Kittens, tomorrow would have been the 166 birthday of Irish novelist Bram Stoker, author of the Gothic horror classic Dracula. Born November 8,1847, Abraham “Bram” Stoker made a number of contributions to turn of the century horror fiction with novellas such as The Lady of the Shroud and The Lair of the White Worm, but it was the 1897 novel The Un-Dead (re-titled as Dracula just before publication), with its dark and mysterious ghoul in a decaying castle high in the Carpathian Mountains, that has taken up permanent residence in horror history.
“Suddenly, I became conscious of the fact that the driver was in the act of pulling up the horses in the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky.”
Although Stoker never traveled to Eastern Europe, a number of castles from Scotland to Romania claim inspiration as the legendary Castle Dracula. Contenders include Poenari Castle and Hunedoara Castle, which both claim residence by Vlad III of Wallachia (known as Vlad the Impaler), Slains Castle, a ruined castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland where Stoker spent some time while writing Dracula, and Bran Castle in Romania, known for its striking similarity to Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle.
“The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests. But I am not in heart to describe beauty, for when I had seen the view I explored further; doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted…The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner!”
Whatever Stoker’s inspiration, the iconic crumbling castle, forgotten in the dark of remote mountains, circled by wolves and crying birds, was a mainstay of gothic horror and has achieved a kind of mythic power in our collective imaginations. Becoming more than a setting, the castle serves as a character in its own right, embodying the gloomy atmosphere of the gothic novel, the “inevitable decay and collapse of human creations.”
“Moreover, the walls of my castle are broken; the shadows are many, and the wind breathes cold through the broken battlements and casements. I love the shade and the shadow, and would be alone with my thoughts when I may.”
In honor of Stoker’s 166th birthday and this most gothic tradition of bleak houses, here’s a gallery of those places proposed as spiritual ancestors of Castle Dracula, including Poenari, Hunedoara, Slains, and Bran Castles, as well as the ancient crypt below St. Michan’s Church Dublin. Enjoy!
You can read full text online of the aforementioned novels at Dracula, The Lady of the Shroud, and The Lair of the White Worm, or listen to audio book versions for free on LibriVox. For more on Romanian castles, visit Atlas Obscura’s article on Poenari Castle and the Bran Castle website.