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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Authors Who Frighten: Bram Stoker


Bram Stoker: enigmatic, mysterious, dark, the creator of Count Dracula, a character who will forever change our perception of vampires… But who was he, really?


Bram Stoker was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1847. It was a time in which fairies and goblins, thin veils between the living and the dead, and supernatural creatures that stalked the island were frequent themes in tales handed down through the generations. During the winter months it was often dark by 4:00 in the afternoon and the sun might not rise until mid-morning. As the darkness crept around the inhabitants with only candles to light their way, it was the perfect environment for a young, sickly child to absorb the tales his mother spun.


Stoker met Ármin Vámbéry, a noted traveler who also served as a double agent, in London. Vámbéry shared stories of his childhood and travels with Stoker, regaling him with scenes from his native Austrian Empire (now Slovakia), which led to Stoker’s own travels to the Carpathian Mountains, Slovakia and Hungary. Stoker was inspired to write about the supernatural from the haunting tales of Eastern Europe coupled with the stories his mother spun of Olde Ireland.


But it wouldn’t be until Stoker was 50 years old that his book, Dracula, was published. Until that time he was better known as the assistant to a famous actor, Henry Irving. When Stoker asked Irving for his opinion of his manuscript, the actor told him it was “dreadful”. Irving was rumored to be the inspiration behind the mannerisms of Count Dracula. The name “Dracula” reportedly came from Vlad II of Wallachia, also known as Vlad the Impaler for impaling his enemies on stakes throughout Romania. He was known as Dracul, a Romanian term for “the devil” or “the dragon”. (In Romanian, drac means devil or dragon, and ul means the.)


The original manuscript was titled “The Un-dead” but was changed before publication. Upon its release in 1897, the book garnered critical praise but was not a bestseller.


Stoker died at the age of 62. During the last 12 years of his life, he wrote prolifically. The first movie based on his book Dracula was not developed until 1922, 10 years after his death. It launched a lawsuit by Stoker’s widow, Florence Balcombe, who had not been compensated for the movie rights, and was settled in 1925 in Florence’s favor. However, it was discovered a few years later that Stoker had not complied with United States copyright law in registering his work, and Dracula became public domain in the USA. Outside of the USA, the book remained copyrighted until 1962, fifty years after Stoker died.


Perhaps the most famous movie based on Stoker’s book starred Bela Lugosi and was not released until 1931. It was only then that the tale of Dracula became immortalized. Since then, more than a thousand movies, television shows, plays and books have been written about Count Dracula, and countless more have been inspired by Stoker’s most famous villain.


When Dracula was published in 1897, a genre known as “invasion literature” was very popular throughout the British Empire. Authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson also wrote of supernatural or imaginary creatures who sought to infiltrate England. In 1871, the book Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, told of a lesbian vampire who preyed on a lonely woman, and in 1885, Emily Gerard published a series of short stories entitled Transylvania Superstitions.

Stoker did not earn a great deal of money from his writings, and shortly before his death, he petitioned a grant from the Royal Literary Fund because he could not pay his bills. In 1913, his widow auctioned an outline of Dracula through Sotheby’s of London. The outline sold for two pounds. The original manuscript was found in Pennsylvania in the 1980’s and was sold to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for an undisclosed amount.


Sometimes an author’s legacy lies in what he or she leaves behind. In Stoker’s case, Dracula has perhaps forever changed the way in which vampires and bats are depicted.

The haunting feel of Dracula inspired many of my own books, including the ghostly scenes in Vicki's Key. It had a particular affect on Dylan's Song, which takes place in the haunting Irish bogs not far from many of the places that inspired Bram Stoker's own writing. If you're traveling to Dublin, be sure and tour the Dublin Writers Museum, featuring many of Ireland's most famous authors.