The man behind the myth

Book reviews

               dracul

Dracula prince of many faces: his life and times. Back Bay Books, 1989, Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally.

If you’re looking for a book on blood-sucking creatures that reinforces hollywood and fictional notions, this is not it. You’d only be getting a sharp history lesson. However, if you have an interest in Vlad Dracul, the man behind the myth and are curious as to how Bram Stoker got his inspiration from and how reality is stranger than fiction, this is a good start.

First, it’s a very, l mean VERY academic book with long, complex sentences and a lot of history subtext on every page. Lots of names and years you likely won’t remember. Being that the book was released in 1989, it reads like a history class textbook -a very biased one- that a teacher wrote specifically for his class, essentially serving as a “bible”. It’s heavy contextually and the book takes a bit of time before we actually get to Vlad Dracula’s story. There is plenty of content on Vlad’s father and grandfather that set the tone for young Vlad III’s story. As previously mentioned, it takes quite some time before we finally get to Dracula, but everything you’ve learned from the book until that point is crucial to come to an understanding of the man behind the myth. Interjecting content about the author’s families in the book seems a little too self-serving to me (especially when it doesn’t add to the story and in this case, takes away from it).

There’s heavy historical context in the book and in that sense it does a good job of setting the reader in that particular era. It necessitates understanding in order to truly appreciate the story of Vlad Dracula. If you are someone who’s looking to learn about Dracula without the historical context, this book is probably not for you. The historical context is far too important and ever so present here. I loved reading about the complexity and political dynamics of the time period. The book takes it’s time to get to the more interesting bit which sometimes gets tedious. OK maybe so and so was a big deal, but spending an entire chapter on it while l’m waiting to read about the life and times of Vlad The lmpaler gets redundant.

The real “meat” of the story is when we enter Vlad Dracula’s adult life and he takes the throne. Reading about his actions and plans was fascinating. Dracula was an admirer of intellect and clearly liked clever people to the point where giving a clever answer to one of his questions could save one’s life. The man was also deeply religious and worked closely with the church. The man has become legendary for his cruel torture and executions methods, and this book explores many of them in detailed accounts.

The authors start by undertaking the same journey across Europe than that of Jonathan Harker’s in the novel Dracula, to me, this was one of the best parts of the book. They retraced Bram Stoker’s journeys around Europe closely and followed in his footsteps noticing how accurate his portrayals of nature and history were and how astounding this was for his time. I found the various small chapters at the end entertaining as they covered a range of topics.

There are so few books that take the subject seriously, this is one of them. It originally came out in the 1980’s and even though it could have benefited from a second edition a few years ago, it remains excellent reading on the real Dracula. Until we get a better and equally academic book with substantial research, this remains one of the best and most readily available source on Vlad Dracul.

The authors take the chance to name drop family members at will which is an annoyance. Prince of Many Faces sometimes reads like an academic work but there are instances where the authors could’ve used some objectivity. Referring to Emperor Frederick lll as “This egoist psychopath…” shows a lot of bias, especially when they say absolutely nothing to back up such a claim. The book also tends to be wordy when it doesn’t need to be which sometimes makes the reading unnecessarily difficult.

For all these aforementioned reasons l’m rating the book a 3/5. It’s a very informative read coming from the right place and spirit. Unfortunately it is such that it is plagued by constant little things that add up and eventually affects enjoyment.

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