Who never saw something about Count Dracula? Halloween is populated by vampires and Dracula is, without doubts, the most famous among them.
What is less known, is that the famous vampire’s story was based on a man from real life – Vlad Țepeș. The legend took such great proportions that it became the famous book by Bram Stoker – thus, giving flow to the creation of many other books, animes, theater performances, comic books and many other media types.
Beeing a horror icon, I decided to make this post a little bit different to bring it to you today! I, Artemis, am an incurable fangirl of everything related to Dracula and his history – be it real or not.
Yes, uncle Vlad has a very special space on my selective heart of ice.
Therefore, today I’ll present you a little bit more about the real man who inspired the Count’s creation, while also talking quite quickly about some works in which Dracula appears: such as the classic book by Bram Stoker, the not so classic but excelent book by Elizabeth Kostova, the movie adaptation of the book Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola, and, at last, the bloodthirsty vampires from the manga and anime Hellsing.
So get ready, because today my trip will take you too the distant lands of Romania – don’t forget your stock of garlic, your crucifix, a wooden stake and a lot of courage.
Vlad Țepeș – Count Dracula in Real Life
Vlad III, also known as Vlad Drăculea and Vlad Țepeș (Vlad, o Impaler), was born at Sighișoara, in December 7, 1431. Son of Vlad II, back then the prince of Wallachia, soon he moved to Târgoviște – the principality capital.
Both Vlad II, the father, and Vlad III used the name “Dracul”, one of the ways to identify them as part of the Order of the Dragon – that had as a goal to defend christian Europe from the advances by the Ottoman Empire. The Order, was created in 1408 by the king of Hungary, Sigismund of Luxemburg, and the queen Barbara von Cilli – having, also, a religious idea behind it.
The name Vlad Drăculea, also, can be translated as “son of the dragon”. Some translations, though, can be done as “son of the devil” – once that the word in latin “dracul” is used many times to refer to the devil. In addition, on Saint Benedict’s medal – used frequently by exorcist priests – is written for the saint to deliver the wearer from the dragon.
When he was 11 years old, though, Vlad III and his younger brother, Radu, were given by their father to Murad II – then sultan of the Ottoman Empire – as a guarantee that he wouldn’t rise against the ottomans. Living in Constantinople – nowadays Istanbul – Vlad learned the language and behaviours.
It’s also said that it was during this time that he learned to war and picked up his extremely cruel habits in battle – especially the impaling tecnique.
With the death of Vlad II by the hands of noble men, Vlad III, on his 17 years old, started his incursions to take back the throne of Wallachia, while his brother Radu prefered to remain on Turkey with the ottomans. When he was 25 years old, Vlad III took back Wallachia, killing Vladislav II – who governed the principality back then.
Vlad became known by his resistance against the Ottoman Empire – even becoming an example in the region. However, with his brother Radu leading an attack, he was taken from the rule of Wallachia, running away to the Hungarian Empire – that even helped Wallachia with resources.
Living as a prisioner on the Hungarian Empire, Vlad III even got married, had children and participated on the royal life. After some years, though, he decided to conquer back his lands – once Radu, his brother, had already died. Getting back to Wallachia, the ruler back then, Bassarabe, prefered to run away then face him.
Vlad III died when he was 45 years old, under still misterious circumstances. Some say the ottomans killed him trying to get Bassarabe back on the throne, others say he died the same way as his father. A part of people comment that his remains are in the island of Snagov, while another part say he was decapitated and his head taken to Constantinople.
But no one knows for certain what happened and his remains, apparently, weren’t found to this day.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Seen by many as a war hero, Vlad III’s image certainly was associated to his cruel acts during battles. With such acts and misterious circumstances surrounding his death, Bram Stoker used the prince of Wallachia as inspiration for his most famous horror book: Dracula.
I still remember starting to read the book. “It mustn’t be that scary” I thought – if you don’t allow yourself to get affected by the story.
I was in Serra Negra during a silent night – the whole city was sleeping and it was possible to hear only the crickets singing lazily during the night. The sky was jet black, with a few stars emerging on the darkness. And I was reading my copy of Dracula.
Around three in the morning, I decided to stay a little bit in the porch before going to sleep – I like to see the city in silence and feel the cold air of the deep night. Two big dogs – that looked more like wolves, which isn’t very common around here – appeared walking on the deserted street: until one of them stopped and looked right at me.
I don’t say I believe in the story or don’t believe on it. But I said good night to the little dog and got back inside home muttering to myself “you don’t have my permission to come in”. And went to sleep, calmly, under my protective blankets.
The book is an imersion in its characters through many letters – the Count himself is more of an ethereal figure, who shows up some times. The horror is in not knowing how, when or in which form Dracula is going to manifest in order to make his victims.
Jonathan Harker is a lawyer from London who travels to the distant Transylvania to prepare the legal procedures of the purchase of a british property by the Count. In love with Mina Murray, his fiance, he sends her many letters – and it’s by his writings both in the letters and his personal journal that we start the story.
Mina’s journal replaces Jonathan’s letters at a certain point – when he stops writting her. Dracula goes to England – arriving in an unmanned ship, basically a ghost ship – and he isn’t seen by anyone. However, Lucy Westenra, Mina’s best friend, starts to present an increasingly debilitated health.
Suspecting that Lucy’s health is a blood disease, Van Helsing is called to medicate the lady. And, discovering that Dracula is behind the horrors of the young woman, Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker, Dr. John Seward, Quincey Morris and Arthur Holmwood get together to ed the vampire’s life.
It’s from this book that the classical myths about Count Dracula emerged: sucking the blood of innocents to live, the three wives that feed on children’s blood, the possibility to climb walls, turn into bats, rats and wolves, sensibility to garlic and sunlight, the belief that he should sleep in soil of his homeland, the wooden stake through his heart in his bed, are a few of the most important to mention.
I still remember two key points that made me uncomfortable: when Jonathan leaves his chambers to venture around the Count’s castle during the middle of the night finding his three wives; and the desperate scene on the last moments of life of one of the book’s main characters.
If read in the right way – and allowing yourself to get immersed in the story – Dracula is a book that still manages to give you chills with a few of its passages. It’s a heavy reading: the language is old and sometimes complicated, some letters are redundant and the passing of time seems extremely slow. But, in my point of view, that’s what makes it look like the letters and reports from each character that Bram Stoker brought us in this classic of horror literature are real.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
This book is a hidden diamond among a sea of books: like my mother said “it found me (on the bookshop)”.
Originally, she bought by chance and soon she couldn’t stop reading. When she finished it, and saw my passion about Dracula’s and Vlad III’s history that originated the vampire tales, she told me to read it.
And, oh boy. What a book. It’s on my list of favourites.
Elizabeth Kostova based her writing on the stories her father told her about vampires while they traveled through Europe. In order to finish writing The Historian, she took 10 years and gifted us with a lot of researches and historical documents that enrich the knowledge about this story.
The story is separated in two reports: of a girl, who finds a misterious book with the image of a dragon on her home’s library, and her father’s, who tells about his own research on the misterious book.
Her mother died when she was still a baby. Her father, meets a professor during his post graduation who leaves him the book along with many letters. Slowly, the story unwinds and both start to notice that Dracula might still be alive.
This is The Historian’s magic. Kostova mixes fact with fiction and brings innumerable documents reporting Vlad’s life and whereabouts. All the history I told you about before? She tells it in the book, with many other details and historical reports that it isn’t possible to know if they’re real or not.
The cruelty of Vlad III telling the ottomans that, if they don’t take their turbans off in his castle, they’d have it stuck to their heads with nails. What Vlad had to go through when he was given by his father as a prisioner. How he learnt his war tactics. Where he passed through, how he died, where he would be buried… The tomb in Snagov that wasn’t his.
Apart from that, the book brings us other stories: of how Constantinople population started to get worried, after the alleged death of Vlad III, with a blood disease that took over the city. How the ottomans started to burn the bodies of the dead outside city gates, because there were reports that those were rising after being declared dead. Of how they were taken by a horror of something they didn’t know what it was.
Elizabeth Kostova brought Dracula to reality, in a manner I’ve never seen in any media representation.
She makes you question yourself if all that is true. Do vampires exist? Did Vlad III die or not? Could it be that Count Dracula is a reality instead of fiction…?
Those are the questions that make you scared of any snap on the bedroom window while reading The Historian in the middle of a rainy night.
(Or that make you have lucid dreams in which a man wearing antique clothing with long black hair stops right in front of your bed signaling you to be quiet, like it happened to me when I was reading the book.)
The Movie Adaptation by Coppola
In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola – one of the most reputed Hollywood directors, with movies like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now on his curriculum – brought an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s story to the movies.
The movie counts with a cast packed with stars and guaranteed 4 Oscars nominations, winning in 3 of them: Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design and Best Sound Editing. Regarding the actors, Keanu Reeves gives life to Jonathan Harker, Winona Rider is Mina Murray, Anthony Hopkins incarnates Professor Van Helsing and Gary Oldman brings us Count Dracula.
I remember watching the very beginning of the movie on school – curiously, a catholic school, I have no idea how our teacher managed to convince the nuns to show us this movie – but I got interested, because, already knowing more on the history of the prince of Wallachia, the movie immediately got my attention right from the start.
Coppola mixes in the movie real life with Bram Stoker’s fiction – placing a pinch of reincarnation and past lives. The movie starts with the story of Vlad Țepeș and his efforts to protect Wallachia from the ottomans invasions in the name of the catholic church.
Receiving a false massage reporting Vlad’s death in battle, Elisabetha, his wife, kills herself, jumping from a tower (remember the story I told you before that his first wife supposedly killed herself on Poenari castle?).
Returning to the castle, Vlad finds her dead and the church refuses to give her a blessing and a catholic funeral – once suicide is a sin according to the religion. Rebelling, it’s in this moment that Dracula renounces the church and becomes a vampire (such a light thing to show in a catholic school, huh?).
From that moment, the movie follows pretty well the story on Bram Stoker’s book – and I even go as far as saying that, from all the Dracula movies I’ve already watched, Coppola’s movie is one of the most faithful adaptations. With Vlad’s and Elisabetha’s story, though, the movie adds another layer to Dracula’s character – something that doesn’t exist much in the movie: in general, he’s just a malevolent entity that needs to be destroyed. On the movie, though, Dracula is searching the reincarnation of his beloved and the viewer can understand a bit more of his melancholic motivations in a solitary eternal life.
I remember watching this movie during a special session at night on the garden of the Casa das Rosas in São Paulo – an old house, protected by its historical and cultural value, that receives that name due to having a huge garden of roses behind it. It was a wonderful experience!
Hellsing – Making Vampires Terrifying Again
But have you ever stopped to ask yourself “how would it be if vampires, and mainly Dracula, really existed and were completely bloodthirsty nowadays?”
Hellsing is here to answer that question.
Going against the flow of softening vampires stories – making them more docile and even “vegetarians” without killing humans to feed, fitting in society and living as normal people – Hellsing brings back all the horror that can be caused by those beings of darkness.
Created by Kouta Hirano, Hellsing is a manga story published from 1997 until 2008. At first, it was adapted on an anime that didn’t follow the main story on the manga, subsequently having a more faithful animated version as an OVA (Original Video Animation, published directly on video, without previous exhibition on TV), called Hellsing: Ultimate.
Before getting into the story, I must say: Hellsing is not a story for minors. Both the manga and the anime drip blood and are permeated with insanity and morally incorrect actions. It has strong scenes, some quite disturbing, and it certainly isn’t for those who don’t like this kind of thing! After all, it’s definitely an Horror story genre.
Both the manga and the OVA follow the activities of Hellsing Organization – kept by the British crown and following Protestantism, its specialty is combating vampires on British soil.
The Organization is led by Sir Integra Hellsing – a young woman, but extremely strong, mature and intelligent for her age – who commands Alucard – a powerful and centenary vampire, kept in custody of the Hellsing family for years, treating them as Masters.
On the story, humans who aren’t virgins, when bitten by a vampire, become ghouls – a kind of zombie that follows the orders of the vampire who turned them. Those who are virgins, though, become vampires.
Hellsing’s saga starts when Alucard turns a young police girl, Seras Victoria, who was being attacked by ghouls and vampires, into a vampire apprentice. No one on the Organization – not even Walter, the butler and Hellsing’s ex-agent – understands Alucard’s decision.
With attacks from an organization that seems to use ghouls and vampires as soldiers – called Millenium – even the Iscariots Division, secret part of the catholic church in Italy that deals with this sort of threat, gets in the game to kill such creatures.
Warning: from now on, there’ll be spoilers!
Alucard, as expected, is none other than Dracula himself. But not only that: he is Vlad, the Impaler, prince of Wallachia. The story counts with flashbacks and memories of Alucard from the times he was a child, prisioner of the ottomans, and the time he was an adult, becoming a vampire.
The power displays – and unmeasurable cruelty – from Alucard, grow according to the episodes. While watching it, you never know if the enemy is strong enough to destroy him – but Alucard always proves himself stronger. That way, Hellsing brings a question: what is needed to defeat the strongest creature of darkness in the whole world, the very own Count Dracula who originated all vampire tales from present days?
According to himself, it takes a human to kill a monster.
Hellsing, like I said above, is pure insanity and it drips blood with dismemberments and disturbing deaths. We have a secret nazi organization that survived the Second World War, a group of French mercenaries – led by Pip Bernadotte, one of my favourite characters – who are hired by Integra to help on the fight, fervent catholics commanded by Enrico Maxwell who thinks he can behave like a God and wants to wipe out Protestantism, father Alexander Anderson who wants to kill Alucard one way or another – among many other lunacies I left out.
We have even an iconic part in Brazil!
(Horrible, but iconic.)
Even with all that, Hellsing also offers a lot of reflexions on humanity and monstrosity. Despite being cruel and terribly scary, Alucard prizes a lot those who are still human and remain like that until death. He enjoys the manner in which people get old and believes that monsters like him must be killed by the hands of human beings – even leaving a slight indication that he behaves that way precisely because “once every one deems me a monster, I’ll show them the monster I can be”.
Dracula showed himself in many different manners through the years, evolving as a character and mixing with the man who gave him his origins, Vlad Țepeș. It’s one of the best known horror stories around the globe and one of the most used characters to this day – you just have to go out on Halloween to see how many Draculas and Dracula’s wives you’ll find on the streets.
I hope you’ve learnt a little bit more about this tale and take profit of the recommendations I gave this Halloween!
Apart from that… Don’t forget the garlic on the windows and doors on your house. Just to make sure.
Lune Station Halloween
We also have this week the posts from all the Lune newsroom! We had as a start, Hekate’s post, that I’m going to leave the link below, and we’ll have Selene’s – so keep an eye around to read what she’ll bring us!
Apart from that, we’ll have a super Halloween special here during the weekend – you don’t want to miss it right? Come by our lunar lands to see what we prepared for you!