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Why We Keep Biting Into The Dracula Story

Was Vlad the Impaler the real life Dracula? We’ll look at the history and the myth of literature’s great vampire.

A portrait of Vlad III, also known as Vlad the Impaler. (Creative Commons)

A portrait of Vlad III, also known as Vlad the Impaler. (Creative Commons)

There is something about biting and blood that we never get over.  Luis Suarez and his bite debated round the world in the World Cup.  Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the Victorian tale of castles and darkness that we still feel at our throats.  That story has had amazing staying power.  “I want to suck your blood!” and all the rest.  Built off the story of Transylvania’s real Vlad the Impaler.  Back to Europe’s long struggle with the Turkish caliphate.  The story never dies.  This hour On Point:  the history and myth of literature’s great vampire – Dracula.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Elizabeth Miller, professor emeritus of English at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Author of “A Dracula Handbook” and “Reflections on Dracula.”

Leslie Klinger, Dracula expert. Author of “The New Annotated Dracula” and “In the Shadow of Dracula: Classic Vampire Fiction, 1819 — 1914.” (@lklinger)

From Tom’s Reading List

CNN: Underground Budapest: Caverns, churches and Cold War bunkers — “The Hapsburg Palaces, romantic banks of the Danube and historic spas draw the crowds to Budapest, but there’s a whole world underground within the city limits. Literally underground. While one half of the city, Pest, is flat, Buda’s curvy hills are rich with secret labyrinths, hidden bunkers and caving adventures. There are up to 200 caves in total.”

HLN: Haunted (open) house? Dracula’s castle is for sale – “Bran Castle was completed in 1388 and in the centuries since, has served primarily as a royal residence, fortress and customs point. However, its most famous role, as the isolated hilltop home from which Count Dracula morphed into a bat and sucked the blood of his victims, is largely fictional — and not just because, you know, Dracula never existed.”

Daily Mail:  Is this Dracula’s final resting place? 16th century headstone unearthed in Naples could belong to Vlad the Impaler — “He has cast a shadow over the craggy Transylvanian Alps for centuries. But the remains of the real-life Dracula are today to be found not in the Romanian Alps but in Italy, according to new research. Count Vlad Tepes, the so-called Dracula, was thought to have died in battle. But scholars from the University of Tallinn say they have discovered documentary evidence that he was in fact taken prisoner, ransomed to his daughter – by then safe in Italy – and buried in a church in Naples.”

Surprising Health Benefits Found In Young Blood

New York Times: Young Blood May Hold Key to Reversing Aging – “It later became clear that stem cells are essential for keeping tissues vital. When tissues are damaged, stem cells move in and produce new cells to replace the dying ones. As people get older, their stem cells gradually falter. In the early 2000s, scientists realized that stem cells were not dying off in aging tissues.”

Amy Wagers, professor and researcher at Harvard University’s Stem Cell Institute.

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  • http://onpoint.wbur.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen
    • AC

      i’ve never even heard of this movie, but it looks funny! i’ll have to watch it soon….

      • geraldfnord

        Uh, far from Brooks’ best, really. His performance as Van Helsing is good, though, and the whole thing’s parsecs beyond “Love at First Bite”.

        • http://onpoint.wbur.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen

          Yeah, I really like that one joke, but I can’t recommend the movie as a whole.

          • jefe68

            Young Frankenstein is a much better flick.

      • JGC

        I remember liking Roman Polanski’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers”, a mid-1960s effort with his wife Sharon Tate, before all the tragedy and wierdness began…It’s a comedy, of sorts…It was a long time ago, and I was still pretty young. But it made a big impression.

  • JGC

    Chance you will get bitten by someone who thinks they are a vampire:
    maybe 1 in 100 million

    Chance you will get bitten by Luis Suarez if you are playing on the opposing team:
    1 in 2000

    • Jack

      What a great comment. I actually had a similar thought on Tuesday watching the match; I turned to my buddies and said “The vampire of Uruguay strikes again.”

    • geraldfnord

      Aah, but a proper Bayesian analysis requires that you also state the odds of your playing on the opposing team—yet another reason to avoid team sports.

    • geraldfnord

      Chances that teeth in your neck will provoke orgasm: even lower.

    • Godzilla the Intellectual

      I regret to inform you there is absolutely nothing humorous about your comment. Soccer was already boring, now you made it more so.

      Why don’t you add Mike Tyson to your anecdote.

      • JGC

        Tyson! There! Yes, there!!! On the horizon! It’s Godzilla! Bite, Tyson, bite! Once more with feeling! #HungerGames

  • Ed75

    Usually things remain important because they comment on important things – Dracula is an inverted reflection on the Blood of Christ, the wine of the altar, which we are given to drink, and which gives us life.

    • Ray in VT

      Myths and tales of blood drinking monsters or demons predate Christ in any number of cultures. Rick Riordan is selling millions of books based upon Classical mythology, but that doesn’t mean that Zeus & Co. are still highly influential. It’s just good stories an storytelling.

      • geraldfnord

        Well, as a non-Christian who knew little about their theology when first I read the book, I think I missed-out on some of the charge I think it does have for them because of this factor–though even as a nine-year-old I could tell that there was a sexual undercurrent to the book. Oh Repression and Hypocrisy, is there nowt you can make charged erotically?

        • Ray in VT

          I find it interesting how in many modern novels vampires have been often an overtly erotic figure. There is all sorts of vampire romance novels, and when I worked in bookstores I tended to see that almost all vampire fiction was purchased by women.

          • geraldfnord

            Yup, blame Polidori (basing his Ruthven on Lord Byron) and LeFanu (“Carmilla”): traditionally a vampire was as appealing as, well, a walking corpse. They did, however, tend to victimise their immediate family…some think that the legends were created to explain whole households’ dying quickly.

          • Ray in VT

            Apparently there was a vampirism scare in the Northeast in the earlier part of the 19th century, but it appears to have been or actually was tuberculosis:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_England_vampire_panic

          • vlad dracular

            Yes a very common illness bells would toll when the dead awoke, two different tales from different errors

          • keltcrusader

            I personally hate this! In lore, Vampires were thought of as disgusting creatures who preyed on humans. They are not “hot and sexy” and “kind and caring” creatures like new movie and books make them out to be. They are undead and there is nothing sexy about that in the least. Nosferatu was a good pretty depiction of one.

          • Ray in VT

            I don’t know if you say the remake of Fright Night, but while alluring in one form, the vampire was pretty vicious and hideous in others.

          • Ed75

            I agree, the seductiveness and vampires don’t go together for me at all. As someone said, these are just romance novels in a vampire setting.

      • Ed75

        And the role of sacrifice goes back far, of course, with the Jewish people, particularly in the Passover sacrifice of the Lamb. The blood is seen as the life force of the creature – it seals covenants and oaths – but one can’t drink it. This finds it’s culmination, for Catholics, in the Blood of Christ.

    • geraldfnord

      Well, there were blood-drinking ghosts well B.C.E., but a good point—and Stoker introduced a valuable wrinkle in having Mina drink of Dracula (though he didn’t make that a pre-condition of the victim’s ‘turning’ as many modern authors do to avoid geometric growth in vampire numbers, perhaps this is another reason zombies became popular: out-breeding). Stoker has the very Catholuc Van Helsing refer to this as a ‘baptism of blood’, though it doesn’t resemble the martyrdom of the unbaptised to which the term refers in Roman terminology, but it is obviously a parody of the Eucharist. Perhaps Stoker was afraid of a prosecution for blasphemy (still on the books over there, I gather) if he had named it more accurately

      • Ed75

        But it seems to me that it’s more effective for him in a story by being an allusion than a direct statement (which would just be a declaration). Though he might intend it as blasphemy, he might have thought it a clever way to construct a powerful story (blasphemous in result then, but not in intent).

  • geraldfnord

    Margo Adler recently has had out a book on the fascination with vampires; a pity she’s not on. Perhaps it’s largely because they (in most instances) look like people, but are predators stronger than us (since Stoker, at least) and free of conscience (in most versions), and (since Regency and Victorian times) sexually powerful, making them neat packages of our dreams and nightmares. Beside that, and as all the presence of all those parentheticals would indicate, their characterisation is so flexible that you can write almost whatever vampire you wish.

    Their apparent humanity also makes their being killed more wrenching and/or satisfying: mowing-down tens of rotting zombies can’t compare with taking on one human-seeming being who cares about existing or not and is strong enough to make the outcome in doubt…all the more fraught if she’s just acted more lubriciously than she ever did when you were engaged to her.

    As for “Dracula” itself, the English horror maven Kim Newman years back pointed out that when it was published, the ‘invasion novel’ was very popular, Great Power anxiety meeting technological advancement that might make the Channel less of a barrier than it used to be, and Stoker is describing both an invasion and the prospect of subversion from within. (Of the genre, only “The War of the Worlds” has also survived in popularity; Tom Cruise is unlikely to star in “The Battle of Dorking”, a real title referring to an English town.) Guillermo del Toro also rightly points-out that the book was a techno-thriller for its time: short-hand, gramophones, injections, lock-picking, transfusions, reliable mail and railway and shipping time-tables….

    And, of course, there was the concern in those publicly sexually-repressed (and so, actually highly sexually charged) times among respectable men who had ‘sown their wild oats’ (or were still sowing on the sly) that they might have infected their respectably virtuous wives with V.D., so much worse a worry than that about getting a computer virus from a porn site back when the real thing regularly killed and blinded and drove insane with no cure at all—a good (if flawed) man could lie abed for hours worrying, until that and the lobster he’d et conspired to place a pair of glowing, red, eyes at the foot of the bed, perhaps he yelped loudly enough to wake Florence, and then….

  • geraldfnord

    I’

  • Ray in VT

    I think that part of the ongoing appeal of Vlad as Dracula may be due to a number of factors, including the horrific tales of the brutality of Vlad (admit it, many of us love gore), as well as the fear of that which goes bump in the night.

    • geraldfnord

      Even as a child, I knew that I was fascinated by vampires because I was afraid of the dark but vampires obeyed _rules_, which is for some of us at least is less frightening than inchoate horror.

      • Ray in VT

        I find them less horrific than zombies, as vampires are supposed to have some sort of rules or reason, versus the mindless zombie that just wants to eat you.

        • http://onpoint.wbur.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen

          I’m much more scared of vampires just because zombies seem so ineffective…

          • Ray in VT

            One zombie can be dealt with fairly easily, but it’s the horde that can cause problems. I don’t believe in either, but the zombies just really creep me out.

          • geraldfnord

            Both reflect the fact that other people are scary. Anyone who’s ever been any kind of Blue Monkey knowe that evil wears an human face.

          • hennorama

            Ray in VT — I enjoyed the Mythbusters Zombie Special show, on the Discovery Channel.

            One thing that I have yet to understand: why don’t the non-Walkers on The Walking Dead use one of the most basic of weapons — the pointy stick, AKA the pike?

            The Mythbusters Zombie Special can be viewed here:

            http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/videos/zombie-special.htm

          • Ray in VT

            Yeah, I saw that one. Good stuff. I feel that I am reasonably well prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

          • JS

            LIke Ray said, one zombie can be dealt with fairly easily, but try piking one after another, jabbing through thick skulls. It wouldn’t be easy.

            As for the Walking Dead, due to bad writing and a lack of ideas, the writers must have the non-Walkers doing stupid things to oput themselves in danger and drive the drama of the show.

          • hennorama

            JS — thank you for your response.

            I was thinking of the pike as a more defensive weapon, used by a group. This would be helpful in keeping “walkers” away from perimeter fences, for example. Certainly they would not be terribly useful in single combat, and would be far too unwieldy and heavy for close-quarters action.

          • JS

            A good weapon to have, as a group. They do such a poor job in The Walking Dead of basic defensive moves its hard to watch sometimes.

          • jefe68

            I guess Night of The Living Dead is not one of your favorite movies then?

          • Ray in VT

            The original? I watched it early one morning (4 or 5ish) when I couldn’t sleep, and it didn’t really bother me. I didn’t find it to be that creepy.

          • Godzilla the Intellectual

            You haven’t seen 28 days later or WWZ?

          • JS

            technically 28 Days Later were’t zombies, and WWZ was a horrible movie but fabulous book

        • geraldfnord

          More than one author has used the idea that zombies are essentially brain-damaged, or improperly demonically possessed, vampires.

  • geraldfnord

    I’m just sorry that Stoker cut Kate Reed, Intrepid Reporter, from the book.

  • Ray in VT

    How much of the legend of Vlad (the historical figure of course) lived on in Romania following his passing? Was he relatively a forgotten figure, as has he pretty much always remained a part of the national/regional consciousness and lore?

    • geraldfnord

      Ceaușescu’s régime tried to hype what consciousness remained of Vlad as a patriot who was cruel but fair…it didn’t help, as few belueved him patriotic and nearly noöne believed he was fair.

  • Jim

    Luis Suarez is a direct descendant of Vlad.

    • geraldfnord

      But do the players he bites then bite other players?

      • Jim

        Not yet… but we will soon find out. they can come out on daylight today!

    • Godzilla the Intellectual

      Do you actually find your comment humorous?

  • msandman1943

    Tom mentions the hold that the Dracula legend has on us. A couple of years ago I visited Bucharest. My reflexive response to seeing the Bank of Transylvania building was to ask my colleague about whether he thought it was a blood bank…

  • Czukie

    I have a lot of relatives from various Slavic lands and languages. So often, the W sound is pronounced with a bit of a V to it, making the original “Count Wampier” a bit less “vimpy”. (And in my rush to send this message, while stopped at lights on the drive home, I sent it to The Takeaway, which was on before you on our local station. Oops!)

    • keltcrusader

      My Ukrainian grandmother’s last name was spelled with a “W”, but when she came over through Ellis, it was marked down as a “V’ because of her pronunciation.

      • Czukie

        Our Ukrainian name was given a Polish spelling, and my grandfather and his brothers were all given different surnames at Ellis Island because they went through different lines. Most non-slavs don’t know what to do with so many consonants in a row.

  • geraldfnord

    Originally, a ‘vampir’ was a psychopomp (‘upir’ was the more common term), a spirit that guides the soul to the afterlife, which isn’t _supposed_ to highjack the corpse afterward but might. Say whatever else you may about Joss Whedon, but he seems to be the first author/director to use this.

  • somercamb

    Has anyone mentioned the interlude music on this segment? Sounded very similar to GOBLIN. Do they ever post the music they play?

  • levigirl

    Did I hear right? The “disease of aging”?

    • geraldfnord

      Well, I’m less at ease with this older body than I was with its younger version; the degree of the various senescences we often experience is not natural because in the State of Nature the first few of them would kill one first… and ‘natural’ doesn’t equal ‘healthy’ anyway, what could be more ‘natural’ than a wasp-parasitised caterpillar?

    • Godzilla the Intellectual

      Aging is a disease. But the aging paradigm understood by science is as bass ackwards as it gets.

  • Godzilla the Intellectual

    Vlad the impaler invented the toothpick.

    • geraldfnord

      But in his case it was a deadly huge pick sintered from the ground-up teeth of his enemies.

  • Godzilla the Intellectual

    The mystique of vampires is a direct seduction strategy by the fallen angelica to try to lure humans away from eternal life. They simply flip the script. bass ackwards. BTW I’m not religious. This is just a fact.

  • linda coble

    Footnote on 1922 Nosferatu: Film Historians and Critics point to the visage of Nosferatu as typical of popular anti-semitic images in German media in the period leading up to the Third Reich.

  • TheDailyBuzzherd

    Two more fun facts: Stoker was heavily influenced by an earlier novella, “Carmilla”. Stoker’s “Dracula” now has a sequel penned by a blood relative.

    • Coastghost

      –and Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” inspired Dreyer’s 1932 film “Vampyr”. (Criterion helpfully offers film, text, and the Dreyer/Jul screenplay in its package.)

      • TheDailyBuzzherd

        True … I was lucky to get a copy of that from a local library, with book still attached. I’d already read it. Great company, Criterion.

        I have yet to listen to the full show. We get it here in CT from 10-12noon and I listen in when I can or interested in the topic. Best to hear this one late at night with a lone candle!

  • Douglas Fudge

    What about the hypothesis that the vampire legend is based on rabid humans, who were a lot more common before the development of the rabies vaccine. Like rabid dogs and other animals, rabid humans would have acted strangely and had a propensity to bite others. If myths and legends are ways of trying to explain things that don’t make sense, perhaps the vampire myth arose as a way of explaining the strange and scary behaviour of rabid people.

    • vlad dracular

      Fear brings hypnosis, forgetting danger and engaging in thought of what beayty holds in eyes of mist.. not a myth just an awakening

    • dirq

      I believe this is the simplest explanation, and you can add werewolves to it.
      A vampire bites you, what happens? You turn into a vampire. Bats are a primary transmitter of rabies, can you become a bat if you’re a vampire?
      You turn into a werewolf, after a 1 month viral incubation period, if you get bit by a werewolf.
      And both diseases are pretty darn spooky- I’d be scared by a disease whose mortality rate is 100 percent.

      • Douglas Fudge

        Ha, I hadn’t thought of werewolves, but that makes sense too. The bat connection to both rabies and vampires is another interesting link.

  • Pearse McCaughey

    Great item on Dracula and Dubliner Bram Stoker. The name Dracula actually comes from the Irish ‘Droch-Fhoula’ (pronounced ‘Druck Ulla’). It means ‘Bad Blood’.

  • Godzilla the Intellectual

    gay?

  • Guest

    What’s up with all those flies that always seem to be buzzing around Obama?

  • Art Toegemann

    Interesting Amy Wagers’s interview is here.
    Dracula comes with histories of attempts to rejuvenate by drinking and even bathing in the blood of the young. These methods of administration all failed.
    The history of the syringe follows that of Dracula, competent use first in 1853.

    • Art Toegemann

      The real fountain of youth came with the invention of the syringe; formal similarity.

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