Dracula. That name instils fear in all of us, but to know that this character, this frightening creature of the night, is actually based in part on a real person who was incredibly cruel may be even more frightening. First, let’s take a look at vampires. It is true that our modern day concept of the vampire is based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stoker created for us a creature that we associate with the well-dressed and powerful man who is also a creature of death. However, vampires themselves were featured in stories for centuries before Dracula was created and Transylvania is often associated with them. Some believe that Transylvania is located on one of the strongest magnetic fields, which may lend its power to vampires, and crossroads are said to be associated with the vampire, but what about Dracula himself? Where did he come from?
It appears that Dracula is a combination of the Southern Slavic folklore that gave rise to the legends of vampires and Vlad Dracula, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler. Vampires were well known and during the late 17th through the 18th centuries a vampire epidemic was spreading across Europe. This means that people believed in them so much and there were so many stories of the undead and vampire attacks on travellers, that the authors and playwrights of the time decided to take full advantage of these tales to create their own stories. Stoker was one of these and was riding on the wave of vampire popularity. However, Stoker went even further. He took the general concept of the vampire and coupled it with a real person, someone who was known for his immense cruelty.
Vlad Dracula was the ruler of the province of Wallachia, which lies just south of Transylvania, from 1456-1462. He had a reputation of cruelty that went far beyond that of most men. He tortured and maimed his enemies and those within his kingdom who broke his laws and he was most famous for punishing people by sentencing them to death by impalement. This cruel form of death left the person slowly dying for hours or even days and through his nasty methods he created a kingdom in which there was no crime. Those who were used as an example of what would happen to law-breakers were enough to dissuade others from going down the same path.
Stoker did most of his research for his book in the library in London, England. It was here that he poured over texts about the provinces in Romania. He also had a friend who was a Hungarian professor and whether through conversations with him or his on research, Stoker eventually came across the name of Vlad Dracula. Obviously, since he used the name for his own character, he must have been at least somewhat inspired by Vlad, although there are many who believe that not to be the case. Regardless, even if Vlad became an inspiration for him, Stoker did not actually know very much about Vlad, nor had he ever actually travelled to Romania. Just the reputation of this man alone was enough to inspire a character.
Despite the fact that Dracula was inspired at least in part by a man whose cruelty was infamous and even horrifying, sickening even the stoutest of hearts in his day, Dracula was also based on the vampire legends of the time. Between the two what we have today is a character, a creature that is frightening and seems to have come from our worst nightmares. Maybe Vlad’s reputation as an impaler is the basis for the need to drive a stake through he heart of Dracula in order to kill him, but whatever the role it is frightening that such a man ever lived. Thank goodness Dracula himself is only a character in a book.