Yesterday, I was flipping through a natty copy of Kurt Brokaw’s A Night in Transylvania (1976) at a local library. The book had been in circulation since at least since 1977. I actually own a copy, but it was nice to see it on the library’s shelves.
I enjoy seeing traces of a book’s history in libraries (like the due dates, above), especially as books this old are typically weeded from their collections. Not only is it reassuring to know that the book was borrowed and read by someone (especially in this era of declining library usage), but there’s a connection you feel to the past—a human connection—like meeting someone back in time.
And sometimes, those people can be idiots:It’s not my favourite book about Dracula (that honour goes to Elizabeth Miller’s Dracula: Sense and Nonsense [2000; 2006]), but surely it still deserved better treatment than juvenile graffiti.
But it was the caption accompanying a 15th century representation of Vlad that really caught my attention:
“An appetite for blood?” it read. “Vlad dining outside the palace; from a fifteenth-century German pamphlet, which is probably accurate in its description.”
My mind immediately raced back to a popular misconception: Vlad dipped his his bread in blood while dining amidst a forest of the impaled.
As far as I knew, that myth originated with the revised edition (1994) of Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu’s 1972 book, In Search of Dracula. Hans Corneel de Roos uncovered an earlier source: McNally and Florescu’s 1989 book, Dracula, Prince of Many Faces.
Whatever the source was, the myth can be traced back to their poor (or falsified) translation of Michael Beheim’s poem Von ainem wutrich der heis Trakle waida von der Walachei (1463), which mentioned Vlad washing his hands in blood, not dipping his bread in it. But seeing Brokaw’s caption made me wonder how far back that bullshit goes—because he didn’t stop at that caption:
He [Vlad Dracula] seemed to relish his roles as judge, jury and executioner; some say he occasionally drank blood while dining among a forest of impaled victims.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, if you’re used to this kind of weasel-wording that is, no source is given for the claim. Fortunately, Brokaw quickly reins it back in:
Turks, Saxons, and Hungarians began to speak of Dracula as a bloodthirsty monster around 1459–60, but this was probably because he spilled so much blood and not because he drank it. There is no evidence to suggest that Dracula practiced vampirism in the accepted sense of the word—draining blood from a bite wound in the neck.
Good save, Brokaw. But wait, what’s this?
Vampire lore will be discussed in detail in a later chapter, but it is worthwhile noting here that fifteenth-century Transylvanians had a tradition of belief in both vampirism and the undead. The sheer fact that Dracula among all rulers caused such excessive blood-letting is a significant link to the vampire lore that followed his reign.
Well, it would be significant—if Brokow had actually provided any examples of 15th century Transylvanian vampire (or undead) lore linking back to Vlad in someway. He doesn’t. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too.
In the meantime, I’m left wondering: were McNally and Florescu inspired by Brokaw’s passage? How far back do attempts at turning Vlad into a blooddrinker go? Is there a source out that that confirms he actually did drink blood after all?
If you know, share your source in the comments section.
- “An appetite for blood?”: Kurt Brokaw, A Night in Transylvania: The Dracula Scrapbook (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976), 21.
- a popular misconception that I attributed to Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu: Anthony Hogg, “Was Vlad Dracula a Vampire?” Vamped, January 27, 2015, accessed March 7, 2017, http://vamped.org/2015/01/27/vlad-dracula-vampire/. archive.is link: https://archive.is/7LunN.
- Hans Corneel de Roos uncovered an earlier source: Hans Corneel de Roos, “Bloody Nonsense: How Two Scholars Pulled Off the Great Dracula Swindle,” Vamped, May 26, 2016, accessed March 7, 2017, http://vamped.org/2016/05/26/great-dracula-swindle/. archive.is link: https://archive.is/DEMRj.
- “He [Vlad Dracula] seemed to relish his roles”: Brokaw, A Night in Transylvania, 23.
- “Turks, Saxons, and Hungarians”: Ibid.
- “Vampire lore will be discussed in detail”: Ibid.