Friday, April 12, 2013
His name is probably known everywhere and his story defined the way vampires are seen in our modern culture.
You probably heard the name in your childhood, and was bombarded with countless stories, movies and even cereals about him.
Lets talk about - you guessed it! - Count Dracula.
Creation of the Monster
Dracula was the title character and antagonist of the 1897 novel with the same name by Bram Stoker.
The story follows diary entries, newspaper clippings, ship log's entries and etc. of the novel's protagonists explaining everything that happens when they get involved with the strange Count Dracula.
The aforementioned main characters are: Jonathan Harker, a business man sent to Transylvania to make business with Count Dracula; Wilhelmina "Mina" Harker, Jonathan's fianceé; and the also now world-wide famous Abraham Van Helsing, a Dutch professor and vampire hunter.
On a more basic level, the novel "tells the story of Dracula's attempt to relocate from Transylvania to England, and the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing".
It also deals with a lot of political, sociological and sexual themes.
Bram Stoker spent years of his life researching European folklore and mythological stories about vampires, and most likely drew his inspiration for the famous vampire from one of the Hungarian stories he heard.
Most these stories, a bit disturbing to say, were real.
One of the author's inspiration was a certain prince called Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476), also known by the sweet nickname of Vlad the Impaler.
It is said that his cruelty knew no bounds, being a tyrannic sadistic man.
Legend has it that the number of his victims range from 40,000 to 100,000; the German legends say that it was at least 80,000 people, but either way, it's a big number.
In addition to these alleged victims, it is mentioned that he had whole villages and fortresses destroyed at his hand and burned to the ground.
He is also said to, as his nickname already says, impaling his victims, cutting their heads off and drinking from their blood - that last part was what must've caught the eye of Stoker, and thus another legend was born.
It is also interesting to mention the roots of the name Dracula - Vlad the Impaler was from "The House of Draculesti", but was known by its patronymic name "Dracula". Dracula literally means "Son of the Dragon", whereas "Drac" derives from the Latin "Draco" that means Dragon.
But in Modern Romanian, the word "drac" is now synonym with "devil", thus making Vlad Dracula a name worthy of a badass supervillain. (The word for dragon was changed for "balaur" or simply "dragon" by the way).
Other inspirations come from other vampire stories that were circulating around that time, such as the novella Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and a penny dreadful (crime stories that sometimes used a twist of the supernatural that were really popular in the Victorian Era) called Varney the Vampire, by James Malcolm Rymer and Count Dracula’s archetypical ways were heavily inspired by the novel The Vampyre by John Polidori; a visit to Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire and crypts of St. Michan's Church in Dublin were also used as inspiration.
When the novel came out, it wasn't an immediate best seller, even though people who read it gave it positive reviews. It was compared to other Gothic novels such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Edgar Allan Poe's stories and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.
But it was only really perceived as a classic for the 20th century readers, when the first movie versions came out, and a lot others subsequently.
Movies and other versions
Rumours say that there was a Soviet silent film called Drakula (1920) based on the novel.
It's supposedly the first adaptation of Dracula, but nothing regarding this film is known to have survived.
In fact, not many people think the movie actually exists, and since there's no way to verify its authenticity, we can only remain wondering if it was real or not.
So the other (and very much real) earliest movie that came out about Dracula had to change its name completely because of copyright infringements: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens, 1922).
In it, Count Dracula was changed for the eerie Count Orlok, played by the even eerier Max Schreck.
The movie tell the same story as Dracula, with only minor changes in characters names and other small plot changes.
It actually almost didn’t came out, since it went through a process made by Stoker’s state on the cause of plagiarism and by losing it, all copies were supposed to be taken away and never shown.
But luckily, a few copies of it survived and now are in the public domain, being one major cult horror classic.
But the one movie that really put the name Dracula on the scene was probably the now horror classic of 1931 Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, who is known amongst fans as THE Count Dracula.
After that, countless of other movies on Dracula appeared, including tons of parodies, dramas, series, theatre plays and even a ballet performance.
Another one that's worth mentioning is the 1992 movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola named Bram Stoker's Dracula.
It starred known stars like Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder and Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing.
Speaking of which, Van Helsing, the famous vampire hunter, was born out of Bram Stoker's book, and soon became a character of his own and thousand of stories and movies sprung about him as well - most of them deviating completely from the original story.
What is the truth?
Since the man who inspired such a chilly tale was very much real, it isn’t surprising to see that many people believe that Count Dracula was real - and that so are vampires.
The whole vampire thing probably originated in Slavic countries in the Middle Ages.
Experts don’t know what or why vampires were born, but there is an enormous list of reasons such as: the ignorance towards the decomposition of bodies, outbreaks of strange diseases like rabies and porphyria (both make a person sensitive to light, messes around with their nervous system, making the afflicted act no short of mad - all “symptoms” of vampire sickness), premature burial worries (these happened a lot in that time), bats infestations and even political reasons - but none of them can quite explain what is the vampire in the world’s folklore.
In 2006 though, a physic professor of a University in Florida said that it was “mathematically impossible” for a vampire to exist.
His paper said that “based on geometric progression, if the first vampire had appeared on 1 January 1600, and it fed once a month (which is less often than what is depicted in films and folklore), and every victim turned into a vampire, then within two and a half years the entire human population of the time would have become vampires.” It’s strange that a physics professor is worried over such things, but nevertheless is a nice and reasonable thinking.
But that doesn’t mean that people still won’t believe in vampires, even in modern days.
In February 2004, a family from Romania thought that their deceased son was a vampire.
What did they do?
Oh, just dug out the boy’s corpse, ate his heart and did a number of things for him to stop his vampiric ways.
But the practice of digging out the bodies of the deceased and twisting their limbs and stabbing their hearts still happens in some parts of Europe so to stop their loved ones from becoming blood sucking monsters.
In our days, vampirism also became a “way of life” amongst some people.
It’s now considered a branch from the Gothics, with same aesthetical approach as them.
Some even modify their bodies in order to look like vampires, and use the term “Coven” to describe their companions - and some even go as far as drinking a willing person’s blood.
But since the vision of the vampire is known throughout the ages all over the world... it must be based on some kind of primordial beast, maybe?
Something that may lurk in the night, thirsting for blood and hunting its prey in the darkness.
Maybe vampires do exist (or existed).
Maybe there’s one next to you right now.
But who knows! What do you think?