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The Dracula-myth in Transylvania

Etymologically Transylvania means "The Land beyond the Forest" and, at first glance, it has nothing in common with vampires. However, since Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula", one of the greatest horror stories in English literature, the name Transylvania has acquired something of a mythical aura in the mind of the average. Both names, Transylvania and Dracula, are very often automatically associated with each other. At the beginning of Bram Stoker's novel, we find the following description, which creates an impression of intimidating and dark landscape, very appropriate to vampires and all kinds of ghosts:

"As the evening fell it began to get very cold, and the growing twilight seemed to merge into one dark mistiness the gloom of the trees, oak, beech, and pine, though in the valleys which ran deep between the spurs of the hills (...). Sometimes (...) great masses of greyness, which here and there bestrewed the trees, produced a peculiarly weird and solemn effect, which carried on the thoughts and grim fancies engendered earlier in the evening, when the falling sunset threw into strange relief the ghost-like clouds which amongst the Carpathians seem to wind ceaselessly through the valleys."

Nowadays plenty of stereotypes on Transylvania are still prevalent abroad, especially in the Western world: vampires, cemeteries, a mysterious, gloomy, and fog-covered countryside, cowed and terrorised peasants who wear worn clothes and who are overshadowed by the eerie personality of Count Dracula and by his castle perched precipitously on craggy, forested mountain cliffs.

Because of such imagery many Westerners think that Transylvania exists only in the minds of fiction writers and film makers. That is absolutely untrue. But what is real Transylvania? Does it somehow correspond to these "exotic" images of fiction? Actually one trip to Transylvania is enough to make one's sure that this imagery in the popular mind is faked, a perversion of the reality.

The purpose of this essay is to enlighten how a historical local figure of the 15th century, Vlad Tepes , turned to a fictive figure - the worldwide well-known vampire Dracula -, how it became a kind of myth in literature and cinema, and how and why it influenced so much Transylvania's image.

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