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10/28/2004 Archived Entry: "The real Vlad Tepes vs. "Count Dracula"..."
Onto our second day of Hallowe'en wonder in Eastern Europe...
We spent yesterday, the 27th, footloose and on our own in Bucharest. That is, after getting enough rest to recover from the overnight flight. (Specifics on what we saw and did will have to wait at least until November 6th when I will be back on the farm, warming my hands over a hot computer. I wonder if there will be snow on the ground?)
The following is the official itinerary we have been given for October 28th: After breakfast, we have a brief tour of Bucharest, including the ruins of the Court erected by Prince Vlad Dracula almost 550 years ago. After lunch (on your own), we proceed to the mountains, the Wallahian side of the Carpathians. [Note: in Romania the Carpathians are continued by the Transylvanian Alps or Southern Carpathians, which extend SW to the Danube River.] North of Bucharest, across the vast Danubian plain, lies the entrance to the Gorge of the river Arges - guarded from above by fortress Poienari - the historical fortress built by Vlad Dracula. [Note: For mention of the Arges River in "Dracula" see the online script. The quote: "There was a princess...Elisabeta. She was the most radiant woman in all the empires of the world. Man's deceit took her from her ancient prince (Vlad). She leapt to her death into the river that you spoke of. In my mother's tongue, it is called `Arges', River Princess."] Few tourists visit this eerie site. The legends match the dramatic landscape. Depending on the group size, we will overnight at a well-equipped private farmhouse or at a small hotel in Aref, the only village in Romania that preserves oral narratives about Vlad to this very day. Dinner and folk show included.
The itinerary indicates that the theme of the guide's lectures to us as we wander about on October 28th will be the difference between the mythic Dracula and the historical figure Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, upon whom it is commonly assumed Bram Stoker based his famous vampire. (The following comments draw heavily upon Dr. Elizabeth Miller's "A Dracula Handbook.") According to Miller, who makes a convincing case, there is little reason to believe that Stoker had Tepes in mind when creating Count Dracula. She refers directly to the original notes made by Stoker on this novel which were discovered by Boston College historian Raymond McNally in the mid-70s as well as to her own extensive research into the sources upon which Stoker drew.
In a section of the Handbook entitled "What evidence exists in the novel of Stoker's familiarity with the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler," Miller writes: "It is worth noting here that if the novel is any indication, Stoker knew very little about him. To begin with, the name 'Vlad' appears nowhere in the book. Nor are there any references to the places association with his life...or to his infamous atrocities. Stoker's use of the motif that vampires can be destroyed by wooden stakes did not originate in his knowledge of Vlad's fondness for impalement. Vlad was not the inspiration for the novel, nor was Count Dracula based on Vlad." Miller offers extensive argument for this perspective elsewhere in the Handbook.
"What we do find in the novel are the scaps of information Stoker found in William Wilkinson's book about a 'volvode Dracula' who we now know was Vlad the Impaler. When Count Dracula provides Jonathan Harker with an account of his history, he includes much detail, some of which is accurate and some of which is garbled. But all of it can be traced to sources that we know Stoker consulted and from which he took notes -- not one of which (except Wilkinson) makes a single reference to the historical Dracula. One is forced to conclude that the only significant influence that Vlad has on Stoker's novel was the author's decision to use his name 'Dracula'."
Dr. Miller offers a nugget of advice to those going to Transylvania to seek "Dracula." They are likely to meet with some hostility from Romanians proud of Vlad as a warrior hero who held back the Turks when no one else in Eastern Europe seemed able to do so. Many Romanians view him as a founding father of sorts and they consider 'fans' who embrace him as a vampire to be rude, much the same way Americans might view people who celebrated George Washington as a werewolf. Hmm...I'll be in Transylvania during Hallowe'en. What are the odds I can convince the locals that I'm there for the great local food?