I’ve long been a fan of vampires; ‘Dracula’ being one of my favourite reads along with ‘Salem’s Lot’, I recently read Dennis McIntyre’s ‘Bram Stoker and the Irishness of Dracula’; The Shara Press, and found the subject of Bram Stoker fascinating. We found Transylvania on Responsibletravel.com and decided to go – the lure of Dracula’s castle was too great not to go see! Romania is vast, surrounded by the horse-shoe shaped Carpathian Mountain range that act as a natural barrier for the country.
Three thousand kilometres from Bram Stoker’s birth place in Clontarf and about three hours’ drive from Bucharest, along Highway DN73, towers the formidable fortress, Castle Bran, in the town of Toerzburg, Transylvania. Built by the Teutonic Knights as a defence against the Ottoman Turks, Tartars and Hungarian marauders, Castle Bran straddles the historic fault line between Western Europe and the steppes of Eastern Europe.
Castle Bran is also a shrine to Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’.
Our guide for the day, Szidonia, tells us that the Romanians are happy to blend the legend of their own Vlad the Impaler with the Dublin author’s Count Dracula and turn it into a tourist attraction. And be in no doubt, it is – with bustling market stalls dedicated to the macabre; T-shirts, snow globes, toys, horror masks and dolls, all depicting Stoker’s creation in its various guises. This is despite Stoker never setting foot in Romania and Vlad’s bloody rule taking place in the Northern region of the country.
The castle itself, has to a degree, a split personality; one half is dedicated to Queen Mary, Grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, a woman who embraced the Romanian culture, eschewing royal dress in favour of traditional Romanian costume, the other to the Victorian gothic novel ‘Dracula’. It’s here that Bram Stoker and the novel is celebrated. Vampire imagery abounds from Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman, Christopher Lee, Kiefer Sutherland and Max Schreck’s ‘Nosferatu’. Stephen King’s master vampire, Kurt Barlowe from ‘Salem’s Lot’ shows how much influence Stoker’s novel filters down into the 20th Century and influencing writers and filmmakers world-wide. ‘Dracula’ has never been out of print since 1897, it has spawned approximately 1000 films and TV shows
Which raises the question in my mind – why isn’t Stoker celebrated in his home city? The industrious eastern Europeans have turned his creation into a smart, well thought-out tourist attraction that brings thousands of people from all over the world to visit Castle Bran.
Is it that Stoker’s most famous novel is no so much as overlooked here, but perhaps looked down on slightly? That it is viewed here as ‘pulp’ the way all horror novels are perceived? He was peers with Oscar Wilde and W.B.Yeats – no strangers to the macabre themselves, and yet, not elevated to their status here? Or is it that he went to England to seek his fortune and building his reputation with The Lyceum Theatre, mixing with society London and thus seen as a sort of turncoat?
In an age when Ireland has embraced America’s Halloween holiday of ‘trick or treat’, perhaps it’s time to follow Romania’s lead and embrace Bram Stoker and his brilliant novel. He lost out to having a bridge named after him in Dublin, but at the very least, he should have a statue made in his honour, situated in Dublin.
(c) Robert Craven
Robert Craven lives in Dublin and started writing in his teens, short stories, poems, song ideas as he was playing bass in various bands around the city. A part-time course in journalism led to ten years working in publishing; from there he decided he’d love to write. Growing up loving the books by Alastair Maclean, Gerald Seymour, Fredrick Forsyth, Jack Higgins and Robert Harris, GET LENIN was his contribution to the genre, shortly followed by ZINNMAN
In this assured and compelling sequel to ‘Get LENIN’, it is 1942, and the Allied intelligence team of Henry Chainbridge, Peter De Witte and Eva Molenaar are tasked by Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden personally with destroying a terrifying new weapon of mass destruction being developed jointly by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, using Chinese prisoners of war as guinea-pigs before giving it its first full test on the Russian Front.
The weapon, code name Zinnman (Tin Man), if effective could tilt the war in favor of Nazi Germany and have a wider impact on the outcome of the war. As ever Eva, the sultry Polish-born spy, is putting her body on the line at the heart of the enemy; Chainbridge is the reserved master strategist who uncovers a monarchist plot and De Witte is the suave, blind intelligence gatherer in love with Eva Molenaar.
But does she still love him back or has she fallen for an enemy officer?