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The character of Dracula is the most famous vampire in fiction, created by the Irish writer Bram Stoker in his 1897 horror novel of the same name. It is an epistolary novel, that is, told mostly in diaries and letters from the characters, although Stoker also fabricates newspaper clippings, and even uses transcriptions of a dictation machine, then very new.

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Warning: Contains spoilers

Dracula is set in Transylvania and England and tells of various encounters with the bloodsucking Count Dracula. Characters include Jonathan Harker, an English lawyer who is imprisoned in the count's crumbling castle in Transylvania, where he is attacked by three female vampires. Later a Russian ship runs aground in Whitby. All passengers and crew are dead. A huge dog or wolf is seen running from the ship, which contains nothing but boxes of dirt from Transylvania.

The Count reappears and is soon menacing Harker's fiancée, Mina Murray and her friend, Lucy Westernra. There is a notable encounter between Count Dracula and Renfield, an insane man who eats insects, rats and birds because he can't get any larger living thing to provide him with "life force".

Lucy's mother is killed by a strange wolf and Lucy becomes pale and distrait. The Dutch vampire expert, Professor Van Helsing, is brought in and determines that Lucy's mother was killed by Dracula in lupine form and that Lucy is dying. Despite several blood transfusions, Lucy dies, and then, horribly, reappears as a vampire and is caught drinking a child's blood. They kill her and track Dracula back to Transylvania, where they kill him.

Although crude and sensational, the novel also has psychological power, and the sexual longings underlying the vampire attacks are manifest. Despite its important contributions to the vampire myth, Count Dracula does not appear as a bat, and he is killed by knives, not a wooden stake.


Many authors claim that Stoker loosely based his character on the historic Wallachian (southern Romania) ruler Vlad III, also known as Vlad Tepes ("Vlad the Impaler"). In his six year reign (1436-1442) he is estimated to have killed 100,000 people, mainly by using his favourite method of impaling them on a sharp pole. However, it should be noted that the history of Romania at this time was mainly recorded by German immigrants, a group with which Vlad Tepes is known to have clashed several times. Indeed, Vlad Tepes is revered as a folk hero by native Romanians for driving off invading Turks with his brutal tactics. The attribution of Vlad Tepes as the source of Stoker's Dracula is challenged by those who have studied Stoker and claim that he had no knowledge of Tepes before writing his book.

The name Dracula is derived from a secret fraternal order of knights called the Order of the Dragon, founded by King Sigismund of Hungary[?] (who became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1410) to uphold Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. Vlad III's father (Vlad II) was admitted to the Order around 1431 because of his bravery in fighting the Turks. From 1431 onward Vlad II wore the emblem of the order and later, as ruler of Wallachia, his coinage bore the dragon symbol. The word for "dragon" in Romanian is drac (from Latin draco) and ul is the definite article. Vlad III's father thus came to be known as Vlad Dracul, or "Vlad the Dragon". In Romanian the ending ulea means "the son of". Under this interpretation, Vlad III thus became Vlad Dracula, or "The Son of the Dragon." (The word drac also means "devil" in Romanian, giving a double meaning to the name for enemies of Vlad Tepes and his father.)

In writing Dracula, Stoker may also have drawn upon stories about blood-drinking ghouls from his native Ireland, and the Dracula myth as he created it and as it has been portrayed in films and television shows ever since may be a compound of various influences; many of Stoker's biographers and literary critics have found strong similarities to Sheridan le Fanu's earlier classic of the vampire genre, Carmilla.


One of the first movie adaptations of Stoker's story actually caused Stoker's estate to sue for copyright infringement. In 1922, silent film director F.W. Murnau made a horror film called Nosferatu the Vampire, which took the story of Dracula and set it in Germany. In the story, Dracula's role was changed to that of Count Orlok[?], one of the most hideous versions of the vampire to be created for a movie. The Stoker estate won its lawsuit and all existing prints of Nosferatu were ordered to be destroyed. However, a number of pirated copies of the movie survived to the present era, where they entered the public domain. Nosferatu was also remade in 1979 by Werner Herzog.

The film Shadow of the Vampire (2000) was about the filming of Nosferatu, with the twist that Max Schreck[?], the rarely-seen actor playing the vampire, actually was a vampire. John Malkovich plays Murnau and Willem Dafoe plays Schreck.

The 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi and directed by Tod Browning is one of the more famous versions of the story and is commonly considered a horror classic. In 2000 the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

In 1956, Hammer Films produced a newer, more Gothic version of the story with the title The Horror of Dracula[?]. This version of the story, starring Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, is widely considered to be the most faithful version of the story to be adapted to film.

In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola produced and directed a new version of the movie, called Bram Stoker's Dracula starring Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder. Coppola's story included a subplot in which Mina Harker was revealed to be the reincarnation of Dracula's greatest love. This story was not part of the Stoker's original. The soundtrack included 'Lovesong for a Vampire' by Annie Lennox.

See also:

Dracula -- The genus of orchids

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