When Literature Meets History

Dracula or Vlad Dracul Tepes III. Who was more fearsome ?

“there, on our favourite seat, the silver light of the moon struck a half-reclining figure, snowy white, something dark stood behind the seat where the white figure shone, and bent over it. What it was, whether man or beast, I could not tell.” – Dracula (chapter eight)

The year was 1890, and when Irish novelist Bram Stoker was  holidaying in the small fishing village in the north-east coast of Whitby in Yorkshire, he was fired with deep inspiration to write a tale about a count of eastern European nobility who has been undead for hundreds of years and who regains his youthful charm by drinking blood. He walks among human beings as one, and is secretly in search of his long lost love. Nothing or none can stop him even  the fact that his love no longer belongs to him.

Thus the epistolary novel of Dracula was published in the year 1897 and little did Stoker know at the time that his Gothic novel would change the shape and depth of Gothic literature forever, and would arouse vampire fiction with such intensity that each vampire creation thereon would be traced back to this hypnotic and evil character of Dracula.
As Bram Stoker began breathing life into what would be the most  intimidating character in Gothic literature, it has been said that his main source of inspiration was derived from European folklore, specially by one such essay written by Emily Gerard called Transylvania Superstitions.
Having read Dracula several times and having seen the innumerable versions produced on the silver screen through the years, have only sparked genuine curiosity for this count of aristocratic birth whose vile hunger for revenge and for his desire to triumph death, brought him back from the dead again and again. In earlier Hollywood versions where Béla Lugosi first, and Christopher Lee later, ruled undisputed over the role of Dracula, the portrayal was that of a blood thirsty count who for no reason other than to satiate his hunger, drank people’s blood turning them into vampires, striking trepidation and chaos in an otherwise orderly world. His voluptuous vampire mistresses who shared the cellar left no stone unturned in luring innocent victims into their lair. In the 1992 version of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula however, we got to see a much sympathetic side to his character. Although not a soul, he had a heart after all! and Dracula no longer became the ruthless, heartless blood draining vampire. He was simply and undead prince who came back to claim his love.
The crux of my quest however lay in quenching my continuously dug-out curiosity of  discovering the truth about the the real-life person on whom Stoker’s character was based. I had read that Stoker had been reading massively on eastern European history prior to writing the novel and upon further research I came face to face with the story of the man behind Stoker’s fear and awe inspiring character.
This real-life human who inspired Stoker’s Dracula was none other than Vlad Tepes III of the Dracul family who ruled the province of Wallachia in Romania during the 15thcentury with such severity that he was extremely feared by his subjects. Dracul originally meant the order of the dragon, hence the name Dracula was derived from Vlad’s family name
Perhaps it was due to a fact that his rise to the throne was seeped in bloody battles, personal tragedies and perhaps he was exposed to carnage and gore too young in his life, it is said that Vlad Tepes took real pleasure in the torture of his enemies. He  is said to have rendered horrifying justice not only to his enemies but also to his subjects if they were caught committing even the smallest crime. He was nicknamed Vlad the impaler, as impalement was his favourite method of punishment which was carried out by sticking the victims through the rear end with an arm sized stake that was oiled and blunt so that the victims died a slow and painful death. History of Vlad Tepes states that he is said to have impaled more than  30,000 people.

Breathtaking pictures of a real-life castle standing amidst thick mist, perched solemnly on a rocky peak in the heart of Carpathian mountains of Transylvania ignited an intense desire to know more. Upon closer look I discovered that it is called Bran Castle, and is known as Dracula’s castle today. It is one of the most attractive tourist spots in Romania and is indeed breathtakingly beautiful with the most genial ambiance. Bright rooms, thick white-washed walls, small windows, low ceiling, arched hallways and well polished wooden floors make the castle burst with warm hospitality except for the secret stairways winding down into the basement of the castle. These pictures evoke a friendly and snug feeling instead of a sense of deep consternation one expects to be filled with when one may imagine a castle where the legendary Count Dracula lived. The truth is, what is left behind in the castle is the legacy Queen Marie and princess Ileana of Romania left behind. It is with their belongings that the castle today is decorated with. Thus, although tourists are ushered into Bran Castle when they ask about Dracula’s castle, they are far from Vlad III Tepes original living home.
History however has held the fact that Bran Castle has got nothing much to do with Vlad Tepes except that he might have used it as his headquarter for his  incursions into Transylvania or that he was held as a prisoner there for a short period of time. It is perhaps Bran Castle’s excellent interiors that has made it stand for Dracula’s castle today, so that tourists may get the opportunity to visit rooms and imagine the conditions that Dracula might have lived in. Besides there is no evidence that Stoker had known about the existence of Bran Castle.
Vlad Tepes’ main castle was the castle of Poenari, also known as the Poenari citadel, which today, stands as a crumbling ruin of what once might have been a daunting castle sitting on a high cliff in the Arges county of Romania. It is said to be one of the most haunted places in the world. Why wouldn’t it? The mere picture of it is enough to plant ice cold fear into the heart of the beholder. It is not as accessible as Bran Castle and to reach its towering height, one has to climb a flight of 1,480 stairs. It is here, by its spectral surroundings it is said  that Vlad Tepes impaled thousands of victims and left their bodies to rot on the stake itself. The castle though in ruins now, stands intimidatingly, its lofty stone walls bearing silent witness to the horrors carried on within.

Bran Castle may undeniably encourage the foreign tourists to conjure up a romanticized picture of an aristocratic  count who lived in a Gothic romantic castle who dabbled with occult enabling him to come back from the dead in search of his long lost lover taken away from him by cruel fate. But Stoker’s character’s similarity with Vlad Tepes III ends where the true sadistic nature of the latter is chronicled in the pages of history. A monster a who lived in more frightening place than Dracula did and who driven by his schadenfreude,was responsible of mass murder by various methods of torture other than impalement, thus enjoying his meals watching people suffer a brutal death. He seemed not to be repulsed both by the sight and the stench of reeking corpses because as sources say, he did in fact thr0w a feast for the noblemen of the country in the presence of thousands of staked rotting bodies. One might imagine the plight of those noblemen who were compelled to sit with the emperor and eat in such terrible conditions and pretend that they were enjoying it. Vlad was finally captured by the Turks and was imprisoned. Sources hold the story that while in prison, he would catch mice and birds and torture them by impaling them on tiny sticks. Such was the degree of his inebriation.
Stoker’s Dracula meets an end that is much more tolerable than Vlad’s own grisly end. Dracula finally turns into ashes upon being staked through the heart while the real Vlad Dracul Tepes III finally met his end when the Turks decapitated him. It is said that his head was sent to Constantinople where it was staked for every one to see that the tyrant was dead. His body is said to have been thrown in the forest of  the monastery of Snagov, 40 km north of Bucharest. It is here that his body was found by monks and was buried by them inside the monastery as a mark of respect since the monks had received royal patronage during the time of Vlad and his father. Some visitors who visit the island see it as a unique experience while some say that the monastery is haunted as they felt a presence within its intricately painted walls that silently watch over the tomb of perhaps the most evil emperor in the world.
Although Stoker’s creation is still alive in the form of countless vampire fiction written today, it is in reading about Vlad Tepes III that disquiets our nerves and strikes deep fear within our hearts, for a man with such a diseased mind was not a figment of some writer’s imagination. He truly existed.

“Vlad Dracula once had a mistress that lived in a house in the back streets of Tirgoviste. This woman apparently loved the prince to distraction and was always anxious to please him. Vlad was often moody and depressed and the woman made every effort to lighten her lover’s burdens. Once, when he was particularly depressed, the woman dared tell him the lie that she was with child. Vlad had the woman examined by the bath matrons. When informed that the woman was lying, Vlad drew his knife and cut her open from the groin to her breast, leaving her to die in agony”.
- Taken from one of the 9 famous anecdotes that describe Vlad’s incurable depravity.

Pictures from in and around Bran Castle. (Please click on the picture to see an enlarged size)



12 Responses to “When Literature Meets History”

  • Swati Bhattacharya says:

    Yoshay how fascinating…loved reading this. Thank you for sharing…

  • Kriti says:

    This was crazily interesting Yoshay – wow – i didn’t have a fraction of this knowledge and the your description is crystal clear even with such elegance… I really really want to go and see the castle at Poenari. Loved reading it and will read it again…

  • sulekha says:

    Yoshay, what a brilliantly researched article!! Not many people are aware of the history behind Dracula’s name, “Dracul originally meant the order of the dragon, hence the name Dracula was derived from Vlad’s family name”

    I was so glad to read about the evil torturer,Vlad Tepes’s death. How could he kill all those people so brutally? Hated reading about what he did to them.I wish I could have seen his head on a stake.Thanks for this wonderful, informative post, Yoshay.

  • Pratibha says:

    Wow Di, that was intriguing to say the least! A well researched work and the thought of ‘impalement’ gave me the creeps.An amazing visual treat as well!

  • Terence Haga says:

    Say, you got a nice blog. Really Great.

  • shika says:

    likey your style. Interesting

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Yoshay Lama

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