You Are Here Thanks to an Irish Writer
“…welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.”
– Bram Stoker, Dracula
A distinguished and slightly bored gentleman, with short white hair and heavy rimmed glasses stood in the crowd waiting in the arrivals terminal at Henri Coanda International Airport in Otopeni.
Speaking perfect English with a Bela Lugosi twang, Nicolae Paduraru, former chair of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula (TSD), smiled when he caught sight of his American guests who had paid for a Dracula tour in Romania: “Welcome to Bucharest! There’s no need to worry right now; however, tomorrow we’re going up into Transylvania”.
It was already dark when Josh, Carly, Allaina and Kevin – four American tourists thrilled that they had finally reached the land of vampires – occupied their seats on the minibus that was going to take them accros Dracula’s country.
“Are we going to see any wolves?” Josh asks.
For Paduraru, the same episode takes place several times a year – and for about 20 years since Dracula’s legend became part of his life, as he went from disbelief to rapid learning, experimental tours with foreign guests, and finally to the establishment, in 1991, of the Dracula Transylvanian Society, a sort of mediator in the Dracula problem between Romania and the West.
The Transylvanian Society of Dracula is a cultural organization that studies both the fictional Count and the historical prince Dracula. The Romanian branch of the Society includes historians, ethnologists, tour operators and other researchers interested in the Dracula phenomenon. There are also branches in Canada, USA, Sweden, Germany, Russia and Italy.
It was drizzling, the wipers screeched across the windshield, wiping away bits of the introduction lecture Paduraru offered to his tourists.
“In fact”, he said, “you are here thanks to an Irish writer, Bram Stoker, author of 18 novels and numerous short stories – mostly literary romance of doubtful taste – who is remembered for Dracula, a novel he published in 1897, translated into almost every language”.
Embodied and adapted countless times in literary works, films, plays, ballet shows, commercials, cartoons, computer games or music, the vampire Count has gained an independent existence, becoming one of the most famous figures in cultural history.
The ubiquitous character, able to change appearances like Proteus, was adapted to various audiences: there’s a “Dracula for children”, one for adults, as well as a classic, modern, postmodern, business and humorous version.
One of the side effects of Dracula’s success is that a perfectly real province has been transformed into a mythical realm: Transylvania is now associated, worldwide, with vampires – “a cursed spot, from this cursed land, where the devil and his children still walk with earthly feet!”
On a cold December afternoon, in a noisy café near the University of Bucharest, Duncan Light, a British professor who came to Romania on a one year grant to study the Dracula-based tourism industry, dismantled every piece of the mechanism which has turned Transylvania into vampire land. (A few years later, Duncan Light would elaborate on some of the arguments in our discussion in his book The Dracula Dilemma: Tourism, Identity and the State in Romania.)
“Stoker’s working notes*, discovered in the mid ’70s at the Rosenbach Museum of Philadelphia – three sets of 80 pages each, containing abstracts, information and photographs – account for the way ‘Dracula’ was written and show that the Irish writer initially had no idea about Vlad (the Impaler) or Transylvania, and was actually thinking about a certain Count Vampyr from Styria, Eastern Austria,” said professor Light.
He changed his mind in 1885 after reading in the Nineteenth Century Magazine the article Transylvanian Superstition about a land where most species of demons, fairies, witches and goblins supposedly found safe haven after the progress of science had banished them from other parts of Europe.
The author – Emily de Laszowska Gerard – was the English wife of a Hungarian cavalry brigade commander who spent two years in Transylvania.
The story of Dracula starts and ends in Transylvania. Although only 6 out of 27 chapters take place here, the effect is overwhelming. Time has proven that Stoker stumbled upon the perfect location for a lost world.
He wasn’t the first one, though. Other authors such as Alexandre Dumas, in Les milles et un fantomes (1849) or Jules Verne, in his Carpathian Castle (1892) had located their stories in a mysterious, supernatural Transylvania. But it was Stoker who – due to the success of his book and its extraordinary impact on Western culture – has reinforced this connection.
Stoker seriously toiled on Dracula almost seven years. He took notes on shipwrecks, tomb inscriptions, weather data, train schedules, the behavior of zoo animals, a theory of dreams, treating certain injuries, alleged vampire attacks in New York.
He went through writings from which he extracted information on fear of death, burial customs, werewolves, sea superstitions, mesmerism, Transylvania or the prince Dracula. The novel is not as much the product of Stoker’s imagination as it is a cocktail of all these different ingredients. The initial title of the novel, replaced with “Dracula” literally in the last minute, was “The Undead”.
But as he never visited the place himself, Stoker invented Transylvania in the way he believed a vampire’s home should look like, compiling information from books written by British officials who had visited Transylvania and had written in disdain about a “barbaric”, “full of superstition” land.
The details of Harker’s journey through Transylvania, such as the robber steaks, the Golden Mediasch wine, the description of folk wear, the Gypsies, the settled Szekelys on the frontier, the leiterwagen, the houses with the blank gable end to the road are all inspired from Andrew F. Crosse’s book, Round About the Carpathians.
From On the Track of Transylvania by Major E. C. Johnson, he learned about “mamaliga”, about the four Transylvanian nationalities: Magyars, Saxons, Szekelys and Wallachs, details about the Szekelys’ history, the Slovaks of Transylvania, the crosses at crossroads.
In Transylvania: Its products and Its People by Charles Boner, he found the name “Borgo Pass”, as well as a description of Mittel land and of the fires in Bestride.
Hollywood is also responsible for Dracula’s history. In 1931 America discovered the character and hundreds of films have been made ever since. “Many people first heard of Transylvania in Dracula films or books. So they associated it with a remote, dark and sinister place, alive with vampires.
Without any knowledge or personal experience of Transylvania, many saw the province as the fictional land where vampires are born. Many believe that Transylvania isn’t real. And when they find out it is, they only picture vampires and Dracula”, said Duncan Light.
This was an excerpt from
Searching for Dracula in Romania
by Catalin Gruia. You can download the book from the link below:
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