The Truth About Dracula by Gabriel Ronay
I love reading books about Dracula. I'm confident that I'm not the only person who feels Bram Stoker's characterization of the vampire set the pace for modern vampire literature today. Yet that's not at all what this book is about.
Fact is, The Truth About Dracula has very little to do with Dracula at all. Instead, it addresses historical beliefs about vampires and describes savage human butcheries enacted by the most sadistic historical figures known, such as Vlad The Impaler, Ivan The Terrible, and Countess Elizabeth Bathory. While I was fooled by the title, I still enjoyed every page and read the entire book in one sitting.
To begin with, Ronay covered vampire history as it relates to Christianity, even while the church demonized the feminine, and priests were largely involved in the decapitation of corpses, and conducted public tortures of men and women accused of being vampire. The idea was to "save" villages from sexually active ghosts, and female vampires that might suck the blood of children lying in their cradles.
QUOTE FROM BOOK: The advent of Christianity strengthened the popular belief in Europe in un-dead creatures rising from their graves. The early Christian chroniclers recorded many instances of excommunicated persons leaving their graves because their souls could find no rest. (Page 7.)
QUOTE FROM BOOK: The trouble was that the widespread persecution of alleged vampires created a general psychosis of fear which, in turn, was instrumental in turning a popular superstitious belief into a real-life epidemic with diagnosable symptoms. (Page 27.)
Ronay's book also presents research on how different cultures believed various vampires came into existence. For instance, in Croatia, people believed one became vampire by having sex with one's own mother. In Dalmatia, folks thought weaning a baby too early would turn it into a vampire. In Portugal, you could become vampire through witchcraft.
While Ronay goes on to talk about vampires in England and Scotland, one-third of the book is actually about the very cruel Countess Elisabeth Bathory, who slaughtered untold numbers of virgins merely to satisfy her cruel lust and she often bathed in their blood, believing that taking the red elixir of life from very young females would preserve her own youthfulness and beauty. Again, while I found it interesting to read Bathory's story, I didn't see any connection her crimes had to Dracula.
QUOTE FROM BOOK: The source of belief in the miraculous healing properties of virgin's blood lay in a combination of the widespread cult of the Virgin Mary, venerated for her specific condition and celestial power, and the literal acceptance of the Church's teachings of salvation through the drinking of Christ's incorruptible blood. (page. 111)
One thing I wish this book had included more information on was the historical timelines. Other than that - I felt this was a rather well-rounded and heavily researched book.
Reviewer's admission: I purchased this hard-cover, an old and tattered, used book, from Powell's book store in Portland. While it originally retailed for $7.95, I paid only $3.50.