The most infamous vampire of all time is undoubtedly Dracula (if you thought I was going to say Edward Cullen, then kindly remove yourself from this blog). Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel can be pinpointed as the origin of the modern vampire. Stoker took all the varied folklore on vampires from throughout history and compiled it into the iconic character of Count Dracula.
What you may not realize is that Dracula was a real person: not a vampire, but something perhaps even more terrifying.
His name? Vlad the Impaler.
Vlad III (1431-1476) was the Prince of Wallachia. Born in Transylvania, he was a member of the Order of the Dragon, which is where he got the nickname Dracula (dracul = dragon; ulea = the son of). His father, Vlad II, was “the dragon” in this scenario, making Vlad III the Son of the Dragon.
Let me give you the low-down on what that entails: a blunt wooden pike is inserted into your nether regions so that it can slowly make its way up through your body without you dying immediately from shock. Eventually, the stake will emerge through your mouth, and you will die slowly, horribly, and painfully while suspended in the air amid your rotting companions.
To give you a hint about how gruesome this was, here’s a quote from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Paranormal by Nathan Robert Brown:
An invading Turkish army actually turned around and went home after they spotted the mass amounts of bodies impaled upon wooden stakes along the Danube River, and Mohammed II, the “Conqueror of Constantinople,” upon seeing a forest of 20,000 impaled victims, also brought his army back home and never again went near Wallachia.
Vlad the Impaler was such a horrifying human being that the freaking Conqueror of Constantinople turned around and went home after seeing the atrocities he had committed.
While Vlad may not have actually drunk blood, he did clearly get a perverse pleasure from these acts of torture, which to me is far creepier than a seductive vampire poking holes in your neck. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by the most terrifying person in history? Clearly, Stoker was. Though we don’t know how much Stoker actually knew about Vlad Dracula, there are definite parallels between him and the fictional vampire.
Here’s an excerpt from a paper I wrote called “Finding the Missing Link in Literature” about Victorian literature’s response to Darwin’s theory of evolution (i.e. our genetic connection to animals, and what that meant for a society centered on creationist religion):
Perhaps the most renowned literary response to Darwinism is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which effectively engenders fear of the half-breed character while simultaneously promoting religion as the primary antidote to the worrisome implications of evolution. The religious themes within the novel itself can be traced back to the historical roots of vampire origins through the real-life figure of Vlad Tepes, known also as Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Dracula. Vlad Tepes was the Prince of Wallachia, a region of what is currently Romania, from 1456 to 1462 and enforced a bloody and brutal reign. At war with the Turks, he was notorious for impaling his enemies, as well as his own people, on sharp stakes and positioning the rotting corpses around the city as warnings to others. Therefore, driving a stake through the chest of a vampire in order to kill it correlates directly with Vlad’s preferred method of execution. Vlad’s nickname, Dracula, originated from the Romanian word “dracul,” which later came to be associated with the word “devil.” The ending “ulea” in Romanian means “the son of,” so Dracula is sometimes translated to “Son of the Devil”, a fitting moniker for someone whose infamy is centered around his merciless torture of thousands of people, and a hint at his position as a force of religious evil. During his life Vlad renounced the Orthodox Church; like Stoker’s Dracula, he was a force against the accepted religion.
Other details of Vlad’s life and death can also be seen in the characters and vampire lore used in Stoker’s Dracula. Vlad Tepes had three wives, which are represented in Stoker’s creation in the form of the three female vampires who live in his castle in Transylvania. At the end of his reign, the Turks forced Vlad to flee, after which he went to the king of Hungary for help and was imprisoned in a tower. Russian narratives, which usually depict Vlad Tepes in a more positive light, relate that during his captivity, he would capture and torture small animals such as birds and mice. There is a strong connection here with Renfield, who, while imprisoned in the mental institution, captures flies, spiders, and birds and eats them in order to gain eternal life like Dracula. When Vlad finally escaped his imprisonment, he was killed in a battle against the Turks in 1476. Details of his death are uncertain, but in the end he was decapitated and his head displayed on a pike in Constantinople. Just as his use of stakes for impalement was replicated in vampire lore, the details of his death likewise translated into a method for killing vampires, which must take a stake to the heart and be decapitated to be truly destroyed. All of these details tie Stoker’s novel into history by connecting the character of Dracula with Vlad Tepes. This generated even greater terror, as the connection to actual historical figures suggests the possibility that such horror can truly exist in our world.
Stoker’s Dracula is alluded to as an antichrist figure: baptising his victims in blood and being warded off by crucifixes. And it’s pretty safe to say that Vlad the Impaler was the fucking antichrist.
I could go on and on (and on and on) but you probably get the gist of it. Vlad Dracula is a fascinating person, and for a few years now I’ve had the desire to write something about him but couldn’t figure out what. Historical fiction isn’t really my bag because of a constant worry of getting details wrong, so that was out. I recently came up with a solution and was struck with a pretty exciting idea: what if Vlad the Impaler actually had been a vampire? That means he would be immortal, and he would proceed to spend the next 500 years invading European countries and amassing more and more land for himself, until almost the entirety of Europe was under his reign of blood and terror. Thus the Wallachian Empire was born.
I’m working out all the details of this book idea and writing a short story to complement it. The whole thing came from a simple prompt at Dark Moon Digest involving alternate histories; if I can get the short story up to snuff, my fingers are crossed that it’ll be accepted there. But in the meantime, I’ve got plenty of stuff to play with in this new world I’ve created, including an alternate map of Europe and the inner workings of a medieval-punk society. (Also, please don’t steal my idea. I usually don’t tell people about my ideas until they are fully fleshed out into manuscripts, so I’m breaking my own rules by posting this, and trusting all my lovely readers).
Maybe someday you’ll be reading about an alternate universe in which the Blood Prince of Wallachia becomes the sadistic Emperor of Europe, but in the meantime, you’ll have to satiate yourselves with popping open Stoker’s Dracula and reveling in the cleverly nuanced horror within each of its brittle, yellowing pages.