DRACULA EXISTS OR NOT?

Christopher Lee as Dracula

So asked some anonymous soul on Formspring...

Now obviously the quick answer would be ‘No!’

But that’s not very entertaining and, more to the point, not strictly accurate...

For as many of you probably already know, there was a real life Dracula - Prince Vlad III of Wallchia. Classed as on the great monsters of history, this 15th century Prince was famous for his cruelty and brutality, particularly his penchant for impaling his enemies on long poles, hence is his popular sobriquets of or Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler. However it should be noted that some historians have pointed out that many of the accounts of his atrocities were penned by his enemies and therefore it is possible that Prince Vlad is the victim of a Middle Ages smear campaign. Indeed in Romania, he is still considered a national hero for defending his lands against invasions and incursions by the Ottoman Empire.

Also it should be noted that his second name is not a surname but an honorific. His father Vlad II was inducted into the Order of the Dragon, an elite order of knights and hence became known as Vlad Dracul - ‘dracul’ being a translation of ‘dragon’ into his native tongue. And therefore ‘Dracula’ simply means ‘son of the dragon’, as Vlad III very much took followed in his father’s footsteps, vigorously defending the country against all aggressors.

However while this Dracula certainly existed, the waters become murky when we considered the character who bears his name. Now Bram Stoker originally called his famous villain ‘Count Wamphyr’, however in the course of his researches he came across the history of the Wallachian Prince, and as ‘dracul’ can also be translated as ‘devil’, Dracula leapt out as a far more fitting perfect name for his Satanic vampire.

But ever since the popular imagination became aware of the historical Dracula, largely through In Search of Dracula by Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally in 1972, the two figures, one real and one fictional, have become confused. Many have assumed that Stoker’s Count is meant to be Prince Vlad III, still living on as a vampire, and indeed many versions of the Dracula story have made this connection explicitly, most famously Francis Ford Coppola’s mendaciously titled Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

Stoker does have a reference to the infamous 15th Century noble, in Chapter 3 the Count tells Harker -

Who was it but one of my own race who as Voivode crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? This was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother, when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery on them! Was it not this Dracula, indeed, who inspired that other of his race who in a later age again and again brought his forces over the great river into Turkey-land; who, when he was beaten back, came again, and again, though he had to come alone from the bloody field where his troops were being slaughtered, since he knew that he alone could ultimately triumph!

Later on Van Helsing in the novel more or less confirms that this ancestor he speaks of is highly probably a case of the Count indulging in that old immortal’s trick of attributing one’s own past deeds to a forebear.

Vlad III

However while there are parallels between the Count and Vlad III’s histories, this does not make them necessarily one and the same. For scholars are still arguing over how much Stoker actually knew about the historical Vlad. We know for certainly one of the books he used for research mentioned “Voivode Dracula” and his battles with the Turks but little else. Hence in the novel there is no reference to his first name being Vlad or his position as a Prince and national ruler.

Furthermore Stoker appears to show this limited knowledge of the historical Dracula when Van Helsing reveals the Count’s origins. Yes, you read that right - it’s a little known and much overlooked fact that Stoker does reveal an origin story for the Master Vampire.

We learn that he has made a pact with the Devil, attending the legendary Scholomance, a secret academy where the Dark Lord teaches a select few students the secrets of magic. According to Transylvanian folklore, the Devil takes on ten students to tutor, and in chapter 18, we are told -

The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by their coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due.
And in chapter 23, Van Helsing says of Count Dracula -
He dared even to attend the Scholomanse, and there was no branch of knowledge of his time that he did not essay
The implication is that the Count is the tenth student who has become the Devil’s pawn in the world. However what is interesting is that the first quote seems to show that Stoker was unaware of how powerful the historical Draculas were; rather than a royal house, they are depicted as a merely aristocratic line.

However some scholars have noted further connections - that Stoker’s description of his vampire villain seems to tally with portraits of Vlad and the fact that the stake through the heart appears to be an ironic a take on Vlad’s preferred method of execution.

However in the case of the former, the text’s description equally matches the stereotypical Victorian villain, all arched eyebrows and long moustache, and also Stoker’s employer Sir Henry Irving who the author wished to play Dracula in the stage adaption of the novel.

As for the staking, firstly this is a method of vampire destruction common in Eastern European folklore. And secondly although the vampirised Lucy Westernra is dispatched in this manner, the Count himself has his throat cut and is stabbed through the heart with a Bowie knife.

Now the case can be made either way, but personally this writer tends to the view that Stoker only had limited knowledge of Prince Vlad, and so while his vampire Count has some elements inspired by history, Vlad III wasn’t the sole source of inspiration from the Count, as Stoker’s use of the Scholomanse shows. And certainly there is no evidence or even rumours of the historical Vlad rising from the grave to suck the blood of the living.

So then to recap, historical Dracula existed but certainly wasn’t a vampire. Stoker’s Count of course is a literary creation and therefore doesn’t exist...

...Or does he? In the strange world of quantum mechanics, there is the highly weird Many Worlds Interpretation. Now, without becoming entangled in the complexity of this field of physics, basically the Many World Interpretation holds that whenever there is a choice in the universe, it splits into two different realities where each possible outcome happens. Now a great number of these branching off worlds differ only from ours in the position of one particle, however some have theorised that the range of branching universes is pretty much infinite, with every possible variation happening.

So as well as worlds with larger changes, such as scifi staples such as universes where Hitler won the Second World War and the Roman Empire never fell, some theorists have postulated that wilder universes exist where the laws of nature operate differently.

And hence as the range of possible worlds is infinite, somewhere in the multiverse there are universes where not only magic and legendary creatures exist, but where Hogwarts and Middle Earth are real. And naturally in an infinite multiverse where every possible world is played out, there will be not only one where the events Stoker’s Dracula occurred as historical events, but worlds where every version of Dracula, from the Universal version of the story, to comics like Tomb of Dracula, and even Z-grade movies like Zoltan Hound of Dracula, have actually happened!

Tomb of Dracula

So then if the Many Worlds Interpretation should prove to be correct, then not only does Stoker’s Dracula exist somewhere in the multiverse, but every Dracula - Lugosi, Carradine, Lee, Langela, Jordan, Oldman and all the rest - exists!

However the arcana of modern physics aside, finally we should note there are profound philosophical issues raised by the question of whether Dracula exists. For example, does ‘exists’ mean the same as ‘real’, and how do we measure or define either quality? Stoker’s Count never walked upon this earth, yet there are reams of print, miles of celluloid, and endless conversations about him. Is a concept or an idea as real as an actual person? Does the fact that Dracula only exists as fiction make him any less actual than existing in the flesh? Strictly speaking if he didn’t exist at all, in any form, neither the question or this answer would exist.

Personally I feel that defining actuality or reality purely in terms of physical objects is a dangerous business, for so much of what we are, our thoughts, emotions and memories, and so much of what makes us human, such as notions of art, love, humour and justice, only exist in the same abstract realm as fiction.

Of course none of the above can quite explain why after receiving this question, for the last three nights legions of web-winged bats gather about the house after sunset or why I have seen a red eyed, coal-black hound of monstrous proportions sat waiting in the midnight shadows of the garden...


Jim Moon, 20th September 2011


Return