Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Origins of Vampires

Inspiration is a miraculous thing. Where does it come from? What inspired the creation of Snow White, Star Wars or Count Dracula? I’m not sure, but according to Vlad the Impaler: The Real Count Dracula, the later was inspired by a Romanian prince with a very unpleasant personality. Although there had been tales of vampires for hundreds of years, it was an Irishman named Bram Stoker who borrowed Vlad Dracula’s name, his castle in the Carpathian Mountains and a bit of his bloody reputation to create the novel titled Dracula in 1897.

Born in 1431, Vlad was named after his father, Vlad Dracul. Dracul was the Romanian word for “dragon.” Vlad Sr. took that as his last name after joining the Order of Dragons. This was a group of 23 royal leaders who vowed to protect the Holy Roman Empire from the advancing Turks. Vlad’s young offspring became known as Vlad Dracula, meaning “little dragon.”

Unlike Count Dracula, Vlad Dracula was not known for sucking blood out of people. But he did seem to thrive on killing people. His preferred method, as you can surmise from the title of the book, was impalement. He held a grudge against the upper crust, so he impaled them. The Germans didn’t hand over his half brother so he impaled them. One woman didn’t sew her husband’s clothes to Vlad’s satisfaction so he impaled her. He displayed the impaled. He dined among the impaled. He reveled in the impaled. One monk reported that he dipped his bread in his impaled victim’s blood before eating it. Yuck! Just to mix things up a bit, he also burned live people to death, hacked people to death and worked people to death. It is estimated that Vlad killed 40,000 all told.

If your child is fascinated by the morbid, than this book is for him/her. And on the positive side they will gain a sense of what life was like in this tumultuous part of the world in the 15th Century. It includes sidebars on Black Death, Constantinople and three empires: Holy Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, as well as a timeline and glossary. It is a “feels good in your hands” sized book and it's part of Scholastic’s Wicked History series. Other titles in this series include: Genghis Khan: 13th Century Mongolian Tyrant, Ivan the Terrible: Tsar of Death, Mary Tudor: Courageous Queen or Bloody Mary?, Henry VIII: Royal Beheader and Hannibal: Rome's Worst Nightmare.

Ages 12 and up

Activity: Sink your teeth into a pastry that shares it’s geographic origins with Dracula (though this luscious snack is now associated with Hungary). Rest assured, good things have come out of Transylvania! Here is the recipe for Chimney Cakes. I found it at a National Geographic Travel blog.

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