Dr. Elizabeth Miller
When the publishers
of this lavish new hardcover went looking for the worlds
best authority on Dracula, they were quickly directed to Memorials
Dr. Elizabeth Miller, English.
While most of the illustrations were selected by the publisher
(Parkstone Press, N.Y.), Dr. Miller did have input into the process
and is particularly pleased that they used a scene from the Royal
Winnipeg Ballet production of Dracula on the cover. The
stark black and white image with blood-red lettering embodies
our contemporary sense of the blood-sucking vampire who preys
on young women.
Dr. Miller offers a readable version of the changing myths and
realities of Dracula. In four chapters, she examines the historical
Dracula, the origin of the vampire, Dracula the vampire, and
Dracula the immortal.
Historically, Vlad Dracula was a voivode or warlord
in 15th century Wallachia, settled by Romanians who migrated
south out of Transylvania. His father Vlad took on the nickname
Dracul in reference to his induction into the chivalric
Order of the Dragon. After his fathers assassination, Vlad
Draculas short and interrupted reign was marked by major
battles against the Turks. The longest period he held power was
for six years, and he died in battle in 1476.
Besides being known as Vlad Dracula, he was also known as Vlad
Tepes (the Impaler) and it is in this context that stories of
almost unimaginable cruelty and atrocities abound. However, Dr.
Miller said that in todays Romania Vlad Draculas
reputation has been restored and he is seen as a national hero
who fought bravely against the Turkish empire.
The vampire (a word with Slavic roots) became associated with
Satanism in the 17th century. In the 18th century, sensational
stories of vampire sightings were carried in British publications,
and the word vampire entered the English language. By the time
Bram Stoker started to write Dracula, the vampire was
well-established in literary convention.
Miller said popular culture has redefined the original text through
numerous films which rarely follow the novels text, and
introduce elements such as using knives or a wooden stake to
pierce the vampires chest, or destroying Dracula by sunlight.
Interest in Dracula has spread widely in the last few decades
with Dracula fan clubs, scholarly organizations devoted to Dracula,
and a sanitized Count Dracula packaged for children through Sesame
street and books. Dracula has also been adapted as a chamber
musical and a ballet.
Television shows such as Dark Shadows, Forever Knight
and Buffy the Vampire Slayer reflect changing social
and cultural attributes, said Dr. Miller. The distinctions
between good and evil that mark Stokers novel are gone,
and we even have good vampires like Buffy.
One factor that has contributed to the explosion of interest
in Dracula since 1970 is the widely-held assumption that Stoker
was inspired by the life and atrocities of Vlad the Impaler.
Dr. Miller is quite definite that there is no evidence to support
In Romania, the most successful tours are those conducted
by informed guides who take visitors to sites associated with
both the historical Vlad Dracula and the fictional vampire of
Stokers Dracula. The two are separate.
was unknown in Romania until the fall of communism in 1989. The
first Romanian translation of the novel was in 1991, the same
year the Transylvania Society of Dracula was founded. Tourism
has flourished and Dr. Miller said there is even talk of building
a Dracula Land in Romania.
Why is there such a continuing and ever-expanding interest in
Dracula? Its sex, violence and blood,
explained Dr. Miller. The vampire incorporates all those
elements, and by facing death and surviving presents an alternative
to traditional religious beliefs about life after death.