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(July 12, 2001, Gazette)

Dracula

By Dr. Elizabeth Miller

DraculaWhen the publishers of this lavish new hardcover went looking for the world’s best authority on Dracula, they were quickly directed to Memorial’s 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 father’s assassination, Vlad Dracula’s 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 today’s Romania Vlad Dracula’s 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.

Dr. Miller said popular culture has redefined the original text through numerous films which rarely follow the novel’s text, and introduce elements such as using knives or a wooden stake to pierce the vampire’s 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 Stoker’s 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 this.
“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 Stoker’s Dracula. The two are separate.”

Dr. Elizabeth Miller
Dr. Elizabeth Miller

Dracula 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? “It’s 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.”

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