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Elizabeth Miller
Stoker, Count Dracula, and Vlad the Impaler

A couple of days ago, a friend (thanks, Inanna!) sent me the following excerpt from the current issue (#246, April 2009) of Fortean Times. It’s from an interview with Leslie S. Klinger, author of The New Annotated Dracula (Norton). He debunks the Vlad/Dracula error but in doing so, makes a few faux-pas of his own.


Interviewer: A few years ago, it was fashionable to view the character of Count Dracula as being based significantly on Stoker's knowledge of Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), an emphasis which finds its most popular expression in Coppola's 1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula. How much did the author really know of this historical 15th-century Wallachian warlord, and how much of the real Vlad is reflected in the fictional Dracula?

Klinger: Elizabeth Miller and other scholars have demonstrated conclusively, I think, that Stoker did not base Dracula on Vlad Tepes. We know from the Notes that the character was originally to be called "Count Wampyr," and only after a few years of working on the book did Stoker even discover Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad Dracula. We know exactly where he found him, too, in a book by William Wilkinson on the history of Wallachia, a province of neighbouring Transylvania. Here he discovered that Vlad the Impaler was called "Dracula" (the son of the dragon) after his father Vlad Dracul. Stoker liked the name and changed the character's name from "Wampyr" to "Dracula." There is no evidence that Stoker knew anything else about Vlad Tepes other than his name.


Now, the main thrust of Klinger’s argument is accurate: Vlad was not the inspiration for Count Dracula, and it is a gross overstatement to claim that Dracula (the character and/or the novel) was “based” on Vlad. But in his response, Klinger does make a couple of errors of his own:


1. Stoker encountered the name “Dracula” within a few months of starting work on the novel, not a few years.


2. What Stoker discovered was the name “Dracula” – with no reference whatsoever to “Vlad” or “the Impaler.” Just a “voivode Dracula.”


3. Stoker’s source for the name “Dracula” (correctly identified by Klinger) makes no reference to “son of the dragon.” Rather, Wilkinson defined “Dracula” as “Devil”. This is most likely what attracted Stoker to the name.


4. Wilkinson did mention a couple of other details about this “Dracula”: that he was a voivode of Wallachia, that he fought the Turks & crossed the Danube, and that he had an unworthy brother. Stoker mentions these points in his novel. That’s it. That is all Stoker knew about the real Dracula – as far as can be documented. All other claims are speculation, ranging from vaguely possible to downright ridiculous.

For details on Stoker/Dracula/Vlad, see my books A Dracula Handbook and Dracula: Sense & Nonsense.

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