Thursday, December 20, 2007


I had been meaning to re-read Dracula for ages. It was probably 20 years ago when I first read it, and ever since I moved to Transylvania I thought I should probably re-read it since it is basically the only reason that anyone from outside of Hungary and Romania has even heard of Transylvania.

So anyway I read it again last week, and it's bloody brilliant. I remember enjoying it and thinking it was a cracking read when I read it before, and I'm not usually a fan of literature from before 1900 (though to be fair Dracula was written in 1897 so it's not that far off).

Anyway, on to my first major surprise of the book - that is when we first meet Count Dracula in his castle on the Borgo pass between Bistrita and Bukovina. Jonathan Harker (our hero) journeys from Budapest to Cluj and on to Bistrita before heading into the pass, passing as he does various ethnic groups on the way - Saxons, Szekelys, Magyars, and "Wallachs" in the main, but he also mentions "Slovaks" who actually sound very much like the Gabor clan of Rroma from his description, and Szgany (obviously a corruption of Cigany/Tigani) . Anyway, we meet Count Dracula, who is in fact a Szekely! This is not something I had remembered (to be honest when I read the book before, I'd never heard of the Szekely and it would have flown right over my head). He launches into this big speech about the heroism and bravery of the Szekely. He comes up with some curious historical explanation of the Szekely as being some kind of cross between the Vikings and the Huns, and then launches into a list of the invaders and foes they had beaten back - Magyars, Turks, Bulgars, Lombards, Wallachs, and Avars (whoever they are).

"Ah, young sir, the Szekelys - and the Dracula as their heart's blood, their brains and their swords - can boast a record that mushroom growths like the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs can never reach"
Just in case there are Szekelys reading this (and I know there are) who are now getting a tad upset that this infamous anti-hero is a Szekely, I should point out that he it was because he was such a great leader, and a strong and intelligent warrior when he was alive that he is so powerful and successful a vampire once he became un-dead. At least that's what it says in the book.

So anyway, I'm not going to retell the book, but I thought I'd do a little bit of digging into how Stoker came to write this novel and set it where he did, with the characters that he did. Firstly it's not thought that he ever visited Transylvania, he just spent a lot of time in the library doing research. He apparently first thought about setting the novel in Austria, but was told that it might be too close to another vampire novel called "Carmilla" set in France, so he decided to relocate it to Transylvania. (Though in fact very little happens in Transylvania in the book - just the opening and closing. The rest is in Whitby and (mostly) London).

The character of Dracula himself is often thought to be have been based on Vlad Tepes ("the Impaler") who was also known as Vlad Dracula (son of Dracul). It is now thought that the only thing the character owes to Vlad is the name, and that probably Stoker knew nothing about Vlad Tepes. Another historical character who may or may not have provided some inspiration is a Hungarian countess named Elizabeth Bathory. "The most infamous serial killer in Hungarian and Slovak history".

The tourist industry of Romania seems to rely very greatly on this one story, which is quite impressive in a way, though extreme lengths are gone to - Bran Castle, which I read somewhere is Romania's most visited tourist attraction, markets itself as "Dracula's Castle", based on the disputed possibility that Vlad Tepes may once have spent the night there. Don't get me wrong, Bran Castle is a nice place, but it has about as much connection to Dracula as the Sydney Opera House does. Sighisoara, which is Vlad Dracula's birthplace, is littered with Dracula Internet Cafes and Vampire Coffee Shops. There was even going to be a Dracula themepark outside Sighisoara, which thankfully got nixed. Apparently someone has even built a castle cum hotel on the Borgo pass where they think the castle might have been in the book.

I reckon the Szekelys need to grab a slice of this lucrative pie and set up some "Real Dracula" attractions. There's money in this myth.


lucyrm said...

Hi Andy, coincidentally I've been writing about the Szekely people this week and I'm just doing some boxes about the Dracula link, rovasiras, Szekely kapu stb stb!!! I've re-read Dracula twice this year and I find some parts (in Whitby) pretty scary...need some fish and chips to calm me down.
Have you read The HIstorian by Elizabeth Kostova? It's about three generations of Dracula hunters and goes on a long journey through France, Romania, Budapest, Istanbul. It's a chunky tome but a great read for long winter evenings. It reminded me a little of the Da Vinci Code, but the writing is much better. Noroc and have a few tuica for me this Christmas. Kellemes unnepeket es boldog uj evet kivanok! Lucy

k.toth1 said...

Actually "Carmilla" was set in Styria (a province of Austria). Stoker actually considered the same region for his vampire tale. He then consulted a professor A. Vambery, a noted orientalist and folklorist at the University of Budapest. It was said that not only did he suggest Transylvania, but also shared info on Vlad Tepes and Bathory Erzsebet.