WILL THE REAL COUNT DRACULA PLEASE ARISE?
Did author Bram Stoker, literary instigator of this now-legendary figure thanks to his 1897 gothic horror novel "Dracula," base his arch vampire on an actual figure in Romanian history?
Would the mere thought that the answer to that question might be yes cause you to think "turtle neck pajamas"?
If so then repeat after me, "The Evil Vampire, Count Dracula, was wholly born in the macabre imagination of Mr. Stoker and has no basis in historical reality whatsoever Â— mostly."
If that isn't enough comfort for you then you'd better read on.
My Draculean enlightenment began during a recent summer abroad in a country by the name of (hear a dramatic, descending three-note refrain here) Romania. (Hear a faint yet foreboding rumble of thunder here.)
It was on a weekend escape from a sweltering August Bucharest into the beautiful Romanian countryside that I finally began discerning between vampire fact and fiction.
This particular escape found me on a train winding its way up into the cool, lush beauty of the Carpathian mountains north of Bucharest and then on into the fabled region of (dramatic three-note refrain again) Transylvania.
So previously unexposed as I was to this region of the world and so embedded was the name "Transylvania" with the whole Count Dracula mythology, that I'm not sure I was fully aware that there really was such a place.
But there was no doubt now. The entire trip found me leaning out the train's windows with camera in hand trying desperately to capture even a hint of Transylvania's enchanting, idyllic beauty rushing by.
So enamored with the journey I was almost disappointed when the train lumbered to a stop at my destination: Sighisoara (pronounced siggy-shwora), a small village about 175 miles north of Bucharest highly promoted for its amazingly well-preserved medieval citadel. But it was even more heavily promoted for its other claim to fame.
After disembarking I headed into the village and meandered my way along cobbled lanes up into the citadel proper where I immediately discovered for myself that all the hype was true Â— maybe even understated. It was as though I'd suddenly stepped back in time five or six centuries.
As I explored the ancient nooks and crannies of this fairytale-ish place perched so perfectly on a hill, I came across a building with a brass plaque attached to its side prominently proclaiming Sighisoara's other claim to fame: The birthplace of one Vlad Draculea (3 notes), the "real" Dracula (and cue thunder).
"Huh? I thought you said Dracula was Â‘wholly born in the macabre imagination of Mr. Stoker.' "
Ah, you forgot that "mostly" part.
"So there's a real Dracula after all!?"
No. Not really.
Well, maybe sort of.
Let's see if we can clear this up a bit. You might want to take notes.
First of all, that plaque in Sighisoara is telling us the truth. Prince (not "Count," mind you) Vlad Draculea was a very real figure in Romanian history and is thought to have been born there in 1431. Because his father's name was Vlad Dracul, he automatically received the name Draculea, which in Romanian simply signifies "son of Dracul." The origin of the Dracul name is from the Latin "Draco," meaning "dragon'" which is bad enough, but in Romanian it can also carry the even harsher connotation of "devil."
But let's be clear up front.
Although Vlad Draculea, a sometimes 15th century ruler of this Transylvanian and Wallachian region of what is now Romania, had the name and a well known medieval penchant for particularly barbaric punishments when dealing with his enemies (his nickname "Tepes" means "The Impaler," which we won't elaborate on here). He was not a vampire.
In his novel "Dracula," Stoker further confuses fact and fiction by using actual Romanian place names such as Bucharest, the Borga Pass and Transylvania, describing in mostly foreboding detail the sights and sounds thereof.
Actually, Stoker never set foot in this region. Most all of his knowledge of these places was attained through research in libraries in England.
At some point in his research he came across this ruthless, historic Prince Vlad Tepes figure.
Finding some literary inspiration in that perfectly evil name of Draculea, or "Son of the Devil," he then, as any writer worth his salt would do, lifted it. The rest is history.
Or in this case, fiction.
Romanians are fully aware that, aside from maybe the name, there are of course no real connections between their historic Prince Vlad III, whom many Romanians consider a national hero, and that silly, fictional Count Dracula.
But they aren't dumb either.
Thanks to Hollywood, the name "Dracula" is pure gold for their tourism industry. If there are those willing to part with their dollar or euro to see "Dracula's Castle,'' and there are, the Romanians will be more than happy to oblige Â— thus their, shall we say, embellishing of the Count Dracula/Prince Vlad connections in efforts to tap into this lucrative vein. (Sorry.)
There has even been serious talk of creating a major "Dracula-land" theme park near Sighisoara or Bucharest. (The fictional Count must be turning over in his fictional coffin.)
So the bottom line is: relax. No turtle neck pajamas needed.
If you notice a little caped count wandering around your neighborhood this Halloween night, don't run to your phone book frantically looking for Dr. Van Helsing's emergency cell number. Because, first of all, if there does happen to be a Dr. Van Helsing in your phone book, he's not going to have any special insight into how to deal with vampires. That Dr. Van Helsing doesn't exist.
Second of all, neither does Count Dracula. He's a fraud. He's theme-park material. Ooooooh, we're soooo scared.
But on the other hand, if this little caped count comes to your house and actually knocks on your door, you'd better be prepared to hand over some good treats. And by good I mean no lousy box of raisins or an apple or anything else not thoroughly filled with the true spirit of Halloween (ie, refined sugar).
Because, while Count Dracula may not really exist, a little kid scorned is another matter altogether.
(Final three-note refrain here.)
(Fade-out with cheerful rumble of thunder here.)