Monday, May 23, 2011

The Transylvania Connection

The county of Transylvania where I live in western North Carolina was named after the Transylvania Company, which was controlled by land speculator Richard Henderson before the Revolutionary War.  Loosely translated, Transylvania means "across the woods" or "into the trees", and is well-named because of the thick forests that cover its 381 square miles. The county seat of Transylvania is Brevard, a picturesque small town nestled in a hilly terrain of poplars, red oak and hemlock. 

The name Transylvania always seems to conjur up images of bats and vampires, which is understandable because of iconic Dracula movies that are part of our popular culture.  Dracula was created by Irish novelist Bram Stoker in 1897 in his gothic novel of the same name.  He apparently never visited Eastern Europe or the Transylvania region of Romania, but based his novel on research he did into European folklore and mythological stories of vampires.  The vampire myth soon became a staple of other books and then movies, starting with the 1922 silent film Nosferatu.  Anne Rice popularized the vampire in more current literature in a series of books, starting with Interview with a Vampire.  This was over twenty years ago, and the genre continues with many variations of dark princes on TV and in movies, the most popular being the Twilight series by author Stephenie Meyer. 

An interesting and compelling variation on the vampire theme is one created by Elizabeth Kostova in her 2005 novel The Historian.  The story interweaves the history and folklore of Vlad Tepes, a 15th century prince of Wallachia known as "Vlad the Impaler" and his fictional equivalent Count Dracula with that of a history professor, his sixteen year old daughter, and their quest to find Vlad's tomb.  The book is described as a combination of genres, including gothic, detective, and historical thriller.  Kostova has lived and traveled in Eastern Europe, and based her book in part on stories her historian father told her about Dracula when she was a child.  She began writing the novel after hiking in the Appalachian mountains and flashing back to her father's stories.

Appalachia, and particularly the mountainous terrain of Transylvania County, is similar to the landscape of the Transylvania in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania.  Although no one knows for sure, natural settings probably account for a good portion of a writer's creations.  Meandering through forests and over hills, looking out over lakes and coastlines, how could one not imagine a tale to go along with such wonders.                    

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