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The Historical Dracula

Chapter VI: Dracula and the Vampire Myth

First Dracula movie created from Bram Stoker's StoryIt is unclear why Bram Stoker chose this fifteenth century Romanian prince as the model for his fictional vampire. Stoker was friends with a Hungarian professor from Buda-Pest and many have suggested that Dracula's name might have been mentioned by this friend. Regardless of how the name came to Stoker's attention the cruel history of the Impaler would have readily loaned itself to Stoker's purposes. The events of Dracula's life were played out in a region of the world that was still basically medieval even in Stoker's time. The Balkans had only recently shaken off the Turkish yoke when Stoker started working on his novel and the superstitions of the Dark Ages were still prevelent. Transylvania had long been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but it too had endured a long period of Turkish domination and its culture was still largely medieval.

The legend of the vampire was and still is deeply rooted in that region. There have always been vampire-like creatures in the mythologies of many cultures. However, the vampire, as he became known in Europe and hence America, largely originated in the Slavic and Greek lands of eastern Europe. A veritable epidemic of vampirism swept through eastern Europe beginning in the late seventeenth century and continuing through the eighteenth century. The number of reported cases rose dramatically in Hungary and the Balkans. From the Balkans the plague spread westward into Germany, Italy, France, England and Spain. Travellers returning from the Balkans brought with them tales of the undead, igniting an interest in the vampire that has continued to this day. Vampire Depiction in 17th centuryPhilosophers in the West began to study the phenomenon. It was during this period that Dom Augustin Calmet wrote his famous treatise on vampirism in Hungary. It was also during this period that authors and playwrights first began to explore the vampire myth. Stoker's novel was merely the culminating work of a long series of works that were inspired by the reports coming from the Balkans and Hungary.

Given the history of the vampire myth in Europe it is perhaps natural that Stoker should place his great vampire in the heart of the region that gave birth to the myth. Once Stoker had determined on a locality Vlad Dracula would stand out as one of the most notorious rulers of the selected region. He was obscure enough that few would recognize the name and those who did would know him for his acts of brutal cruelty; Dracula was a natural candidate for vampirism. Why Stoker chose to relocate his vampire from Wallachia to the north in Transylvania remains a mystery.

The vampire myth is still wide-spread in eastern Europe. Similarly the name of Dracula is still remembered in the Romanian oral tradition, but that is the end of any connection between Dracula and the vampire myth in folklore. Outside of Stoker's novel the name of Dracula was never linked with the myth of the vampire. Despite his inhuman cruelty, in Romania Dracula is remembered as a national hero who resisted the Turkish conquerors and asserted Romanian national sovereignty against the powerful Hungarian kingdom.

 

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 "The Historical Dracula" is Copyright Ray Porter, 1992

 

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