard time, but honestly in the context of their time periods, they’re really quite brilliant. I could actually make a whole blog post out of Mary Shelley’s accomplishments, but today I want to focus on one of my favorite pieces of classic literature: Dracula.
What do you know about Dracula?
Most people’s impressions of vampires come from the movies. We have the classic Bela Lugosi portrayal, with his dapper cape and pale face and fangs. Bela Lugosi was the KING of horror back in the black and white days. The 1930s were a hot time for classic horror and if you wanted your movie to stun the masses, Mr. Lugosi was your star. His 1931 Dracula set the stage for vampires.
And the vampire character stuck. From the Dark Shadows television series in the 1960s to our modern YA obsession with Twilight and Vampire Academy, we just can’t get enough of vampires. Whether they’re vicious bloodsuckers or they sparkle in sunlight, they intrigue us. But all these vampires? They’re a far cry from Bram Stoker’s original Dracula.
The Story of Vlad the Impaler
While there’s no historical proof that Vlad the Impaler actually drank blood from the skulls of his enemies, he certainly was the inspiration for Stoker’s novel. Vlad Tepes was born in Sigisohara, a fortress city in Romania, in the late 1400s. His father had been a fearless general and was awarded the Order of the Dragon (making him “dracul” in the common tongue). The title of “dracula” given to Vlad Tepes merely translates to “Son of the dracul“. The Order of the Dragon was established in 1387 as a way of protecting the interest of the Catholic Church. They wore a black cloak as part of their uniform, likely inspiration for Dracula’s iconic cape.
Vlad himself was a military leader during the time of the Ottoman Wars. He fought several times for Wallachia and refused to bow down to the Ottomans. He was exiled and imprisoned more than once, and the rumors persisted that he was locked away for his cruelty, although it was more likely for political reasons. The rumors of his psychopathic behavior begin in Rome in the late 1400s where a papal letter reveals a story of his impaling two monks and their donkey. There are Saxon accounts of his campaign across the Danube and one description of his acts stands out:
“… [Vlad] had a big copper cauldron built and put a lid made of wood with holes in it on top. He put the people in the cauldron and put their heads in the holes and fastened them there; then he filled it with water and set a fire under it and let the people cry their eyes out until they were boiled to death. And then he invented frightening, terrible, unheard of tortures. He ordered that women be impaled together with their suckling babies on the same stake. The babies fought for their lives at their mother’s breasts until they died. Then he had the women’s breasts cut off and put the babies inside headfirst; thus he had them impaled together.— About a mischievous tyrant called Dracula vodă (No. 12–13)“
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1897. Stoker himself never traveled to Romania, but he describes real places that you can still visit today. It came as a sort of finale to a collection of books that was being published at the time about Eastern European countries and people. Where Stoker’s story differs from the rest is the fantastical element. While his inspiration was undoubtedly cruel, there was no record of Vlad drinking blood. The aspect of vampirism came from a different story: a few isolated incidents of people “coming back from the dead” in the Austro-Hungarian empire in the late 1720s.
Like anything, these events were likely exaggerated and the people in question were not truly dead at the first assumption. However, accounts of a man coming home the day after his death to murder his son and neighbors gave everyone chills. Stoker capitalized on these old tales and together with the gruesome reputation of Vlad the Impaler, he had a story.
What you see in most vampire films is nothing to do with the book, short of a character named ‘Dracula’. Occasionally, we see Professor Abraham Van Helsing (the infamous vampire hunter in popular culture) and once or twice, Jonathan Harker appears. However, one of the most important characters from this story is suspiciously missing from nearly all the spinoff lore: Wilhelmina.
To give you a synopsis of the book (which is written entirely in letters, journal entries, and ledgers), Jonathan Harker goes to Romania to assist a wealthy count move his home and assets to England. Predictably, this count turns out to be Count Dracula and he eventually locks Harker up. Jonathan Harker is a clever man, and he manages by miracle to escape the fortress and return to England. However, by that time it is too late and Dracula has already moved his estate and boxes of dirt (so he may lay to rest at night) to England.
By unfortunate coincidence, Dracula seems to really enjoy tormenting poor Jonathan, because the first thing he does upon arrival to England is seek to spread the plague of the undead and he begins making nightly visits to Harker’s fiance, the lovely Wilhelmina. Mina has only appeared twice in popular culture, to my knowledge – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Dracula: Dead and Loving It – and yet she becomes the central focus of the second half of the story. Mina and Lucy become Dracula’s victims and he slowly drains the life out of them, despite some of Harker’s best efforts, and that of his associate, Professor Van Helsing.
I’ll leave the rest of the story up to you, but I assure you, for a character as widely known as Dracula, they have never done a movie on par with the book. Harker and Mina’s tales are extraordinary and interesting, and the book very much deserves to be read in full. Plus, Lucy? You NEVER see her. You have to read the book to find out about Lucy.
If you haven’t, this October, I challenge you to pick up a copy of Dracula. Compare it to the vampires you know, and see how the story has evolved. It’s an excellent tale, and the evolution of vampire is fascinating.
For more information on Dracula, Vlad Tepes, or vampirism in Eastern Europe, please check out the below websites:
- The Bureau of Romanian Tourism.
- Dracula (1931).
- Wikipedia: Vlad the Impaler.
- Eighteenth Century Vampire Controversy
- Wikipedia: Dracula
Have you read Dracula? What is your favorite vampire story? Would you sleep in Dracula’s castle? I don’t think I would…