Sunday, October 23, 2011

Folklore and Pop Culture (again!) Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Count Dracula, Transylvania, Sesame Street and Cereal

I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; if so my stay may be very interesting.
Bram Stoker, Dracula, Chapter 1

Today's post is about Count Dracula and some pop culture related to him.

The character that Count Dracula was based on was Vlad Tepes, a nobleman who lived in Wallachia (present day southern Romania) during the 15th century. His favorite way of disposing of his enemies was impaling them on stakes. He had one hell of a reputation, even the Ottoman Empire functionaries, who ruled the Balkan lands in those days were terrified of him. I wonder why....

Let's fast forward 400 years to Ireland, the homeland of Bram Stoker. Stoker was a writer fascinated by Eastern European folklore. He read Emily Gerard's travel book The Land Beyond the Forest (the Latin name for Transylvania). It was from this book that he found information about the folkways of that part of the world, including legends about vampires. The peasants of the region were quite superstitious and had a fear of the creatures that wandered in the night.

Stoker was so fascinated by the vampires (nosferatu) in Gerard's book that he created a novel that took place in Transylvania. In the novel, Count Dracula is an undead creature who feeds on the blood of unsuspecting victims, creating more of them in the process. Part of the idea must have had something to do with the evil reputation of Vlad the Impaler.

Dracula is a popular book even now, and there are many references to it in popular culture as you will see later.

The castle of Vlad Tepes (Dracula) is an important Romanian national treasure, located in Transylvania, in the northwestern part of the country. It was one of Vlad's temporary residences. Here is some background and video about the castle.

Transylvania, back in the old days, was a part of the great Austro-Hungarian empire. To this day there is a large minority of ethnic Hungarians who live there. This region was given back to Romania after the first World War.

The next video is a folk dance from Transylvania, with a mixture of both Romanian and Hungarian influences. There was a lot of cultural-cross pollination in this part of the world. If you watch closely, you'll see lots of stamping, which is typical of Romanian dances, mixed in with a Hungarian csardas, a couple dance with lots of turning.

Now it's time for Count Dracula in popular culture.

First, there's the 1931 movie. Bela Lugosi was a natural for the role because of his looks and that strong Hungarian accent.

Your kids will certainly recognize this guy, he's the Count on Sesame Street. He even sounds a little like Bela Lugosi!

There is also a cereal, Count Chocula, with 100% of your children's daily requirement of sugar, artificial colors and artificial flavors. It is guaranteed to turn them into monsters. I remember eating it as a kid; I picked out the marshmallows and ate them before eating the cereal. And as for the sugar, it made me want to dance all day and night.

I prefer this kind of cereal...oops, I meant Siriul. This is a folk dance from Romania, and is not a favorite of serial killers, at least not the ones I know :) I don't think Vlad Tepes was the dancing type.

If you enjoyed this you may also like Bulgarian Folklore and Pop Culture.

And you may want to try some Dancing by the Numbers.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


  1. Katley, thanks so much for sharing this fun and humorous information on the Count! I remember the muppet guy too from my childhood, but I was never allowed the cereal. I was quite put out until I tried it later as a young adult. :) Great article indeed!

  2. glad you enjoyed, Tracie. Would you believe my mom actually used to buy Count Chocula for my brother and me? We ate an awful lot of sugar at our house, but never gained weight. We defied the odds...