Frontline World


Synopsis of "My Old Haunts"

On the Road in Romania

Exclusive Article and Archival Diary

House of Tudor

Examination, Interview and Quiz

Facts and FAQs about Romania

The Revolution, "Gypsies," Background




Interview with the Vampire Queen: Elizabeth Miller
Photo of Elizabeth MillerElizabeth Miller is a professor of English at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She has been studying Dracula and vampire myths for 10 years.

How did you get interested in Dracula?

I actually came to this through Lord Byron and his personal physician, who wrote the first vampire story in the English language... I'm a literary scholar, a professor of literature, and I was interested in 19th-century Gothic literature... My original interest in Bram Stoker and his novel was, what made a rather second-rate Irish author write a novel that's better known than any other fictional character? I mean everyone's heard of Dracula, whether they've read the book or not.

You argue that there isn't a real connection between Bram Stoker's fictional character Dracula and the historical figure Vlad the Impaler. When Stoker's working notes for Dracula were found, in the mid-70s, what did we learn?

I originally assumed that (Dracula) was based on Vlad. But when I read the novel again at one point, I said, "Well, if he's based on Vlad, then how come there's nothing about Vlad in the novel?... How come there's nothing about impaling?" I mean, this stuff is grist for the mill. If Bram Stoker knew about that, he surely would [have] put it in the book because it's such wonderful stuff for a horror novel.

Quote from Interview: Dracula meant "the Devil."  And Stoker copied that into his notes in big capital letters.  Which tells me that –"Oh, bingo, I've got it.  Perfect vampire name!"The notes basically clarified the question of how much Stoker knew about Vlad the Impaler, which wasn't very much. ... there's nothing in there to indicate that he even knew Dracula's name was Vlad. He just came across a reference to Dracula in a book ... that he was a prince in Wallachia, part of Romania ... that he fought with the Turks, and he had a brother. And that's it.

What drew Stoker's attention was that the author of this book had put a footnote after the name Dracula indicating that in the Wallachian language it meant "the Devil." And Stoker copied that into his notes in big capital letters. Which tells me that‚‚"Oh, bingo, I've got it. Perfect vampire name!"

(Stoker had) already created a vampire character before he came across the name Dracula. So all this stuff about (Stoker being) inspired to write a vampire novel after reading about Vlad is hogwash. He'd already started to write a novel and had to come up with a name for the vampire ... His notes show how he crossed out the old name he had and put in Dracula.

Most people, even experts in the field, say it's a given that Stoker based Count Dracula on Vlad the Impaler. I'm sort of a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

And is it true Stoker never went to Romania?

No, he never did.

I know you go to Romania periodically. What is the connection Romanians have with the myth of Vlad the Impaler and also with the issue of Vlad versus Dracula?

I've been going over this since 1994, and back then hardly any Romanian would have ever heard of Dracula. Because Dracula, I mean Vlad, to them was Vlad Tepes ... And that's how Romanian historians have traditionally referred to him. So that's the name you'd find in the history books. And the name Dracula in 1994 would mean nothing to 99 percent of the Romanian population, and Stoker's novel wasn't even heard of. It was first translated into Romanian in 1991.

... I think that what's happened in the last few years is that it's gotten a higher profile because of tourism and the desire to use Dracula, the Western Dracula -- which has nothing to do with Romanian legend at all, it's totally a Western construct -- as a kind of hook to attract more tourists to Romania. And, of course, the epitome of that now is the proposal for Dracula Park.

I understand it's been quite a controversy.

Quote from Interview:  How dare the West do that to our Romanian hero?  How dare this Irish writer turn our Vlad into a vampire?Oh, yes. I've been caught in the middle of that more than a couple times. But it's one of those things that you can argue on both sides. You know, there's one part of me that thinks, well, you can go to London and take a Sherlock Holmes tour. What's the difference between that and coming to Transylvania to take a Dracula tour? But the problem now is with the confusion with the two Draculas. Vendors start selling postcards of Vlad wearing fangs. That kind of thing.

I have some stuff that I bought over there. A Vlad doll, for example, with big long fangs and blood running out of his mouth. So what you're getting is a prostitution of your history and your culture ... .

When (Romanians) start to hear about our Dracula ... they say, "How dare the West do that to our Romanian hero? How dare this Irish writer turn our Vlad into a vampire?" So they swallow hook, line and sinker this whole concept of how Stoker was inspired by Vlad, and that becomes part of the --


The myth.

What about their connection to the original myth of Vlad? Is it strong?

I know that he still holds a place in their history books. And if you go into the big museum in Bucharest, the National History Museum, there's a room there dedicated to Vlad, and his bust is in the foyer. And there are statues of him and streets named after him in two or three Romanian cities ... he's more than a minor historical figure. And in some parts of Romania, for example, up near his fortress, he's very well remembered. The local people still tell legends about the wonderful things he did. He's looked upon as a sort of Robin Hood character.

But they know little about Dracula the vampire. They use the word now, because tourists are coming in talking about Dracula. But when Romanians say "Dracula," they are usually thinking about Vlad. They're not thinking about vampires.

Now all of a sudden, people are writing that Vlad must have been a vampire during his lifetime or must have been drinking the blood of his enemies or something to make him a vampire.

He was a pretty sadistic character.

No doubt about that. He was a pretty sadistic guy, although you will get Romanian historians who will argue till they're blue in the face that Vlad was no more than he had to be ... to preserve his country.

That the impaling of what, 20,000 Turks or something, was ...

Well, these were people who were invading his country. ...There are historians who will argue, yes, that this was sort of psychological warfare, and that this was battle strategy, and it was necessary because he was outnumbered 10 to one or 20 to one or whatever. And that he did what he had to do to protect his country.

So would you say that the prevalent characterization of Vlad the Impaler is more positive or more negative for Romanians?

At the present time? I would say it's still positive. Not maybe to the extreme that it might have been when [Nicolae] Ceausescu was rehabilitating Vlad's image in the 1970s. There was quite a push to bring out all kinds of books about Vlad, and there was a full-length movie made about him in the '70s ... , Vlad was one of (Ceaucescu's) historical heroes. Because, you know, Vlad was doing the same sorts of things that he saw himself doing.

And Vadim Tudor also compares himself in a positive way.

At one point Vadim Tudor even said that if he were elected he would be another Vlad the Impaler. I questioned some people about that. And they said, no, he didn't mean he would put people up on stakes. He was using it in the way that an English person would say that he'll be another Winston Churchill. You know, he'd be a bulldog and protect his country from all the insidious things that are invading. Tudor is an interesting piece of work.

Can you give me a Romanian anecdotal vampire myth?

I know that there's a strigoi, which is a kind of vampiric creature. I'm not a folklorist, and I wouldn't want to purport to be one. But the only overlap that I've studied ... is what Stoker would have read. What would have inspired Stoker to set the novel in Transylvania was that he had read of a belief in Transylvania in the Nosferatu, which incidentally, is not Romanian ... He read an article, written by a Scottish lady named Emily Gerard, ... called "Transylvanian superstitions," published in London, I think in 1885. And Stoker read it, and he took notes from it. And one of those notes was that in Romania the peasants believe in the vampires called Nosferatu, and went on to describe about how you get rid of a Nosferatu -- how you use garlic and how you use a wooden stake and drive it through its heart. So (Stoker) borrowed that ...

Quote from Interview: A lot of Romanian folklorists would say there are no vampires in Romanian folklore.Is there any connection between Vlad and Romanian folklore about vampires?

Many Romanian folklorists would say there are no vampires in Romanian folklore. Now whether you're dealing with a sort of defensive stance or not, it's hard to know. There are vampiric creatures in folklore, in Romanian folklore -- but they've never been connected to Vlad. So you're talking about two entirely different things.

Until recently, tourists would go over to Romania to see Dracula country, and, of course, they'd want to know where Dracula's castle was. And somebody would say, well, there it is over there, that's the one that Vlad stayed in. Oh, no, no, no, they want Count Dracula's castle. So they had this castle, Bran Castle, which they put forth for years and years as Dracula's castle. And it's got nothing to do with Dracula, it's got nothing to do with Vlad, it's got nothing to do with Count Dracula. It's an absolute fake. But it's a great castle. It's a genuine 13th-century castle.

Still, the tour guides and the tour books emphasize it as Dracula's castle. If you ask the curator there why, he'll say, "Well, the Americans were coming over asking for Dracula's castle, so we figured we'd better give them something on the main road."

What is the most interesting aspect of this that you have studied?

Quote From Interview: On one extreme, you have scholars who are probing into Dracula as an escape from the cultural anxieties of late Victorian England, and on the other extreme, you get some poor disturbed teenager who's asking his girlfriend to let him suck her blood. I think the thing that keeps me at it, that keeps me pursuing it, is that there are links to everything.

For example, you can look at the whole question of bats and how bats got associated with Dracula. And then you can go into the history, you can go into the folklore, you can go into the anthropology, you can go into religious studies ... because you can look at the whole Dracula legend as Stoker re-creates it as a kind of affirmation of Christianity.

Or the movies. Just the whole way the vampire has become something entirely different in the latter part of the 20th century. It's become a romanticized, eroticized kind of creature.


Fantasized, for children. Really, as the Count on Sesame Street. It's amazing how this has proliferated. Every aspect -- you have Dracula ballets, Dracula musicals, Dracula comic books ... -- you name it, it's there. Very few fictional icons have permeated culture to such an extent as Dracula.

So what is it about Dracula that creates this phenomenon?

It's a way to explore the dark side without actually committing yourself to it. The kind of thing that attracts people to horror films. But you know it's tapping into some primordial fears about blood and the loss of blood. And about an attacker and victim.

And then there's power and, gee, rebellion. Vampires of the '90s are like hippies of the '60s. Kids always need something to do to shock the parents. So it's a kind of rebellion against authority figures, in that sense.

So do you see a real movement? Is there a real movement among youth, a Goth revival if you will?

Well, I think that there's a distinction: Quite a few people in the Goth movement are not particularly interested in vampires. I think of Goth as more of a fashion statement, a kind of music preference. You know, you'll get the occasional person who's actually into vampirism. But they're a very, very small minority.

So then what is the specific vampire movement of the '90s, would you say?

Quote from Interview: Vampire of the '90s are like hippies of the '60s.Well, I think it's sort of tied in to the popularity of Anne Rice's books. Vampires have become these romantic (figures) ... I mean I get e-mails from people who ask me [using] an Anne Rice phrase, "Can you give me the dark gift?" They want me to turn them into vampires. I say, "Sorry, that's not my line of work."

I have met only five people who claim they are living vampires. Now, they don't claim that they have supernatural powers. But they ... they're blood drinkers.

There have been some studies done on vampire crime.

I never like to speak too much about it. Because you're really dealing with psychiatric illness ... Very specialized kind of thing. It's got nothing really to do with vampires. You're talking about seriously disturbed teenagers.

But again it shows that on one extreme, you have scholars who are probing into Dracula as a reflection of the cultural anxieties of late Victorian England, and on the other extreme, you get some poor disturbed teenager who's asking his girlfriend to let him suck her blood. So it's quite a spectrum.

What about your scholarly meetings?

The World Dracula Conference. We're having one in 2003. It's an academic conference, and there are papers given by Romanian historians, Romanian folklorists, and a lot of North American literary scholars. Afterward they have a Dracula tour. And some of the people just come to go on the tour. And a lot of the scholars go on the tour and have a little fun, you know, go to a masked ball at the Dracula hotel. But it's not a fan convention, it's a scholarly conference. Some of the papers will even put you to sleep.

Would you say you're a vampirist, like a deconstructionist or a postmodernist?

Oh, I try to avoid all of those terms. I don't know which one scares me the most. No, I consider myself a literary detective. That's how I like to think of myself.

QUIZ - Do you know how to spot a "Vampire"?
Back to "Dracula: The Metamorphosis of a Fiend"

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Photo: Elizabeth Miller
Credit: Elizabeth Miller

Photo: Dracula definition
Credit: Rosenbach Museum & Library