|Vlad the Impaler. Public Domain.|
So, I am told it’s World Dracula Day! Isn’t it amazing how many things have their own day?
I remember researching the real Dracula for my very first book, Monsters And Creatures Of The Night. He was called Vlad the Impaler for a charming habit he had of impaling his enemies, but it was not his only fun thing. There is the story of how he treated some diplomats who didn’t remove their hats in his presence. Anyone else would have had his minions snatch the hats off them, but not Vlad - he got those hats nailed to their heads! Another time, when out riding, he spotted a peasant whose wife had clearly not been doing her job at keeping his clothes tidy. The wife was executed and Vlad, in his “kindness”, gave the man a new wife.
Despite all this and more, he became a national hero in Romania for defending the country in the 15th century. I think the family was still around in the present day, though they had to adopt someone to keep going.
In the 19th century, an Irish theatre man called Bram Stoker wrote a novel we all know. Dracula was not the only vampire novel around, but it’s the one we all think about when we think vampires, isn’t it?
The novel is surprisingly easy reading. It’s written in the form of letters and diary entries. I do recommend it if you haven’t read it yet. You should be able to find it on Project Gutenberg.
A thing you may not know if you haven’t read it is that Dracula doesn’t have to hide out in the dark. In fact, he turns up in daylight in one scene. But being out in daylight weakens his powers, so not his preferred time to be out!
There is a play based on the novel - I was involved with a production when I was at university - and films were being made from the silent era onwards. The most famous, of course, was the 1931 version with Bela Lugosi, who was buried in his Dracula cloak. There have been so many versions since then that it’s too much to discuss here, but you have probably seen at least one.
But the novel has inspired so many books as well, and influenced the view of vampires in general.
My favourite is Dan Simmons’ novel Children Of The Night. In it, Dracula actually is Vlad the Impaler and he is not undead. The vampirism thing is hereditary; using blood makes the cells of the lucky ones regenerate, keeping them alive and well for centuries. Vlad is still around and he thinks the Stoker novel is dumb. He has replaced a love of conquest with a love of business and done very well. And he is fed up with his family…
Another favourite was Anno Dracula, first of a series by Kim Newman. Dracula has succeeded in wiping out his enemies and married Queen Victoria. Suddenly it’s fashionable to be a vampire! The upper crust all over England are doing it. The other stories are set later, in a world where there is a vampire section on planes.
Of course, the view of vampires has changed from the time of Dracula. Twilight anybody? There was a YA novel I read, I wish I could remember the title and author, in which a nerdy teenage boy claims to be a vampire to get girls.
In fact, our students - the girls, anyway - went wild over Twilight. I don’t think I could get any of them interested in a villain vampire like Dracula.
What do you think? Do you like your vampires villainous or prefer them sexy?