One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017
Friday, November 13, 2009
I want to immediately pierce to the very heart of this issue. If the little prince had been remembered by his real name, Vladimir Basarab, he would have been a lot less infamous. He might still have been celebrated as Vlad Bsasrab the Transfixer, or, in the same vein, immortalized as Vlad Tepes the Inappropriate Marriage Counselor. The bloody shame is that his own baptized appellation has so faded against his myth that you are far more likely to say, “Oh, Vlad the Impaler”, I know who that is. That is Dracula, the vampire from Transylvania.” And you would be dead wrong. Well, wrong, anyway.
For some reason we are up to our necks in vampires these days. Truly, it is the genre that won’t die. There was “Buffy” and “Angel, and “Blade” and “True Blood” and “Blood Ties” and “Twilight” and “Interview with a Vampire” and the “Underworld” series and “Nosferatu” and a few million Dracula movies. Back in the 1990’s Josh Whedon even created “Spike” a vampire with a nicotine habit – Why would he smoke, when he doesn’t breathe? Worse, these days the hard bitten hickey artists, in fact this entire ethos of ensanguined extortionist, lusts not merely for blood. I could write a treatise on the lack of the appeal of sex to those who do not live. And more pointedly there is the great unstated reality that these lively undead, if they exist at all, must secrete an anticoagulant to digest their meals, else the blood would form a huge, hemoglobin hair-ball clot in their tummies. Has anybody given this any thought? I have.
Every week or so a real vampire would suddenly be rendered helpless while they gagged up and then deposited a foul smelling black mass on the carpet. First, that should make it easy to escape from a vampire; second it should make them easy to locate; and third, how is that sexy? - Because this current fascination with fangs seems to be about the sublimation of sex with a succubus and or a succuba, or both. And to think, it originally started out as the sublimation of nationalism. Who would have thunk it?
Dracula is Romanian for “Sons of the Dragon”. They were an order of Christian Knights, which honored Vlad’s father with the title. And Vlad occasionally laid claim to it as well, but only at formal occasions, such as banquets and bloodlettings, which were often the same occasions for him. Yes, he was a capricious mass murderer, but Vlad was never ever accused of being a vampire, not to his face, not in his original lifetime, anyway. He would not have even known what a “vampyre” was. He would have known what a vrykolakas was. That was a Greek invention, a sort of Slavic vampire without dentures, one of the undead motivated by a necrotic sense of humor. But, of course, there has been bad blood between the Greeks and the Slavs for the last 3,000 years and the dentile demon is just the latest addition in this blood feud.
Only a vampire can make a vampire. But a vrykolakas is created when a dog or a cat jumps over a grave. Should they pause to urinate on the crypt the occupant will get a little wet; but they’re dead, what do they care. However it seems to be the bound that boils the banshee bicuspid. Driven by the sanguine leap the vrykolakas makes the inhuman effort to clamber from its tomb and engage in a mortiferous game of “Knock, knock”. In Slavic lands, a tap on the door after dark should never be answered. Not because a salesman may put the bite on you, but because it just encourages the vrykolakas to keep on knocking. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vrykolakas)
Vlad was no mere vrykokakas. Legend has it that Vlad once sat in judgment of a wife suspected of adultery. He awarded the husband a divorce, and provided child support by impaling the mother and child on the same spike. His social programs were saturated with the same carnassial logic. The invalids in his realm were invited to a feast, at which Vlad bolted the doors and windows and set the hall on fire. Once the flames died down Vlad announced he had eradicated poverty in his realm. Technically he was correct, but it did little to improve his public image. But there was a reason for Vlad’s fiendish behavior.
At the tender age of five Vlad’s familiar bonds were severed when he was offered up as a hostage to the Ottomans. During his six years alone in a Turkish prison, Vlad’s only playmates were bats and spiders, who he tortured to his heart’s content. When he was eleven Vlad’s father and older brother were both murdered by Boyars, the local landlords. You can understand, then, that when Vlad was finally able to resurrect his father’s empire in 1456, he perforated every Boyar he could lay his bloody hands on. Unfortunately he skewered his economy as well, but you can’t have everything.
In 1462 the Sultan decided he had enough of Vlad’s savage vindictiveness, and he invaded Transylvania with a 90,000 man army. Since Vlad only had about 30,000 men his cause seemed a dead letter. Still Vlad made it interesting by puncturing 20,000 Turkish prisoners at the border. This act of mass murder managed to impress the Sultan who was no slouch in the mass mayhem department, himself. Still the outcome was the same; Vlad was forced into exile, and the Sultan placed Vlad’s half brother on the throne.
And it turned out that Vlad’s allies were no more comfortable with a lethal poltergeist potentate in their midst than the Sultan had been. Vlad was locked up in the 13th century equivalent of a mental ward for 12 years, by which time the memories of his murderous malignant management style seem to have faded to black. So, in 1476 he was able to attempt to recapture his little empire. But Vlad was cornered by Turkish troops and killed in a battle outside of Bucharest. And to prove that he was ‘morally, ethic'lly, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead’, the Turks decapitated Vlad’s corpse and sent his head ahead to Constantinople as proof for the Sultan that the demon was not merely dead, but certainly, assuredly and really most sincerely dead’.
Except, that he wasn’t; enter the Irishman Bram Stoker, business manager for the actor and owner of a London theatre, and part time writer of lurid adventure stories and novels. Chapter two of Stoker’s “Dracula”, which was published in 1897, records the first meeting between English lawyer and the Count. “A key was turned with the loud grating noise of long disuse, and the great door swung back…Within, stood a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of color about him anywhere….The old man motioned me in with his right hand with a courtly gesture, saying in excellent English, but with a strange intonation. “Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own free will!...I am Dracula…”
But was Stoker inspired by the real Dracula? Elizabeth Miller who has made a study of the issue (“Dracula: The Shade and the Shadow” – 1998) does not think so. “…(Stoker's) research seems to have been haphazard (though at times fortuitous) rather than scholarly. What he used, he used “as is,” errors and confusions included….After all, Stoker was writing a Gothic novel, not a historical treatise. And he was writing Dracula in his spare time, of which I doubt he had much.”
Writing in his spare time? Who ever heard of such a batty idea?