Sucking the life out of vampire myths

Perceptions of Dracula and vampires have been influenced by pop culture images ranging from Nosferatu to the novels of Ann Rice to Count Chocula. Elizabeth Miller, one of the world’s top experts on Dracula and vampire lore, dispelled many Dracula myths on Tuesday and gave students an in-depth history of Dracula while lecturing to students taking Literature and the Occult.

Miller has written six books and countless articles about Dracula. She has also received honors in Romania and Canada and is the president of the Canadian chapter of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula.

She said she is interested in the character of Dracula and in vampires as myths. She does not believe vampires as supernatural creatures exist.

Miller said there is a lot of false information about vampires being passed around. She is working to sort out the facts, the speculation and the lies when it comes to the myths, especially when they deal with Bram Stoker’s famous character. A symbol closely associated with the figure of Dracula is the cape he is often seen wearing in movies and artwork.

“The word cape does not appear in Stoker’s novel,” Miller said.

Another common myth states that a vampire will burst into flames or dissolve if touched by the sun’s rays.

Miller said the sunlight myth began when the movie Nosferatu was made. The movie’s vampire died in the sunlight as a way to add special effects to the movie, and the scene soon influenced the collective knowledge of vampires.

Miller spent much of her time in front of the classroom, donned in a Transylvanian Society T-shirt, explaining the history behind Stoker’s version of Dracula and the historic Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler.

Miller said that Bram Stoker knew little about the historic ruler and instead based his book on European myths.

“(Stoker) knew there was a man named Dracula who fought against the Turks,” Miller said. “He saw a footnote that said Dracula in the Romanian language means devil. That’s why he kept the name.”

Stoker wanted his count to embody evil. His original name for the character was Count Wampyr, Miller said.

Tepes, on the other hand, was a Romanian hero who fought against the Turks. His favorite method of execution was impaling his enemy on giant wooden stakes to ensure they suffered a slow death, Miller said.

“Vlad’s father was named Vlad Dracul, from an order in which his father had been inducted, which was the Order of the Dragon,” Miller said.

Tepes added the letter A to signify he was the son of Dracul, Miller said.

Kristen Dring, a student in the class, said she learned a lot during the lecture.

“Occult literature interests me. I know a lot more about vampire lore than I knew before,” Dring said. “Like specifics.”

Leslie Maccicotti-Humphrey was also impressed.

Lee Maciaszek, another student in the class, said some people take their interest in vampires too far.

“My friend told me you can drink a pint of human blood before you get sick,” Maciaszek said.

Miller said she gets uncomfortable with some of the questions she receives from people who think they are vampires in real life.

“There are people who call themselves real vampires,” Miller said. “I say ‘OK, shape-shift into a bat, fly across the room, and you’ll convince me.'”