In the list of stars vaulted into fame during the seventies, he is an unlikely candidate. His lank black hair, unkempt eyebrows, overgrown mustache and stern dark green eyes hardly fit in with the feathered blonds dominating the silver screen.
But along with the bouncy beauty of Farah Fawcet and dreamy teen-idol, David Cassidy, the seventies also propelled a forgotten 15th century Romanian prince into international stardom.
In 1972, Radu Florescu, a Romanian academic and historian, published “In Search of Dracula.” Rather than an exploration into the mythology of vampires, the book focused on the possible link between the real Prince Vlad III and Bram Stoker’s fictional Count Dracula. Thanks to the popularity of the best seller, the historical Romanian Prince Vlad III became a household name. The world now a had real Dracula to contend with.
No longer was Bela Lugosi the face of Dracula. Vlad III Dracula, aka “Son of the Dragon” aka “Impaler Prince” aka “Vlad Ţepeş” had stepped onto the stage.
How much Bram Stoker actually based Dracula on Vlad III is still a matter of debate. Though he chose the name Dracula (a much better choice then his original, rather obvious, “Count Wampyr”) Bram Stoker seems to have been only dimly aware of Vlad III’s actual history. Regardless of how much Stoker did or didn’t know, it seems clear that he intended his character Dracula to more then simply a fictionalized version of Vlad III.
Though previous to “In Search of Dracula” Vlad Tepes was unknown to most of the world, he was never forgotten by Romanians. In a country ruled by Germans, Turks, Ottomans, and Hungarians, Vlad was an exception. Vlad was a native Romanian (or more specifically a Vlach or Wallachian, from the area of Romania next to Transylvania). Vlad was one of their own. Loved by Popes and peasants alike, Vlad Tepes was a folk hero.
M and I had the chance to visit a few of the places where Vlad III had cast his shadow while on our travels in Transylvania. One was the dark and beautiful medieval town of Sighişoara, where Vlad was born in 1431. (Vlad’s supposed birth house now sports a Vlad Tepes plaque, and a medieval theme restaurant on the second floor, where I had the chance to sample the local specialty of breaded brains.)
Vlad was the 3rd of four brothers. Vlad’s father, Vlad II, was a governor but he quickly claimed the throne of ruler of Wallachia under the authority of the Hungarian Kingdom. Known simply as “the Dragon” or “Dracul”, he came to be called the dragon after being initiated into the Order of the Dragon; an order established by the King of Hungary, made up of European rulers with the unified intention of stopping the Ottoman Empire’s advance.
Little Vlad III was initiated into the “Order of the Dragon” at the tender age of five, and was henceforth known as “Son of the Dragon” or “Dracula”.
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