Dear Readers and Vampire Fanatics,
“The mouth . . . was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. . . . The nails were long and fine, and cut to a sharp point . . .” This description from Bram Stoker’s book Dracula is of one of the most famous vampires of all time. The very name “Dracula” brings to mind bloodshot-eyed, nocturnal vampires, garlic flowers, flitting bats, coffins, broken mirrors, old, foggy graveyards, wooden stakes, and crucifixes.
If you guessed “Count Dracula” as the answer to my last blog question–Who said, “‘Listen to them–the children of the night. What music they make!'”?–you are correct. The count spoke those words to the solicitor Jonathan Harker from England, his newly arrived guest at his castle in Transylvania. The young man would become the count’s prisoner and victim. The words from the quote refer to the wolves howling in the valley far below–wolves, we learn, that did the count’s bidding!
Irish author Abraham “Bram” Stoker (1847-1912) wrote Dracula in 1897, having been influenced by John Polidori’s book The Vampyre, written in 1816. Stoker’s book introduced the character of Count Dracula to the world. Considered a classic Gothic Horror Invasion story, it spawned many movies, particularly in the 1930s and ’40s made by Universal Pictures Hollywood. Vampires remain popular to this day in books, films, plays, and musicals.
Stoker’s work tells the story of Count Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England where he hopes to find new blood, spread his curse of “the undead” to form an army, and avoid defeat at the hands of a small group of men and a woman led by the Dutch professor Dr. Van Helsing. Part of the story is set in Whitby, England, where Stoker spent summer holidays. Dracula is seen as an evil, unsympathetic character throughout.
Bram Stoker was an invalid as a child. His mother used to tell him horror stories at bedtime! Thus began Stoker’s obsession with the undead and tales of horror. He made a remarkable recovery from his childhood illnesses, going on to become an athlete at Trinity College in Dublin. He graduated with honors in mathematics but was employed as a civil servant and theatre reviewer before turning to fiction writing. He published his first story in 1872. Stoker was lifelong friends with horror fiction writer, J. Sheridan Le Fanu (In a Glass Darkly; Uncle Silas; and, his vampire tale Camilla); and, with English Shakespearean actor Sir Henry Irving, whose looks and mannerisms are believed to have been the real-life inspiration for the character of Dracula. Irving never played the role of Dracula on stage, much to Stoker’s disappointment.
In 1878, Stoker married the beautiful Florence Balcombe, but their marriage wasn’t a happy one. Supposedly, Stoker came to revile women. Some say that he wrote Dracula so that women could literally have the life sucked out of them!
Stoker was well traveled and spent seven years researching the history and lore of Eastern Europe, including vampire myths, Transylvania, and the Carpathian Mountains. Some literary historians believe that an actual historic figure from fifteenth-century Transylvania, Vlad Tepes III Dracul, was the model for Stoker’s count. Vlad was known as Vlad the Impaler. The bloodthirsty tyrant of Wallachia earned his name by killing anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 Turks and European civilians by impaling them on tall stakes. Then, he would prop them up mile after mile at the border to dissuade future invasions. Stoker originally named his vampire Count Wampyr but was intrigued by the name “Dracula” after researching about Wallachia. Dracula in Romanian meant “son of the dragon.” In Ireland, the term Droch Ola translates to “bad blood.” In North America, Dracula means “devil.” (Notice that Vlad’s wooden stake image carried into Dracula as the way to kill a vampire.)
Stoker wrote twelve novels, including his most famous Dracula, and numerous short stories. To date, over 1,000 novels and 200 films have been made about Stoker’s vampire. There is an annual Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin, Ireland, from October 28-31.
Stoker was a frequent visitor to the United States, meeting Presidents McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt as well as one of his literary idols Walt Whitman. In London, he was friends with poet William Butler Yeats and the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The castle of Count Dracula might have been inspired by Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, at which Bram Stoker was a guest of the 19th Earl of Erroll; or, possibly by Castle Bran in Transylvania, of which Stoker saw an illustration.
Dracula was not an immediate best seller in 1897 despite reviewers’ praise. Sadly, Stoker didn’t make much money from it and died a poor man, never living to see the worldwide popularity of his most famous character. Dracula finally reached its iconic status in the twentieth century when its movie versions started to appear, in particular, the unauthorized Nosferatu, in 1922. This sparked legal battles between the movie’s maker, F.W. Murnau, and Stoker’s widow. Interestingly, litigation caused the novel and film to grow in popularity!
In 2009, an authorized sequel was published entitled Dracula the Un-dead by Stoker’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt.
In 1931, Universal Pictures Hollywood released its movie version, starring the 6’1″, Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) as the count. Spin-offs followed for Lugosi and other actors of the time. Since 1931, the book has never been out of print. Other actors to play the count include Max Schreck, Lon Chaney, Jr., Christopher Lee for Britain’s Hammer Film Productions, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman, Luke Evans, and Richard Roxburgh.
Bela Lugosi’s movie roles were sparse due to his heavy accent and limited English. In addition, he didn’t want to be typecast as a horror villain. Playing Count Dracula, which he did only two times (in 1931 and 1948), was his greatest role. He was often paired in other horror pictures with Boris Karloff, who usually got top billing. The two worked well together but were never close friends. Lugosi’s career and finances declined. He became addicted to doctor-prescribed opioids for severe, chronic sciatica from war injuries he sustained in military service. Near the end of his life, he sought medical intervention and used money earned from starring in low-budget Ed Wood movies to pay his hospital expenses.
Bela Lugosi, a Roman Catholic, died in 1956 and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. His ex-wife Lillian and their son, Bela George Lugosi, made the decision to have him buried in one of his Dracula cape costumes.They believed that it would have been what he wanted since he was a fan of the occult. Contrary to popular belief, Lugosi never left such burial instructions himself. The cape he wore in the 1931 film survives today in the ownership of Universal Studios.
Sources: Dracula, by Bram Stoker; “Dracula,” “Bram Stoker,” and “Bela Lugosi” from Wikipedia; IMDb.com; biography.com; dublintown.ie: and, telegraph.co.uk.
So get a clue, Readers. To which character from classic horror films did Maleva, the old “Gypsy” fortuneteller, speak these words: “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a ( ) when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright”? Come back next time for the hair-raising answer!