To fans of the Bram Stoker novel "Dracula" or the dozens of Hollywood adaptations that have followed it, Dracula, the legendary Eastern European vampire, is usually viewed as an enemy of Christianity. But in her new best-selling novel, "The Historian," Elizabeth Kostova offers a surprising look at a Dracula whose choices are often informed by faith. Kostova's Dracula is based partly on the Stoker legend and partly on the 15th century Balkan ruler known as Vlad the Impaler who inspired Stoker's 1897 Dracula tale.
Her book tells the story of a father and daughter in search of the real Dracula, taking readers on a journey through contemporary Romania and Bulgaria, Ottoman Turkey, and medieval Christian Europe. Along the way she reveals a great deal about the historical relationship between Christianity and the Dracula legend. Dracula's name, for instance, came from the Order of the Dragon, originally founded to protect Christian Europe from invasion by Muslim Ottomans. In Kostova's book, Dracula helps build monasteries, befriends monks, and ultimately is concerned not with blood or young women, but with his own salvation. Kostova recently spoke with Beliefnet about the Christian leanings of this longtime horror-story favorite.

What attracted you at first to the Dracula story?
I've been drawn to the legend of Dracula since childhood. Like a lot of children, I was intrigued by it, and then kind of forgot about it for many years. Then about 11 years ago when I was writing and publishing short work and just beginning to think about writing a novel, I remembered Dracula tales that my father had told me while I was traveling with my family as a child in Eastern and Western Europe, and how much I had loved these tales, which were loosely based on the Hollywood classic films that he grew up with. I wondered if they would make a good structure for a novel.

Was it the scariness of the stories that drew you in?
Yes, I liked the creepiness of the Dracula legend, as many children do. But I think what really drew me in was that I associated Dracula with travel, and with history and beautiful historic places because of the settings in which I had heard these stories. I also had already spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe, since childhood, and I wanted to find a way to write about that history.

Is the Dracula story still a big part of the culture of Romania?
The Dracula legend was known for centuries in Eastern Europe through folk songs and epic poetry. It was reintroduced in its new supernatural form by Hollywood. Now Romanians are very aware of Dracula because he's become a major export and a tourist attraction. For some Romanians that's a discouraging thing, but for others it's a way to attract western tourists. Many Romanians are proud of Dracula as a national hero. The historical Dracula is a very complicated figure.

The historical Dracula, who most historians think the Stoker novel was based on, was a cruel ruler who tortured thousands of people. It's hard to know about Vlad Dracula's history as a torturer and impaler and reconcile that with thinking of him as a hero.
That's true. One of the things that really interested me in examining Eastern European history for this book is how wildly perspectives on one figure or event vary, according to the ethnic group you ask.

For Romanian Orthodox Christians in the Byzantine tradition, Dracula was a hero who held back the invading Ottoman armies longer than most leaders managed to do. He was a Christian hero, in spite of his sadism toward his own people. Of course for the Ottomans he was a barbarian, who was attacking the fringes of their civilization. It's very interesting to see him from all these points of view.

Your book gets deep into the history of the Christian origins of the Dracula legend. Even his name comes from the Order of the Dragon, which was supposed to protect Christians from the invading Ottomans.
Yes, that's right.

It's pretty clear in your book that the historical Dracula considered himself a pious Christian. Can you tell me anything more about Vlad Dracula's actual beliefs? How much of this part of your book is based on history?
It's very hard to know what the actual beliefs of a medieval figure were, unless that person was a cleric or a religious writer who would be likely to record those beliefs. There are stories about Dracula that were written down by his contemporaries, or diplomats who went to his court, or scribes.

One thing that several different sources report about him is that he did have some doubts about where he was going to end up after he died. He seems to have been aware that his deeds of torture and murder of his own people, at least--and who knows how he felt about torturing and murdering Ottomans, he may have felt very differently about that--caused him some doubt about whether or not he could actually enter heaven, as it was viewed in the traditions of the time. He gave a great deal of money to several monasteries to rebuild them or to enrich them, including the monastery where he's buried, as you saw in the book.