Dracula – The Facts
Oddly Dracula is one of those fictional horror characters that we would like to consider as being the brain-child of Stoker alone and without a true living inspiration. The Count that lives in his darkened castle in the depths of the Transylvanian mountains, seems far from a possibility in reality. However, like his links to the supernatural elements of his story, Stoker drew on the history of the land too. Finding a character so blood thirsty and dark that actually perhaps Count Dracula doesn’t sound all that bad.
In fact, not only was the darkened castle real, but so was the name itself. However, this blog post alone is not likely to be enough space to cover the story of the real Dracula; that would take a book without doubt.
So, let’s break it down into some simple points we can explore; the name Dracula, the castle that has become iconic in this gothic tale and of course the thirst for blood.
The name is actually relatively easy to look into, but what I always find fascinating is the simple fact that Stoker never really changed his name or made up Dracula. In fact the real Dracula shares his name with his father, who would go by Dracul; these had variations of course in different languages like Draculya, Dracol, Draculea, Draculia, Draculios, Dracole and Tracol. Although these were more like nicknames or chosen names, than their birth names which was Vlad. Dracula and Dracul both appear to have two meanings, which play equally to the Stoker story; they meant “devil” and still does in Romanian. In addition they meant ‘dragon.’ This is probably because back in 1431 the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund invested Vlad (the father) with the Order of the Dragon. This was a semi-military organisation dedicated to fighting the Turkish. Equally when the superstitious peasants of the local region saw Vlad (the father) bearing the dragon symbol they would have thought him in league with the devil.
As for the son of Dracul, he is known by two main names; Vlad Tepes, which meant Vlad the Impaler (more on that later) and Dracula; a diminutive meaning ‘son of the dragon’ or ‘son of the devil.’ It is equally this relation to the words ‘dragon’ and ‘dragon’ that could present a relationship to vampirism in Romanian culture.
So, here we have a name that relates to a real person in Transylvanian history, which has associations to the devil and potentially vampires in local folklore. However, the true character of Vlad Tepes goes a little further than simply the name alone. As it would seem history had more to offer Stoker than a spooky sounding name.
Dracula’s thirst for blood is equally real it would seem, just perhaps in a slightly different manner from what we have been led to believe by Stoker. Whilst Dracula may not have been biting the necks of the Transylvanian folk, he was not particularly nice to the people of Romania. Although that said a lot of his actions seem to be more directed towards those attempting to infiltrate Dracula’s home lands.
Of course Dracula did not become known as Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler for nothing; he had what could be called a signature move when it came to those that he simply didn’t like. A signature move that he would go on to perfect and improve over the years; which was simply to impale he’s victims on spikes. He would use this to display the bodies of those he had defeated in battle to others thinking of attacking him and he would also use the method on his own people to remind those not on spikes to behave. In fact I believe he impaled possibly thousands on a mountain side near Brasov, where we stayed whilst in Romania. This is better known as Timpa Hill.
Dracula was formidable in battle and with the use of impalement he could strike fear into his enemies hearts and minds. He had the advantage over the Turks, as his imprisonment with them had allowed him to learn not only how they would fight, but equally their language and how they dressed. This allowed he and his men to infiltrate they ranks and kill them from the inside; a smart move. In his lifetime he killed many and without doubt spilt a great deal of blood; as such its likely Stoker saw him as almost a true representation of his Count.
There is one more thing I feel should be shared regarding the real Dracula though, that plays straight into the vampire story here. There is an island monastery at Snagov in Romanian, which has a church in which is said to be the burial place of Dracula. In the 1930’s the church was excavated, but Dracula’s grave was empty! Other graves still housed bodies, it was only his that was lacking a physical body. Something which plays further into this supernatural story perhaps. Of course as fanciful as this sounds, there is likely a logical reasonable explanation here; which is simply that over time the body was moved due to one reason or another, or perhaps was never there at all and Dracula is buried elsewhere. Still a missing body does make you wonder.
Finally we have Castle Dracula, but our association with this is actually often related to Bran Castle. A location that Dracula may have visited without doubt, but was not his castle. In fact he would have likely had a few places he would stay over the years. However, he did have one castle in particular constructed as far as we know. This would have Stoker’s signature mountain pass nearby still and was on the bank of the Arges River. These days there is little left in comparison to the beautiful well kept Bran Castle, which is still loosely marketed as castle Dracula. It was likely that paintings of Bran Castle gave Stoker part of the description for his castle, but as an author he would have included elements of other places too. Sometimes the ideal setting is not in the ideal place.
The actual castle Dracula was likely a retreat and stronghold that Vlad knew he could retreat to if needed to and in one story I believe he does whilst being pursued. So, less of a beautiful gothic location and more of a functional fortress. Yet still hidden amongst the mountains he knew all so well.
These are only a few of the facts relating to the real Dracula, Vlad Tepes; for much more I read ‘In Search of Dracula’ by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu, whilst travelling inn Romania. Which I highly recommend; the book and a visit to Romania, which is an amazingly gorgeous country. One which has so much history too, both ancient and modern.
Understanding the facts behind Dracula has really helped me to re-evaluate my own approach to researching the paranormal I believe. The reason being is that so often a ghost hunt can seem like a story of some kind is unfolding through the night. However, we must be cautious not to jump to conclusions based on our belief or superstitions, we must weigh the facts first. Whilst Dracula was a real person in name, in history and in his own form of terror; a vampire he was not. Whilst his grave was empty, this does not mean he walks the earth in an undead form. However, often the facts and fiction of stories, not just Dracula’s, can be blurred and that’s what we will look at in the final part of this series.