Dracula the book and Transylvania

I must admit, I was never a big fan of the Dracula character, mainly because of how the Romanian tourist agencies (there was once even a ministerial plan for a Dracula Theme Park) abuse it to sell the image of Transylvania. The Dracula presented is as follows: the Wallachian prince Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Țepeș) was prince of Transylvania, he lived in Bran Castle (Törcsvár) and for some reason the former Saxon (German) city of Sigișoara (Schäßburg, Segesvár) is full of portraits of Vlad.

Being a person who enjoyed reading history from a young age, I was always put off by this whole false image created around a Wallachian prince who quite frankly has nothing to do with Transylvania, but he has a lot to do with the historical principality situated south of this region.

As they say, never judge a book by its cover. I never read the book of Bram Stoker (1897) until now, but saw every possible adaptation of this character. A blog post of another blogger made me wonder though, as to why I haven’t yet read the book, as it is pretty much the largest touristic symbol of the region (besides the Virgin Forests presented by the BBC and Prince Charles).

So as I started reading the book a  different image of Dracula appeared than the one I was used to; and a different image of Transylvania, than is presented to the tourist when they visit Romania:

1.     The Count is not Vlad the Impaler! – I am always sadly amused to see, how in many cases the Hungarian/Székely element is omitted from Transylvanian history. Whether in history books, medieval recollections or just plain simple tourist brochures or information plaques. But to do this with a fictional book character is just more than amusing and made me have a good laugh yesterday night. According to the book itself, using Dracula’s own words “[w]e Szekelys have a right to be proud […]” and  “what devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins”. So according to good old Suckula himself, he is a Szekely, descendent of Attila the Hun and nowhere in the book does the name of Vlad the Impaler appear. To make things worse, a Hungarian translator in a 1983 translation completely omits the afore-mentioned part and takes the liberty of introducing Vlad the Impaler into the book (you heard me right, a Hungarian translator, not a Romanian one).

2.     Vlad the Impaler and countess Erzsébet Báthory might be the inspiration – it is debated who exactly inspired the Irish author, but it seems that he might have been inspired by both the practices of Wallachian (Romanian) prince Vlad the Impaler (who liked to impale peasants) and Hungarian countess Erzsébet Báthory, who is regarded as the “blood countess”, killing several hundreds of Slovakian and Hungarian young girls and bathing in their blood. Maybe this is why the author places Slovakians in the book, in a region they did not historically live in

3.     Dracula’s castle – as much as the Romanian tourist agencies like to say, Bran (Törcsvár) castle is not the home of Dracula as described in the book. The book is quite explicit to its location, as being after Bistritz (Bistrița, Beszterce), close to the historic region of Bukovina, in the Borgó (Tihuța pass).

4.     The multi-ethnic character of the book – what pleasantly surprised me about the book, is that it portrays the multi-ethnic character of Transylvania way better than any tourist agency or ministry of the Romanian government. According to a passage “In the population of Transylvania there are four distinct nationalities: Saxons in the South, and mixed with them the Wallachs, who are the descendants of the Dacians; Magyars in the West, and Szekelys in the East and North. I am going among the latter, who claim to be descended from Attila and the Huns.” Without going into historical differences, this passage points out really well that Transylvania was predominantly made up of 4 ethnic groups: Saxons (Germans), Wallachians (Romanians), Szekelys (ethnic subgroup of Hungarians) and Hungarians. So thank you Stoker for the multi-ethnic image

5.     Some factual inconsistencies – given that it is a fictional novel, written over a hundred years ago, the author, to my surprise does quite a good job at portraying the ethnic build-up of the region as well as mentioning key cities such as Klausenburg (Cluj-Napoca, Kolozsvár) and Bistritz (Bistrița, Beszterce) and he also provides a fairly good description of the natural features. He is also good at giving examples of the local words, which also portray the mixed make-up: “Ordog”—Satan [HU], “Pokol”—hell [HU], “stregoica”—witch [RO], “vrolok” and “vlkoslak”. There are also many German expressions in the book. I also like how he hints to the ethimology of the region’s name as being the “the land beyond the forest”. The name Transylvania and the Hungarian Erdély derive from the same description of ‘the land beyond the forrest’ or terra trans/ultra silvanum or erdő elve.

However, there are some factual inconsistencies:

–         Slovak and Czech peasants did not live in the Bistritz region. He could have done a more authentic job with German and Romanian peasants who were predominant in that region

–         The local drink is not “slibovitz” (used by Slovakians and Czechs), but depending on the people living there pálinka, pălincă, țuică. Although, apparently the Slovaks were the first to invent this drink and then it spread to other people.

6.     Dracula’s description – what struck me the most in Dracula’s description, which Hollywood does differenly. He is described as having a “long white moustache”, “hairs in the centre of the palm” and crawls on the wall like a lizard 😀

So overall I must admit I got impressed of how the book not only presents a different Dracula, with a different background than I was used to, but most importantly for us Transylvanians, this Irish author in 1897 did a better job at portraying the multi-ethnic character of this region than the modern authorities do nowadays.

Aarhus, Denmark, 11/11/2012


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