In Search of Dracula – Raymond T. McNally & Radu Florescu
Houghton Mifflin – 1994 (First published 1973)
I “reviewed” Bram Stoker’s Dracula on this site about 8 years ago when I was starting out as a blogger, but it was at least 7 years before that that I actually read the book. I’ve been meaning to reread it for a while now, and I thought I’d do a bit of background research beforehand. While reading Ken Rayner Johnson’s Zoltan, Hound of Dracula, I came across a quote from Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu’s In Search of Dracula. I had heard of this book somewhere before, and I decided to read it. I found a copy last week and gave it a go.
This book is supposedly the text that popularised the idea that Stoker’s Count Dracula was based on Vlad the Impaler, the historical Voivode of Wallachia. I’ve always assumed that this was common knowledge, but apparently not. When I was a kid, I had a book about torture methods, and it had a small piece on Vlad. This is probably where I first heard of him, and the accompanying image (see below) ensured I never forgot about him. Vlad was a really bad dude, and he was known as Dracula, but it is uncertain how much of an influence he actually had on the Count’s personality. Stoker does actually reference him a couple of times in his text, but he never mentions his heinous acts. It’s not certain how much he actually knew about Vlad, but it is safe to assume that he did use his name deliberately. Dracula means Son of the Dragon.
In Search of Dracula is basically a biography of Vlad Dracula with a few chapters on Stoker and vampires at the end. I read the revised 1994 edition (the original was published in 1973), and I skipped big chunks of the chapter on Vampire fiction and movies. (I don’t want to ruin the endings of books I’ll hopefully read some day.) The bibliography is extensive here too. There’s almost 100 pages of appendices after the main text of the book. My favourite parts were the translated first-hand sources on Dracula. These were the bits containing the most grisly details of his cruelties. My favourite part was when he saw a farmer wearing a shirt that was too small. He calls the guy over and talks to him. On discovering that the man is an illustrious, hard-working fellow, he has his wife impaled on a spike for failing to provide her husband with a fitting shirt.
Another time, Vlad “caught a gypsy who had stolen. Then the other gypsies came to him and begged him to release him to them. Dracula said, “He should hang, and you should hang him.” They said: “That is not according to our custom.” Dracula had the gypsy boiled in a pot, and when he was cooked, he forced them to eat him, flesh and bone.” Later on, he gathers all the sick and unemployed people of a village into a building with the promise of a delicious meal. Then he locks the doors and burns them alive. Psych!
I’ve been on a non-fiction kick recently, and this book, while boring at times, was quite refreshing. The authors were actual academics, and they provide proper evidence for their claims. It was nice to read a non-fiction book about vampires that wasn’t utterly ridiculous. The last one I read was terrible.
I also watched the documentary based on this book. It was shockingly boring. It’s just Christopher Lee slowly reading some of the sentences from this book over footage of Romanian peasants dancing. Avoid it if you can. It adds nothing to the book.