Category Archives: vampires

A Search for the ‘real’ Dracula

Transylvania, Romania

Last week, I took a research trip to Transylvania to explore the historical locations associated with Vlad Tepes.  For those who do not know, Vlad Tepes was a Prince of Transylvania who ruled between the years 1448 – 1456 and 1462-1476 respectively.

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In Transylvania, Vlad is most often frequently remembered as a folk hero who fought off a Turkish invasion during his reign. However, his harsh tactics in battle and his use of various forms of painful executions earned him several more infamous names throughout history. One of these names is Vlad the Imapler, due to his reported affinity for executing vanquished foes by impaling them on large wooden poles.

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He is also associated with a much more famous name: Dracula. Meaning son of the Dragon, or in some stories, son of the Devil. This name goes hand-in-hand with tales of Vlad’s bloodthirsty and ruthless nature.  These often sensationalized stories have grown in time with the proliferation of the famous novel, Dracula, first published by Bram Stoker in 1897.

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There are multiple theories as to how Vlad became associated with what can reasonably be argued as the most famous vampire of all time and I will not pretend to be a leading expert on the theory.  In this regard, I would refer you to the work of others, such as:

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: A Reader’s Guide by William Hughes, PhD. http://www.amazon.com/Bram-Stokers-Dracula-Readers-Guides/dp/0826495370/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413286910&sr=8-1&keywords=dracula%2C+william+hughes

Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times by Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally. http://www.amazon.com/Dracula-Prince-Many-Faces-Times-ebook/dp/B00FOR2O4O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413287133&sr=8-1&keywords=vlad+tepes

Or check out the website of Dacre Stoker and Hans de Roos, who are working on a Romanian Travel Guide for visiting locations associated the legends surrounding Vlad and its ties to Bram Stoker’s novel. http://www.dractravel.com/

Now, back to my personal journey.  It began in Bucharest, where I spent my first night in Romania. Initially, I was in awe of the city, in both positive and negative ways. To begin with the good, the city features a lot of history with some truly breath-taking views. The buildings are very elaborate, and the streets were lined with grandiose statues, and gorgeous fountains. And of highest importance…Bucharest has a Hard Rock Café which, as an avid Hard Rock pin collector, was definitely a point in its favour.

Hard Rock Romania

 

In the negative was driving in Romania, which I was fortunate enough not to have to do myself, as my father who took the trip with me did the driving. The streets were very crowded, sometimes consisting of up to six lanes which were completely lined with cars. The lanes were poorly marked, especially for night driving and there were a lot of round-abouts, some six lanes across with up the eight exits. The average speed of driving in Romania was probably 30mph, except on very specific highways. I say probably because road signs were not in abundance.

The second day is when the real journey began. We had three planned stops on our agenda for the first day. They were the Snagov Monastery; Princely Court with Chindia Tower in Targoviste; and our hotel outside of Bran Castle.

The first stop was Snagov Monastery which took us about 45 minutes to reach. Despite having a map and a GPS, we did get lost a few times before finally finding a sign that not only listed name of the Monastery, but actually said Vlad Tepes. We ended up following the signs to what we planned on being our first stop. It was located in a small town down several poorly paved roads in a deprived area that was several miles the main roads.

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When we reached the monastery, there were a group of men standing outside of the building. One of these men directed us to park the car, which at first seemed fine. However, after we got out of the car, the man approached my father and stated that if we paid him, nothing would happen to the vehicle and that his companions would walk us into the monastery itself. My father, who is generally uncomfortable with very little, gave me a look that spoke volumes as this man continued that state that nothing would happen if we paid him. We said a terse, no thank you, and got back into the car without seeing the actual location.

The second stop was Princely Court. It consists of two parts. The first is a garden with several statutes of the Princes who have ruled over Transylvania. It was actually quite lovely and was filled with flowers between the statutes. It also featured a rather touristy restaurant which advertised its association with Vlad Tepes. In the centre of the garden was a large statue of Vlad which towered over the ones surrounding it. We had a very enjoyable walk through this garden.

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The second part is the Chindia Tower, which is also associated with the Transylvanian Princes.

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However, it turns out that this tower is closed on Mondays, so we were unable to go inside. Though we did take several photographs of the outside. There was also a small restaurants called the Mcrama Murfatlar, which was both very reasonably priced and had excellent food and wine which is located between the Tower and the garden.

After this, we continued our journey towards Bran Castle. The drive up the mountains was a slow one, with the road full of sharp curves that had to be taken with the upmost care. The GPS and map estimates stated that it would take approximately 2 hours to make the drive, the reality (at least for our trip) was closer to 3 ½ .

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However, we did eventually reach the hotel by the castle and enjoyed a fun night of tasting some local wines.  We also took a few night photographs of Bran Castle, which to me appeared both powerful and ominous upon the mountainside, allowing my imagination to understand how one might come to associate the castle with the myths and legends of the vampire.

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The next morning we explored the castle itself. It held a great deal of history about the ruling families of Transylvania and the history of the castle itself along with some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. It also featured a section on the vampire myths associated with Vlad, a room I spent much time exploring.

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Kris Dad Bram Castle

Overall, the castle was truly spectacular and well worth the tedious trip up the mountains.

 

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After the castle, we shopped the small, open-air market that was located near the entrance and picked up a few things for some friends. Also could not resist trying a few of the specialties.

 

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Afterwards, we headed back to Bucharest where we spent out last night trying a few additional local foods and drinks of the area, including an unknown Romanian liquor whose name I was unable to recall the next morning.

Overall, despite a few complications, the trip was a good experience. It was really inspiring for me to be able to actually visit the locations which I have been studying and reading about for so many years. I feel very fortunate to have been able to take this trip and explore the history of the myths which inspired my imagination as a child and continue to do so to this day.

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Dracula Untold Premiere

For those who don’t know, in addition to being a writer, I am also a PhD student writing my dissertation on vampire fiction. Therefore, I had a truly amazing opportunity the evening of Sept. 30th, 2014 to have the privilege of attending the red carpet premiere of the upcoming film, Dracula Untold. It was my first time to ever attend a premiere and the event which was held in Dublin, Ireland had all proceeds going to charity. The event did not disappoint and I was thrilled to be in attendance!

Arriving only a few hours early, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself at the beginning on the line, close enough in fact to stand directly in front of the walkway which the stars of the film would later walk down.

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Though a bit chilly, it was interesting to watch the red carpet being uncovered and the slowly gathering crowd. The doors for the theatre opened around 6:30, an hour before the film was to begin, however I chose to remain outside for another half hour, give or take, to see if I could catch a glimpse of the cast. My efforts were rewarded as, a short time before the film was to begin, the star of the film, Luke Evans who plays the title role of Dracula, greeted the crowd as he walked down the red pathway.

 

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I was even more surprised when he paused to say hello and signed my poster, which will from this point forward remain under lock and key. 😉

I enjoyed the film as a fun twist between history, myth and the cinematic portrayal of the vampire. The battle scenes were grand, but not so over-the-top that they became campy, which was nice. They also seemed to embrace (which was confirmed during a Q & A with members of the cast) that they were attempting to put a more human face on Dracula, showing how Vlad might have been seen by some as a hero, as he accepted vampirism in order to save his people from the Turks.

I actually asked Luke Evans about his preparation for the role, which he said included a fair amount of research, and definitely seemed to show in not only the film, but in other questions which he answered during the Q & A as well. They were joined in the Q & A with the director of the film, who provided some fun insight as well.

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Overall, I enjoyed the film and had a great time at the premiere!

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Undead Conference & Vampire Lestat Reunion Ball

Last week I attended the Undead Conference in New Orleans, hosted by the phenomenal staff of the Anne Rice Vampire Lestat Fan Club.  It is an annual event which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, primarily by the commencement of the annual Vampire Lestat Reunion Ball.

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For a student of Gothic Literature, the event was nothing short of one of the most amazing and exhilarating experiences of my life.  Over the course of the four day conference, I sat through multiple panels featuring authors from the newly and independently published, such as the talented Greg Wilkey, to bestselling authors like Christopher Rice.  These authors entertained their audience through speaking about their various novels, answering audience questions, and participating in lively debates concerning everything from the nature of good and evil to the best ways to sell your novel to a television or film company.

There were several highlights throughout the weekend.  However, I would like to share my favourite, which is on a bit of a personal note.  Among those who attended the vampiric festivities was long time friend, ‘SR’ and my mother-in-law, ‘TB.’  It was their first experience with the Gothic World of the vampire events which I tend to frequent and it was great to have them along.  My favourite moment was at the actual ball, when a vampire walked up to ‘TB’ and asked: “Excuse me, have you seen a werewolf?”  The moment – priceless!  Later in the evening, we did indeed, find the werewolf!

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The real highlight was, of course, meeting Anne Rice herself.  I had the pleasure of speaking with her at two different events during the conference, first at a cocktail party held the first night of the conference and second, at a book signing in the Garden District.  She was signing her newest novel, The Wolves of Midwinter along with her son Christopher who was signing his own recently released novel, The Heavens Rise.

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I also met Becket at these events, Rice’s assistant who recently published his own novels in the vampire genre, The Blood Vivicanti.  Meeting Rice was a dream, not only a long-time reader of her novels, but also as an academic who completed my MA dissertation on her Vampire Chronicles.  She was kind, gracious, and meeting her was one of the greatest moments I have ever experienced.

The Ball itself was also a lot of fun.  We met a lot of fellow authors and fans alike, listened to some great music, and danced the night away on a floor which had been transformed into a Gothic paradise.

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As it was my first visit to the Crescent City, we also took a haunted tour of the French Quarter which was both informative and fun.  A favorite place was, of course, seeing the house where Anne Rice once lived and wrote numerous novels.

 

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As well as visiting a few of the famous cemeteries.

 

We explored many of the delights of Burbon and Royal Street and were even there for the annual Halloween parade.  We also made some great new friends along the way.  The ball and conference was a wonderful experience which I would highly recommend to anyone with a love for the Gothic, Vampiric, or simply the darker side of literature.

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