Bram Stoker Claimed That Parts of Dracula Were Real. Here’s What We Know About the Story Behind the Novel

In the summer of 1890, a 45-year-old Bram Stoker entered the Subscription Library in Whitby, England, and requested a specific title — The Accounts of Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia by William Wilkinson. This wasn’t a title found readily on the shelves or typically made available to the general public. The library didn’t even make it known they possessed the rare book. Access was only granted to those who asked for it. Patrons handled the title only under the watchful eye of the librarian, and it was returned to its resting place the moment business concluded. Upon receipt of the book, Stoker didn’t read it cover to cover or browse the text — he opened the pages to a specific section, made notes in his journal, and returned the tome to the librarian.

Courtesy of Time.

Inside the Fortress Known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’

Dracula slept here. Or maybe not.

Bran Castle perches dramatically on a hill in Transylvania, its burnt-orange-tiled turrets and steeples rising above a crown of trees in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. Depending on what account you read, Vlad Tepes—aka Vlad the Impaler—may have spent a night or two in this 14th-century fortress as a prisoner, or he may have attacked it once.

Courtesy of National Geographic.

The Bewitching Time Warp of Transylvania, Romania

It’s a bright August morning, and I’ve just begun driving around this achingly scenic part of central Romania, where the green hills are dotted with giant conical haystacks. As I make my way from one hamlet to another, occasionally stopping to peek inside magnificent 13th-century churches that once doubled as citadels, the welcome is not exactly warm. Pretty much everyone I pass—farmers weeding their fields by hand, groups of kids playing by the roadside, stooped women in head scarves carrying bags of tomatoes—sizes me up with a severe, wary look that seems to be some kind of Transylvanian Death Stare. Granted, whenever I pause to speak with anyone, the stern facade crumbles quickly; one young guy in a tracksuit cheerfully shows me how to scale a stone wall so that I can look around an abandoned medieval rectory. But in the next village, the intense glowers begin anew.

Courtesy of Condé Nast Traveler.

Hoia Baciu: Inside the creepiest forest in Transylvania

We are in The Clearing. The trees stop in a uniform oval where nothing grows and where, since official records began, nothing has grown. “Once when I came here,” says Alex, our guide, “I found 60 people from Bucharest trying to open a gate into another dimension.”

I set a significant scene in Daughters of Shadow and Blood here.

Courtesy of The Independent.

A Trip to Transylvania, Without the Bite

Romanian friends told us this area of medieval villages and fortified churches had little to do with the fiction of “Dracula,” yet the night was turning into a vampirish cliché. In his 1897 novel, the Irish writer Bram Stoker described the Carpathian pass as “an imaginative whirlpool” where every known superstition gathered. I saw how he might get that idea.

Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

Monster Monday: Pricolici

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Pricolici.

Weird Tales, September 1942
Weird Tales, September 1942

In Romanian folklore, a pricolici is a type of undead werewolf. Unlike a traditional vampire, a pricolici comes back in the form of a wolf or a giant dog. It is said that in life a pricolici was a violent or particularly evil man who comes back specifically to cause havoc. In some legends a pricolici was a werewolf in life.

A pricolici is larger and stronger than a normal wolf. It hunts alone at night. It attacks silently and usually targets solitary travelers.

A (Very Brief) Guide to Romanian Pronunciation

Scânteia newspaper, April 28, 1962 - Fototeca online a comunismului românesc, Photo no: #W086 Quota:3/1962
Scânteia newspaper, April 28, 1962 – Fototeca online a comunismului românesc, Photo no: #W086 Quota:3/1962

Within Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book I: Yasamin is the story of Mihai Viteazul, a sixteenth-century Romanian prince, and of course, Dracula himself, Vlad Țepeș, was Romanian. Among the Romanian place names that occur in the novel are Cluj, Șelimbăr, Țârgoviște, Alba Iulia, and Iași.

Romanian is the easternmost Romance language, though the language has been influenced by its Slavic and Hungarian neighbors. Because the majority of Romanians belonged to the Orthodox Church, Romanian was once written with the Cyrillic alphabet, but in the nineteenth century, the transition was made to the Latin alphabet because it was considered more suited for the Romance language.

The letters are pronounced pretty much the same as in English with the exception of the following:

  • ă as in the a in about
  • â, î as in the e in open (â is used in the middle of a word and î at the beginning or end)
  • c as in the c in cat before a, o, or u and as in the ch in church before e or i
  • ch as in the c in cat before e or i
  • g as in the g in go before a, o, or u and as in the j in judge before e or i
  • gh as in the g in go before e or i
  • j as in the z in azure
  • ș as in the sh in ship
  • ț as in the ts in cats

Monster Monday: Iele

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Iele.

August Malmström, Dancing Fairies (1865)
August Malmström, Dancing Fairies (1865)

Iele are fairy-like spirits in Romanain folklore. They are usually invisible, but can be seen at night when they gather to dance and sing in open fields or the tops of trees. Then they appear as beautiful young women. Often the next day the places where they dance appear scorched, and when the vegetation grows back, it is a different color. This belief is similar to the belief in fairy rings in Northern and Western European folklore.

Iele are not necessarily evil, but the offend easily and will punish people who make them angry. The list of offenses include seeing them dance, not dancing with them when asked, drinking from a particular spring, sleeping beneath a particular tree, or stepping where they have danced. Sometimes they are said to entrance men with their singing. They can also act as spirits of vengeance, punishing wrongdoers by compelling them to dance and then abducting them, never to be seen again.

A person must not work on certain days considered important to the Iele. In addition, garlic and mugwort can be worn to ward against them.

 

Monster Monday: Strigoi

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Strigoi.

Image from the vampire novel Carmilla
Illustration for the vampire novel Carmilla by D. H. Friston

The legend of the Strigoi comes from Romania and is arguably the most direct reference to what we today would call a vampire. A strigoi is the soul of a deceased person that rises from its grave at night to plague the living. There are differing accounts of its abilities.  In some stories it is only an incorporeal spirit. In others it in an actual reanimated corpse. Sometimes it can shapeshift into an animal, or become invisible. Usually the strigoi visits living relatives and neighbors, causing illness and weakening them until they die. Only occasionally do they directly drain the blood of their victims.

A person can become a strigoi by a number of methods. The most common include generally being a bad person in life, being a redhead, committing suicide, being born with a caul, or being cursed by a witch. A person deemed likely to come back as a strigoi could be prevented from doing so by beheading their corpse or burying them with a stake through their heart. The best way to defeat a strigoi is also to dig up the body during the daytime and behead the corpse, cut out and burn the heart, or impale the body with a wooden stake.

An interesting version of the strigoi is the strigoi viu or “living” strigoi, who is a kind of evil magician capable of ruining crops and causing livestock to get sick and die.

Though no one knows for sure, some speculate that the strigoi originates from Dacian myths about evil spirits that plague the living. The word itself likely comes from the Latin word strix, which means “owl,” but is also a nocturnal blood-sucking monster in Roman mythology.

Novel Places – Târgoviște

Chindia Tower - Târgovişte, Romania

The boy couldn’t have been more than ten years old. He practically panted, having run up the steps all the way to the top of the tower. I knew he was eager to deliver his message, but I didn’t acknowledge him right away, even though it was a message I expected. Instead, I chose to watch the sun rise over the battlements in silence. Images from my most recent dream flooded my mind, bloody violent scenes.