The name of a vampire in the novel of that name by Bram Stoker, published in 1897.
Due to the popularity of Stoker's book, the term 'Dracula' is often now used to denote a vampire.
The Dracula of Transylvanian legend appears to have originated from Vlad IV of Wallachia (1430-1476), known as Vlad the Impaler, although he was not a vampire. It is suggested that Stoker's Count Dracula was a composite figure derived from Vlad the Impaler and the Countess Báthori, who was arrested in 1610 for murdering some 650 girls. It was her habit to wash in the blood of her girl victims in order to maintain her skin in a youthful condition.
The name Dracula comes from Vlad's family membership of the Order of the Dragon, although dracul in Romanian strictly speaking means 'the Devil'. The Order of the Dragon was invested upon Vlad's father (his name was Dracul) in 1431, by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. This Order was a semi-monastic and semi-military organization dedicated to fighting the Turkish infidels. Dracul, in the sense of dragon, stems from this... Vlad was called Dracula because this was a diminutive of his father's name, meaning the son of the Devil, or dragon.
Virtually forgotten by the West, Vlad came to the attention of Bram Stoker, who was researching Romanian legends for his novel. He found the name perfectly suited his vampire, given the ruler's reputation for bloodthirstiness. There is, however, no link in Romanian folklore between Vlad and vampirism.
Count Dracula of Bistritz is one of the most important figures in horror, the prototypical bloodsucker — a villain of immeasurable ego with a downright evil and diabolical disposition — who dominates the pages of the novel regardless of his infrequent appearances after the early chapters.
The Dracula story was eagerly taken up by Hollywood in the 1931 film that starred Bela Lugosi, and numerous movies on the theme have been made since, most notably El Conde Dracula (1970), starring Christopher Lee, and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), starring Gary Oldman. The legend of Dracula was retold in 'Interview With the Vampire' (1976) by Anne Rice.
Dracula is most times portrayed as being dressed completely in black, with a strong face, thin nose, heavy mustache, sharp teeth, pointed ears, hairy palms, long nails, and fetid breath.
Additionally, Dracula possesses powers that have become synonymous with the characteristics of all undead in the contemporary imagination. He casts no shadow, has the strength of many men, grows younger on the blood of his victims, controls the elements (such as fog, thunder, and rain), controls many animals (including the owl, bat, moth, fox, wolf, and rat), and can travel on moon rays as elemental dust or as a mist.
Despite these exceptionally remarkable abilities, Count Dracula is rather limited. Only with an invitation can he enter a residence, he cannot pass running water save at high or low tides, can shape-shift or transform only at noon or at sunset except when he is in his casket, and must sleep in a coffin filled with his native soil. Dracula also draws back before the cross, garlic, or the holy wafer.
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Sources: (1) Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Harper Collins Publishers; (2) Bunson, Matthew, The Vampire Encyclopedia, Gramercy Publishers; (3) Melton, J. Gordon, The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, Visible Ink Press.
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