Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dracula's Birthday

I missed it. It was May 18. No, it was not the birthday of the real Dracula, Vlad Tepes, a 15th century Wallachian Prince and a knight of the order of Dracul. May 18 was the day, in 1887, that Bram Stoker published his magnum opus, "Dracula."

It is hard to overestimate the cultural importance of that novel. Interestingly, it was not a major seller upon its initial release. But over the years, the popularity of the story has grown exponentially. Indeed, at last count, over 227 movies and innumerable books had been created featuring Stoker's undead antagonist.

Stoker's background research for his novel was extensive and spanned several years. There was much material to draw upon, as vampire myths date back several millennia, with the first known reference appearing in the writings of Mesopotamia. Vampires of mythology fed on life essence, not necessarily blood. Nor was a stake through the heart the most common way of destroying the vampire. But Stoker's novel forever altered the mythology of vampires.

Likewise, Vlad Tepes was never associated with vampirism until Stoker's novel. Tepes was one of the most blood thirsty, sadistic people ever to walk this earth. He executed over 100,000 of his foes, most of them invading Turks captured in battle. Tepes favored method of execution was impalement. Tepes had his prisoners stripped and then had a long stake with a blunted point forced perhaps a foot into the anus of the prisoner. He then had the prisoner raised up and the stake planted firmly in the ground. This method of execution was designed to cause utmost agony over hours if not days as the individual, exposed to the elements, slowly slipped ever farther down the stake. And Tepes made entire forests of the people he impaled. Indeed, one of the most famous incidents occurred in 1462 when Turkish Sultan Mehmed II led an Islamic invasion force into Wallachia, only to turn back in horror after happening upon a scene of 20,000 impaled corpses outside Vlad's capital of Târgoviște.

It is not surprising that Stoker would choose Tepes as his vampire, given the prince's royal lineage, his utter blood thirstiness and his association with horror. That said, in Romania, Tepes is celebrated as major national hero for his stand against Islamic imperialism. At any rate, on 18 May, 126 years ago, Tepes was reanimated and a long deceased Wallachian prince became the most famous undead villain of our era, the vampire Dracula.


Paul_In_Houston said...

The novel is long, leisurely, and not for those with short attention spans. You have to be patient with it.

And yet, for all that, consider...

The main character (Dracula, of course) is actually offstage for much of it, but his presence is always felt.

That's a difficult trick to pull off in a movie (the character of Sheriff "Buddy" Deeds, as played by Matthew McConnaughey in Lone Star (1995)) manages to pull it off.

To accomplish that, on the printed page; well, as a writer of blog posts who struggles (often in vain) to avoid being boring, I can only look upon Bram Stoker with envy. :-)

Paul_In_Houston said...

Checking the link in my comment above reveals that "Lone Star" came out in 1996, not 1995.

Any sane person would have just let it go, but a lifetime in engineering and IT have made a compulsive picture-straightener of me.

I just can't help it. :(

(Yes! I completely sympathize with Detective Adrian Monk.)

GW said...

Hmmm, I don't know about Deeds as I have never seen it. The closest parallel I can think of is my favorite epicurian, Hannibal Lechter in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs.

Paul_In_Houston said...

GW: I highly recommend finding and renting it.

Being a Texan, I'm naturally in favor of it, primarily because it nails Texas (especially West Texas) culture so well, showing real people instead of stereotypical cartoons.

And, who directed it? John Sayles, from Schenectady, New York!!!.

He did the screenplay for Piranha (1978), which was shot in San Marcos, Texas, and when the shoot was over, took a sabbatical by hitchhiking and doing part-time work down in the Rio Grande valley, absorbing a hell of a lot of the local culture, which he apparently remembered when he did Lone Star.

Thusly, this Yankee from New York has made one of the finest movies I've ever seen set in my state, and in which the locale is a vital part of the story.

Rent it. You wont be disappointed.

OBloodyHell said...

>>> He executed over 100,000 of his foes, most of them invading Muslims...

You misspelled that last word, I fixed it.

And to which I have to say, "...Sounds like a good start."