The man who inspired the Dracula character in Bram Stoker’s novel was Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler. Vlad was born in Sighisoara, Romania, in 1431. If he died and you’d like to visit the grave where his headless torso supposedly lies, and this is a very popular day trip, you go to an island in a lake near Snagov, Romania, about 25 miles north of Bucharest.
Bram Stoker didn’t write Dracula until 1897. In 1816, the year without a summer, John Polidori wrote a ghost story called “The Vampyre”. He was in something of a competition with Lord Byron and Mary Shelley. They were driven inside by bad weather and, being writers, they composed stories. Mary’s was the most enduring. Her Frankenstein became a classic. Lord Byron, far more known for his poetry, wrote “Darkness”.
Writer Téa Obreht, who has roots in Serbia, wrote an essay that was published in Harper’s Magazine. “Twilight of the Vampires” tells about her journey to a Serbian village named Zarozje to learn what she could about a Balkan vampire. She says in her essay, “Vampir is probably the only Serbian word used the whole world over…..” She talks about Balkan superstitions. I wondered about these when I was there last year. The Balkans is home to many monasteries with devils depicted on their walls. Dracula was a Balkan native.
Obreht mentions common repellants–garlic, holy water, crucifixes–and adds one I was not familiar with–scissors under the bed. Austria is not a Balkan country, but, according to Obreht, Petar Blagojevic is the first vampire this country has officially certified.
In preparation for her journey, Obreht tracked down a Serbian film called Leptirica. Made in 1973, it’s said to be about a young shepherd from Zarozje and bizarre. I have not been able to find it.
Obreht headed for Zarozje to find the water mill where a weird incident occurred. She met a man on the way who said, “That’s my water mill!” He told her that nobody died or was killed there, but his grandmother would tell him stories and his father would make him spend the night in the mill to make him brave. He said that a clever man would go into the mill at night and throttle the millers a little and steal their flour because there was a famine occurring. This got the legend started. He said that the mill was actually no longer there and he assured her, “There is…no vampire in Zarozje.”
While there, she discovered that the widespread legend had no basis in fact. She cites scholarly theories about causes involving disease, bodily decay, medieval myths about contagion, etc. She concludes, “Balkan religion rests on tradition rather than belief, superstition rather than faith…..” Obreht segues into a story of a village being bothered by a sinister vukodlak. It would knock on people’s doors at night and strangle anyone who answered. “It is unclear,” she concludes, “why the villagers did not think to stop answering their doors after dark.”
The above is for those who are inclined to think that the top rated series on TV, The Walking Dead, is a documentary.