Chasing Dracula: An Interview with Dacre Stoker
DISPELLING THE MYTHS AND TAKING A MORE
RESPONSIBLE APPROACH TO DRACULA TOURISM
If you are a Dracula fan and you love to travel, you probably already know that there are several Dracula-themed travel guides available out there. So, what's particularly new about yet another travel guide? Most of these guides function under the assumption that Vlad the Impaler is the inspiration for the Count in Bram Stoker's novel, and they often offer various sites associated with Vlad's history. There's certainly nothing wrong with visiting these sites or promoting them - the histories they convey, their marvelous architecture, and their timeless beauty make them worth adding to one's bucket list. A traveller, however, needs to appreciate them for what they are - sites connected to Vlad and Romanian history. Their connection to Dracula may be tenuous at best. As more theorists, writers, and travellers simply accept the link between Vlad and Dracula as a given, this misguided connection between them only solidifies and strengthens. Unfortunately, the link between Vlad and the Count has become a taken-for-granted assumption.
There have been bodies of work and theorists who have questioned these perceived links. Dacre Stoker, great grand-nephew of Bram Stoker, in particular, questions whether this link exists at all. In his quest to find the connections, he is presently formulating a travel guide with colleague Hans C. De Roos which challenges previous assumptions. He does not completely discount the link between Vlad and the Count. He merely questions the all-too-common assumption (propagated by some tourism companies and travellers alike) that they are one in the same individual.
Bram Stoker's novel contained several locations worth pursuing separate from Vlad's history which will be addressed in Stoker's and De Roos' upcoming guide. Contrary to what some travel guides and various sites on the web may convey, Stoker argues that the 'actual' location of the Count's castle as imagined by Bram, for example, is not Bran Castle. Does this mean that a traveller must forget about visiting Vlad's sites altogether? No, certainly not. Examining the two histories and any perceived links between them - one fictional, one presumably based on fact - only adds to a traveller's journey and lends a more comprehensive overview of the two figures' cultural and sociological significance. In the end, one can only surmise as to the connections between the Impaler and the Count but Stoker and De Roos take painstaking lengths to ensure their map and their interpretations of Bram's notes are accurate.
So, how does this travel guide differ from others?
It will be the first travel guide which will please the academics, the avid travellers, and the Dracula fans who love popular culture. Their guide will provide a much-needed creative, intellectual, and responsible approach to Bram's life, the Count, and Vlad.
In your opinion, why do you think there is so much fascination surrounding Dracula?
Hard to tell really as Vampires have been around in some form or another for hundreds of years; myth, literature, stage plays, TV, movies, toys, costumes, even lifestyles. The Vampire represents so many things; power, sexuality, forbidden fantasy, and of course the allure of immortality. The novel can be read on many levels. I have met plenty of people who have read it and are on personal quests to try to experience similar feelings by travelling to locations in the novel so that they can explore what they read about in the novel.
Tell me more about the travel guide. What inspired you to write it?
I had spent a lot of time in Dublin, Ireland doing research on Bram and I found very little information about the places where he lived, worked and studied. So I felt the only thing to do was to take it upon myself to create a Travel Guide so others would have an easier time getting to know Bram and the different parts of the city where he grew up and lived and was possibly inspired to write Dracula. In addition, when reading Dracula it was so obvious that Bram used real places to locate the action in his novel, that it made sense to me to assist others by pointing out where these locations are and how to get to them and what they are like today.
What steps did you take to compile a comprehensive listing of the locations relevant to Bram Stoker and his novel?
It was difficult, we re-read Dracula and listed all the locations that were mentioned then referred to maps and had to make sure that the old names in Romania were translated to the modern names. We also had to make sure that the roadways were accurate so we could explain to readers how to get around to the appropriate places. Obviously Bram’s characters did not have the opportunity to travel on the same roads as are available today, so we had to provide the routes that exist today to allow the present day traveller to get as close to the routes and locations that appeared in the novel.
Can you give us some insight as to why Bram Stoker would not have wanted Dracula to be associated with Vlad (you briefly mentioned this on your website)?
We know very little, based on fact, of how much Bram Stoker based his character Count Dracula on the real Vlad Dracula lll. We know he saw the name Dracula and a brief explanation of the name in a book by William Wilkinson which he researched in a library in Whitby UK. What else he knew about the real historical Prince is left a mystery. Authors, filmmakers etc. have blurred the edges between fact and fantasy to the point where most in pop culture believe that Vlad and the Count are one in the same. Therefore, I feel it is important to disconnect the two and actually assist the Romanians in setting the story straight which would actually create two almost parallel streams of tourism, one to point out the locations associated with the real Prince Dracula and the other to point out the locations associated with the action in the novel Dracula. Both are intriguing and involve visiting many beautiful and interesting sites.
There appears to be some sort of resistance to the suggestion that Dracula may not be as closely linked to Vlad as initially argued by theorists. In your opinion, why do you think this resistance exists?
It exists because so little source (material written by Bram) remains about Bram’s writing of Dracula. So all we can go on for sure is that Bram, in his research, read a book by William Wilkinson about Wallachia and Moldavia that mentioned the origin of the name Dracula and how he fought the Turks, but very little else about Vlad Dracula lll. So there is plenty of speculation about what else Bram might have known and where he may have found other information about his famous vampire Count. Most people forget that Bram was only writing a book of fiction and he most likely took bits and pieces of characteristics, names, myths and legends, and combined them as he pleased to create the characters for his novel.
I have noticed a few Dracula travel guides written that do treat Dracula and Vlad as one in the same. How do you think it would change a traveller's experience if the histories and locations surrounding these two characters were explored separately?
I feel it would only enhance travellers' experiences if they knew the truth and were told how both the real historical Vlad Dracula lll and the fictional Count Dracula were connected. If you were to go to Romania to visit just Vlad Dracula lll sites you would miss some interesting places related to the novel. There are more scenic places to visit based on the life and reign of Vlad Dracula lll than there are Dracula novel sites. I also find it very interesting to follow the many trails and visit the locations that Bram used for his characters who travelled mostly in the northern part of the country. One could easily devote the time to conduct two totally separate trips if you had the time, one for Vlad history and the other for the novel's history. One must remember that Romania is a lovely and welcoming country with plenty of amazing scenery and welcoming people. However the roads are narrow and twist and turn up and down the many mountains scattered throughout the country. It takes much longer then you initially think to get around in Romania.
Out of all the various areas featured in your travel guide, which location would you recommend Bram Stoker fans do not pass up visiting?
That is a tough question, as there are so many wonderful places to see associated both with the real Vlad and the Count in the novel. My personal top 3: The Princely Palace at Targoviste is a well preserved Castle with fortifications and a beautiful church and it is a bon-fide Prince Dracula location. Bran Castle in Brasov is beautiful inside and out, apparently Vlad was possibly held captive there for a few days, but it is a must see. The City of Bistritza is definitely worth a visit, it is where Jonathan Harker spent a night at the Golden Crone Hotel en route to Castle Dracula. The modern Golden Crone hotel is nothing like the one described in the book, but it is a nice place to stay and it has a themed restaurant reminiscent of the novel.
Can you tell me a little about the Izvorul Calimanului Mountain and its significance to the novel?
This mountain, close to the Borgo Pass, is the actual location that Bram planned for his fictional Castle Dracula. The map coordinates are written in his Dracula notes. There is no Castle there, however. It is an extinct volcano so when one reads the original ending to Dracula, it makes sense that it is where Bram intended the castle to be. Once again I am sure he combined elements of different castles, Bran Castle being one of them, to describe his famous Castle Dracula.
Any challenges or obstacles you have had to overcome when writing this travel guide?
Hans and I had to make sure that we had the most up to date information about hotels, and other pertinent travel information. The names of cities and villages in Romania have changed a lot over the years between Hungarian, German, and Romanian - this depended on the region of the country, who was in power at the time, and who had made the map that we were referring to.
What are your thoughts on the various Dracula related tours currently available out there? Can you recommend any? Would you suggest going on such tours or venturing out on one's own using a guide?
I have a close relationship with the owners of Romania Treasures Travel. With my guidance they have started running the exact type of tours that I have described above. I will be hosting tours with Romania Treasures Travel this April/May and also in July. There are many tour operators in Romania. Like any other country there are both good and bad tour guides. It is very helpful to have a good tour guide either for a personal tour or to be part of a group, whatever your preference and pocketbook can support.
When do you anticipate the travel guide will be available?
Hard to tell at this point. Hans and I keep refining the manuscript with updates and also with personal impressions on our return visits to specific locations. I am hopeful that sometime in 2016 it will be published.
Do you think it would take away from any tourist-related ventures or projects linking the two characters, or do you think the ongoing mystery surrounding who Dracula may have been modeled after would only add further to a traveller's experience?
I have been to Romania 5 times now and have met with many different people in different county governments and also the tourism business. It is obvious that at one time, and it still happens in some places today, opportunistic tour guides etc, love to merge the two Dracula’s together. Outside of Romania the book Dracula was much more famous then the real Prince Vlad Dracula lll, so it makes sense for them to capitalize on the “superstar”. In my opinion it does take away if you mislead tourists, it is much better if you approach Dracula tourism in a more responsible manner, by educating visitors about the interesting and factual life of Vlad Dracula lll and at the same time capitalize on the locations and settings of the novel Dracula. This way you appeal to many different types of tourists; both academic, those interested in literature, and also those interested in popular culture.