Now that we know Dracula was a real person, how did we get from the ruthless impalings done by Vlad Dracula to the image of a mysterious figure roaming the halls of a castle and sucking the blood of helpless victims?
To do so, we need to turn to the man credited for the birth of Dracula—Bram Stoker—and the European folklore that inspired his horror tale.
Get your travel journals ready, because we’re about to make a quick trip across Europe. Let’s get started!
Welcome to the World, Dracula
In 1897, the world met the Dracula we know today for the first time. In Bram Stoker’s chilling tale, the world was introduced to the pale figure that not only walked the castle’s halls but also traveled to England to tournament countless innocent victims. And thus, the legend of Dracula was born.
Although, vampires had become quite the talk of the town around that time period. In fact, vampire folklore was starting to pop up in both Eastern and Western Europe at the time.
While Stoker is credited for the birth of Dracula, there were two other pieces of vampire literature that predated Dracula: The Vampire, written in 1748 by Heinrich August Ossenfelder and Carmilla, published by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu in 1871. Both works include talk of vampires.
Although, there were plenty of other influences that paved the way for Stoker’s iconic novel. Many of these inspirations were based on folklore—both Romanian and Irish.
The term strigoi was previously mentioned. In Romanian folklore, these evil beings were the product of undead souls that could take on the form of animals—like werewolves—or other people.
Being undead, strigoi are said to rise from their burial grave where they can walk freely.
In addition to the striking resemblance and behavior between Dracula and strigoi, you’ll also find that many traits of vampires are pulled from Romanian folklore.
Garlic is said to be one way you can protect yourself and your home from a vampire’s invasion. This is rooted in the Romanian belief that garlic acts as a protector from evil spirits, like the strigoi.
It’s also believed that the origin of driving a wooden stake, usually made from aspen, through the vampire’s heart or decapitating and burning a vampire also originated in Romania.
Counter to popular belief, Stoker never actually visited Transylvania while writing Dracula. While the castle described in Dracula poses a striking resemblance to the towering fortress of Bran Castle, Stoker never experienced it for himself. Rather, he saw images of the castle that had become available around the time the manuscript was written.
Other than the Romanian roots, many argue that Bram Stoker found inspiration for Dracula in his own backyard. As an Irishman, Stoker is sure to have heard the tales of Abhartach many times growing up.
Abhartach was a 5th-century king who was just as unstable as Vlad III. It was believed he was an evil force that many people feared. They wanted him gone but were too fearful to kill him themselves, so they asked an outsider to help. When the deed was done, Cathàn—the one who agreed to murder Abhartach—buried him in a standing position.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Abhartach returned the next day. Unamused with his citizens, Abhartach reportedly demanded the blood of his subjects be put into a bowl, presumably for him to drink. Once more, Cathàn killed Abhartach and buried him, but again Abhartach returned.
After consulting with an elderly saint, it was announced that Abhartach was not alive, therefore could not be killed. It was explained that since he was a dearg-diúlaí—a drinker of blood—the only way to get rid of Abhartach was to restrain him by burying him upside down.
Vampires Take the Screen
After the gothic tale of Dracula was told across the world, it only took a short period of time before vampires hit the big screen.
The first portrayal of vampires was the German silent film, Nosferatu (1922). Anyone familiar with vampire stories would pick up on the similarities between Nosferatu and Dracula—both feature a traveling worker while leaving his significant other at home, the warning from locals not to visit the Count, mysterious figures, and more.
This is because Nosferatu was the unauthorized adaptation of Dracula. However, since director F.W. Murnau couldn’t obtain the copyright for Dracula, names were changed from Count Dracula to Count Orolak, and locations were changed from Transylvania to Bremen.
It wasn’t for another 9 years until we saw the real Dracula in the flesh as he took center stage in the 1931 movie of the same name. This film adaptation of the 1897 horror tale features none other than Bela Lugosi.
Being a true horror icon himself, Bela Lugosi is the image that comes to everyone’s mind when they think of Dracula. You know who I’m talking about—the black cloak, creepy castle, blood-sucking Dracula everyone loves to dress up as.
Decades More to Come
While Lugosi is arguably the most iconic vampire, his appearance as Dracula is one of the first of many vampire adaptations seen over nearly the next decade. The big questions still remain, though, how did we get from cloaks to glitter with vampires?
In our third and final part of this vampire trilogy, we jump ahead in time to take a look at the vampires we’ve grown up with—Edward Cullen, I’m talking to you!