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One of the greatest characters in all of horror fiction is Count Dracula. The character is very well-known around the globe and has appeared in countless books, movies, and even video games. Dracula first appeared in an epistolary novel, written by the Irish author Brahm Stoker in the late nineteenth century. The success of the novel and subsequent adaptations ensured that Count Dracula has stayed in the popular imagination ever since. There has been much speculation as to whether or not the fictional character was based on a real-life historical figure. This article examines those historical figures which may have inspired the Irishman to create his immortal Count Dracula. It also discusses the possibility that the development of the character was inspired by Irish mythological figures.
one.jpg|200px|thumb|left| Brahm Stoker]] ==Vampires in European folklore==
Many cultures have myths and legends about vampires and the first known references to these beings were in Ancient Mesopotamia. These figures are very common in European legends, especially in the Balkans. Traditions about the vampire are in particular very much associated with Romania. Vampires are typically beings, who were once human, had died, and continue to exist because they are feeding on some vital force, usually the blood of the living. They are classed as a species of revenant and that is a visible ghost or spirit. Typically, they were criminals, social deviants, witches, and suicides, in life. These undead figures would haunt their old homes and remote areas. They are usually portrayed as evil figures who do harm to innocent people and often kill them, in their efforts to obtain blood <ref> Frayling, Christopher (Vampyres, Lord Byron to Count Dracula (London: Faber, 1991), p 6 </ref>. In various folktales vampires not only killed the innocent, but they turned them into blood-suckers. There is plenty of archaeological evidence that shows that people from all over Europe took preventative measures to ensure that the dead did not return to haunt the living as vampires, such as driving stakes into the heart of a corpse or placing stones in their mouths. Many historians believe that the folk beliefs of vampires arose because of misunderstandings or ignorance of what happened to the body after death. Beliefs in vampires was once pervasive especially in Eastern Europe and there were many instances of mass hysteria brought about by the fear of the undead who drank the blood of the living. Indeed, in the past many innocent people were brutally executed during these hysterias because they were alleged to be vampires, even as late as the eighteenth century <ref>Frayling, p 11</ref>.
Stoker (1847-1912) was not the first to write about vampires. Polidori and Sheridan Le Fanu previously wrote about Vampires and these tales are considered to be masterpieces of the genre. Stoker’s, character was different, and the vampire is as a very ambiguous and even human figure, unlike the traditional depictions of the beings as simply hideous and monstrous, beings. In the Irishman’s work, Count Dracula’s early years are only briefly discussed. It appears that he was a member of the landed nobility and belonged to the Selkyer ethnic group, who are kin to the Hungarians. The native land of the Count is described as the land beyond the forest, this is an old term to refer to the region of Transylvania in modern Romania. Count Dracula we are told was an outstanding figure in his times. He was a leader of his people and was also a great knight. The Count was very brave in the defense of his homeland against the Ottoman Turks, who constantly attacked his people. In Stoker’s novel, Dracula was a great warrior and knight who fearlessly fought the Muslim Turks and helped to maintain the freedom of his native land and people. The character is shown to be possessed of great intellect and a ferocious curiosity <ref> Bram Stoker Dracula edited by Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal (London, Norton, 1997)</ref>. There was no science or art that he did not study. However, like Faust, he grew dissatisfied with science and reason and began to study the dark arts and in particular alchemy and black magic. Stoker has his character studying magic and alchemy in an academy in the Carpathian Mountains in his native Transylvania. Despite this Dracula is a very respected figure who falls in love and marries. When his wife commits suicide because of a false report of his death, he is distraught <ref>Stoker, p 24</ref>. The local Orthodox priests refuse to bury his wife, because suicide is a mortal sin, and told him that she would never see Heaven. The Count is outraged and renounces his Christianity and turns to the dark side. In his anger, he commits various acts of sacrilege. When he wounds some religious figures’, he drinks their blood and at this point, he becomes a vampire. Stoker shows the Count as voluntarily becoming a vampire. Later he dies and is entombed but leaves his burial place every night and continues to live in his castle, attended by three female bloodsuckers. Stoker portrays the Count as having a series of supernatural powers and these include the ability to become invisible and to turn those he bit also into vampires <ref> Stoker, p 117</ref>. Moreover, he is described as the leaders of the undead and those who drank the blood of the living. Stoker portrays Dracula to be hundreds of years old, but he appears to be young because the blood of his many victims allowed him to stay young. In the Irishman’s novel, the character is shown traveling to England as part of his attempt to dominate the world. He is thwarted and later killed. Many of the characteristics of the Count were added by later writers and filmmakers. However, every representation of Dracula has been decisively influenced by the Dubliner’s novel.
[[File: Dracula 4.jpg|200px|thumb|left|Bela Lugosi as Dracula c 1939]]