For someone who’s not into vampires, I sure read, post and talk a lot about them. From the time I was ten, there was always someone talking about Dracula. Usually a kid my age. But there were a lot of Dracula spoofs, and the legend was somehow always there.
Dracula scared me. I think it was the biting thing. Though on some deeper level, I’m sure it also had everything to do with your soul being damned. I never believed in God being the white guy with the long beard, and there being different religions was never a problem. Because ultimately we all believed in the same thing, a benign energy that guides us, an energy we can’t fully comprehend, so we give it different names in accordance with our respective cultural backgrounds. But to willingly cut yourself off from this benign energy and live your life in darkness, eternal damnation – that was too much to handle.
This was way before the Vampires-that-sparkle-in-the-sunlight craze, though I dare say that most likely would have made me laugh at it all. Plus, we all knew Dracula was from Romania, and there were a lot of Romanians around growing up. While we never suspected them of being in league with any vampires, it still brought Dracula’s homeland very close. “The forest spells mystery and comfort to us,” a German actor once told me. And we had Latin in school, we knew what Transylvania meant. Interestingly, the fact that my own father was born and raised there never factored in. Though, it’s true that in the beginning I didn’t know. He was just Hungarian. There was a country by that name. Anything else I really didn’t care about.
Later I discovered Edgar Allan Poe. Because a teacher made a comment about how the poem I’d written about the statue on Gellért Hill sounded like something Poe might have written. It’s never been Freedom Statue to me, or even the Statue of Liberty / Liberty Statue, always The Statue on Gellért Hill, or – which was more usual – The Statue. I hated that teacher (long before he changed my grade from an A to a B on the day grades were finalized because I wasn’t there. The fact that I had an eye infection wasn’t something he cared about), so I hated Poe as well.
But I did love Gary Oldman, and Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves reminded me of my teens, so I watched Coppola’s Dracula. And that’s when I got the message. Love! He did it for love. His wife had damned herself by committing suicide when an instigator told her that her husband had died, throwing herself off the tower no less, so he’d literally be damned to be with her. And he’d make damn sure he had all the power again to ensure she’d have everything he’d always promised her. I liked that angle. I liked it a lot. So much so that I looked into it further. My interest in religions, faiths, and what others believe factored in as well. Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian practically fell in my lap at the airport when I needed a book to read. Or it called to me, whichever version you prefer. And by then, I knew exactly what fascinated me with the subject. I’d always been interested in how people viewed and interpreted damnation, so vampires, like Judas Iscariot, were high on the list.
I also have to thank a Film Studies teacher in college for pointing out why female vampires don’t really work, and why the genre was so popular among the Victorians. Because it represented the Unspeakable Act everyone still thought about.
The following article showed up on my Facebook wall, and it is interesting to see that while Styria had its own legends, Transylvania (though Vlad Tepes – a Cross-Cultural Kid himself if you look at his history – was from Wallachia, but something connected to the woods just sounds so much better) won in the end. Might there be some truth to that German concept after all, and the forest really does spell mystery and comfort all at once? Will be interesting to explore other legends.