2017-07-12

It's hard to tell from the record whether he was genuinely pious, or just a shrewd leader who was worried about what was going to happen to his soul.

So if the inspiration for the Dracula legend was a believing Christian, why did it become traditional for religious people to wear crucifixes to ward off vampires?
Well, that's a completely separate tradition. Nobody believed, in Dracula's lifetime or in many centuries after his lifetime, that he was a vampire. That connection--putting the Dracula name on a vampire--was completely invented by Bram Stoker, in his 1897 novel "Dracula." But there was, and still is in places, this very strong Eastern European belief in vampires. The vampire is an incarnation of evil in East European folklore, and can be opposed only by a mixture of rituals, some of which are Christian and some of which probably pre-date Christianity.

The non-Christian ones include the use of garlic?
Yes, like the garlic. The idea of the vampire appears in world history long before Christianity. Many of the regions of Eastern Europe probably had vampire beliefs that came out of just being agricultural societies, long before they converted to Christianity. So Bram Stoker took all these different elements and conflated them. But actually in life, Vlad Dracula would have been much more likely to have worn a Christian symbol himself.

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  • The role of the relationship between Islam and the west plays a big part in your book. How did you feel about writing about that in this current climate?
    It was really important to me to show the equal humanity of the Ottomans and the Byzantine Christians. I wanted to give some balance, so that there are characters who are either Orthodox Christians or are descended from Orthodox Christians, and then there are characters who are secular Muslims or even devout Muslims. I wanted to show the power that tradition for has for each of those groups in the book. I wanted to show in this era of intense tension and anxiety that we are now living in, that the suffering inflicted in the name of religion--the religious warfare that is sometimes the consequence of the political use of religion--that suffering is experienced equally, whatever a person's faith is. I wanted to say that anybody thrust into this situation by religion or politics is simply human, and that suffering is suffering. The horrors of history are equal for all of us. For me that's a morally important point in the book, and it's become all the more so in this era.

    The importance of belief and taking a leap of faith is a major theme throughout the book. Often the characters have to suspend their rationalism in order to continue their research into Dracula and vampires. Did you have to take your own leap of faith in order to delve into this topic?
    For me it was really a leap of imagination. I don't personally believe in the supernatural, but I do believe in the power of human beings to do good when they rise to a difficult occasion, and the power of that good impulse to overcome violence with humanity. So I tried to imagine what these characters were experiencing as they struggled to suspend their doubt about the supernatural. But I also wanted to show that it was love and hope and rationalism that really brought progress in any situation. It wasn't blind faith, or an irrational belief.

    That's very much in the tradition of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The good guys in Dracula, who are opposing the symbol of evil, use a mixture of science and Victorian piety. Even when they are relying on their religious faith for some kind of personal strength, they're always turning to the rational or the logical explanation, or deductive reasoning, to figure out what the villain's next move will be. That tradition in Stoker really fascinates me. The characters have to suspend some of their rational beliefs to encompass the idea that this ancient evil could come out of history and live forever. But they're also using all these scientific methods to try to overcome him. I like that balance--the fact that they oppose Dracula with crucifixes because that's the ancient tradition, not because they think that it's the only thing that works.