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From Vlad the Impaler to Dracula the Vampire

From Vlad the Impaler to Dracula the Vampire - Neagu Djuvara, Radu Oltean, Alistair Ian Blyth In the ongoing farce of my studying random countries by a combination of talking to clerks, lingering in history museums and befriending local countrymen who write reviews, I am daring to take on the Dracula myth from within the heart of Romania itself.

The clerk at the bookstore where I bought this tells me that Mr. Djuvara is a foremost Romanian historian. He appears to be a very old man, and writes as if every single reader is one of his children, even in translation. I will be kind and say some of the absolute mess in continuity, such as page 11 in particular, is probably a translation error. The book would deserve 4 stars for the illustrations alone.

What a few clerks tell me is that 1) There are no stories of Dracula in Romania 2) Vlad the Impaler is a national hero.

This book often seems like a very graphic apologia for Vlad's violent excesses. It admits that Vlad -- by his own accounts -- probably impaled 20,000 people. It admits that Vlad invited a large number of beggars and disabled people to a large feast, then locked the door and burned them alive. But that was probably only in his own city. And he was only saving themselves from themselves, anti-Christ style.

The book admits that he killed all the women and children of Romanian noblemen who refused his leadership, but as Vlad's old fable goes, wouldn't you kill the baby snakes if they tried to leave the nest too?

It admits that he laid waste to all the people and land separating him from Turkish invaders, but didn't war make this necessary?

Where he probably made his biggest mistake was driving stakes through hundreds or thousands of Saxon merchants, who may or may not have flouted import/export restrictions in Romania. You apparently shouldn't torture a tribe of Gutenberg cousins, just on the cusp of developing a printing press and bad PR machine. I'm told there's a castle in Romania with some of the original broadsheets which started painting Vlad as some kind of Dracula.

But the book does agree that vampires themselves didn't exist in Romanian legend. Those legends are Serbian. I notice my newfound clerk friends get shifty if I point out where Serbia sits in relation to Romania, geographically. I don't even know if modern day Serbia/Serbians were somehow Romanians once.

I probably don't know enough to talk about the historical accuracy. I can just point out quite a few strange comments. The writer suggests that Bram Stoker was an Irishman who secretly hated the English. Aside from the fact that Stoker is not an Irish surname, and that he lived well within the English Pale, somewhere in Dublin, Stoker was a Church of Ireland Anglican, like his parents, and his opinions on Irish independence seem, if anything, confused on the side of England.

The writer also doubts historical accounts as it suits him. Vlad's alleged letter of capitulation to the Turks, as cited by a pope and one of Hungary's most famous kings is called a forgery by the Hungarian king. I don't know and don't really care, but this sounds like a throwdown to the Huns and their king.

I myself am falling on the position (staking my claim?) that Vlad the Impaler killed more innocent people than any vampire ever has, and was therefore quite as bad as his name. The writer of this comic book variously suggests that it was just typical Middle Aged excess or even mental illness, but the graphic descriptions and depictions of the impaling process, followed by a plea to treat Vlad as a slightly flawed hero, not a tourist attraction, seem slightly strange.

This writer depicts some of Vlad's excesses quite honestly and graphically, yet still includes half page paintings of Vlad primping in the foreground of anonymous, impaled corpses and, as it takes pains to point out, the beautiful reconstructed tower in the distance. And this, about a legend that Vlad used the heads of boyars as bait for crayfish: "It is well known that crayfish, those tasty crustaceans, feed on carrion." Really, should I send this book to my nieces and nephews?

My clerk friends don't seem to know that Vlad killed beggars in his own country, so, for now, I must choose to believe that an occasional reference to his heroism contains a slightly incomplete education. Yet I imagine Romanians would rather have a false myth attached to their hero, rather than some of the realities.