Monday, January 28, 2008

On bears and vampires

I try not to miss a chance to mention a scholarly treatise of vampire lore. Here's a good one from Curious Expeditions: The Whipping Boy.

In the list of stars vaulted into fame during the seventies, he is an unlikely candidate. His lank black hair, unkempt eyebrows, overgrown mustache and stern dark green eyes hardly fit in with the feathered blonds dominating the silver screen.

But along with the bouncy beauty of Farah Fawcet and dreamy teen-idol, David Cassidy, the seventies also propelled a forgotten 15th century Romanian prince into international stardom.

In 1972, Radu Florescu, a Romanian academic and historian, published “In Search of Dracula.” Rather than an exploration into the mythology of vampires, the book focused on the possible link between the real Prince Vlad III and Bram Stoker’s fictional Count Dracula. Thanks to the popularity of the best seller, the historical Romanian Prince Vlad III became a household name. The world now a had real Dracula to contend with.

The article is a good overview of Vlad Tepes, who may or may not have been Bram Stoker's inspiration for Dracula. Recommended reading if you're unfamiliar with Tepes. I do have the book by Florescu and found it very interesting--enough to read at least twice, although it has been many years since the last read.

Curious Expeditions also brings us a little-known legacy of the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu with The Bear Butcher.
Nicolae Ceauşescu was the leader of Romania from 1965 until December 1989, when a revolution and coup removed him from power (and life). Though he spent most of his time in power by running his country into the ground, it was a good time for the bears. An obsessive hunter, Ceauşescu quickly depleted the bear population in his personal hunting reserve. He couldn’t kill bears if there were no bears to kill, so he made bear hunting illegal for everyone but himself. Anyone who killed a bear would be fined the equivalent of an average two year’s salary. Ceauşescu, meanwhile, hung hunks of raw meat in the trees of his hunting ground, high enough for only very large bears to reach. For Ceauşescu, the challenge or nobility of the hunt was beside the point, he only wanted the biggest and the best bears skins. If the skins weren’t impressive enough, he would have them stretched to look larger.

The museum is quiet and empty, all dark wood, fur, horn, and tooth. Most of the trophies are not from Ceauşescu’s era, but from the late 19th century-early 20th century. Entire foxes hang upside down by their feet, while mounted vulture heads stare out over rows of chamois horns. The walls of the museum are simply covered with animals. In the second room, a huge bear is mounted, batting at the air with an enormous paw. Just to his left, the mounted head of a hunting hound is snarled with equal fierceness; the dog was killed by the bear, the bear by the dog’s owner. Both were mounted, one as trophy, the other as homage.

It strike me as very strange that hunters in 19-century Romania would want to mount vulture heads as trophies. The article also serves as a reminder of the bizarre depravities that may be indulged in by an absolute ruler.

1 comment:

  1. Back when I helped run a speculative fiction site, we ran several installments of my novella, Tepes Down Under, and I forget which one won best short story of the year from the then most read site around; bottom line is I've read and investigated Vlad's life, visited the old castle in T-Vania, and once corresponded with a guy who swore he knew where the old impaler's head wound up.

    The legend still fascinates me and my Tepes had mellowed with the times but still found himself decidedly out of place more often than not when around polite society.