A Night in Transylvania: The Dracula Scrapbook by Kurt Brokaw
Grossett & Dunlap, 1st printing, 1976
Genre: non-fiction, horror
Synopsis & Review: “To be read only at night,” A Night in Transylvania is a compendium of information about the Romanian region of Transylvania and about the two Draculas that are its major claim to fame: Bram Stoker’s famous vampire and the fifteenth-century prince Vlad Tepes. Opening first with an introduction by the Drs Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally of Boston College, Brokaw moves quickly into an exploration of the legend of Dracula, both as villain and lover, and the mythology of Transylvania in popular culture. The first chapter covers the history of Vlad Tepes’ life and death, and his legacies in Transylvania. Chapters Two and Three explore Transylvania, with an emphasis on locales associated with the Wallachian prince: cities, churches, castles, and his tomb on Snagov. Practical aspects of travel in a 1970s Romania, down to costs (severely outdated thirty years later) and gratuities and the most helpful languages to have. Also included is a wealth of information about hotels, food, tchotchkes, and helpful phrases. Chapters Four and Five detail Dracula on film and in print, with the movies helpfully categorized by quality.
This book CHANGED MY LIFE. I am totally serious. In fifth grade we had to write a report on a country, preferably one in our ethnic background. Being both perverse and a burgeoning horror aficionado even then, I selected Transylvania for my locale. (Yes, some of my ancestors hailed from the Carpathians, though a more westerly region.) I promptly began searching for books on Romania in general and Transylvania in particular, and ended up ordering A Night in Transylvania from the state library. It had rather more information on Vlad Tepes than was easily found by a ten year-old in those long ago pre-Internets days, and so was quite helpful. But the most important aspects for me were the surveys of vampire films and literature.
I devoured “The Vampire on Film” and “The Transylvania Bookshelf,” the former introducing me to Hammer Studios, the films of which I made a point of seeking out afterward–and I remain a fan to this day. Aside from the glories of Hammer, A Night in Transylvania provided me with any number of movie titles, studios, directors, and actors for the basis of my exploration of horror from early favorites such as Nosferatu to modern classics a la John Carpenter’s The Thing. It was entertaining to compare my evaluations of films to those in the book, and to remember how fascinating the survey was for me as a child. Though Brokaw’s emphasis in “The Transylvania Bookshelf” was non-fiction, there were enough mentions of fictional works and authors for me to get a foothold in early vampire literature like Le Fanu’s Carmilla and other early horror favorites like Lovecraft. I had already consumed all the occult books in the Mililani Library’s children’s section, and this one led me to the intimidating adult side looking for more. (My poor mother exercised great patience in taking me to faraway libraries in search of hard to find collections of out of print horror stories following my report.) And my reading and viewing habits were irrevocably changed once I got my grubby little mitts on such exotic fare.
In re-reading A Night in Transylvania, I most appreciated the excellent film stills, stock photos, and old movie posters used as illustrations. It is an invaluable source for images from some all but forgotten films. But the photographs of Transylvania and sites are strictly amateurish; many are blurry, poorly composed, and have someone posing in them–which I found vastly inappropriate for any kind of “cross-cultural” analysis or professional travelogue. Unfortunately, the inferior photography reduces the quality of the otherwise excellent travelogue sections. I also found Brokaw’s scholarship somewhat lacking in the chapter on Vlad Tepes; it was highly sensational, and the atmospheric writing used to such great effect in the travelogue chapters muddy otherwise clear prose. However, Brokaw is largely successful in his investigation of Dracula in pop culture, though the book falls short of being a true Dracula Scrapbook.
Recommended only for hardcore collectors and fans–unless you happen upon a cheap copy. I have a nostalgic fondness for it. An updated version–with better photography and strict editing–could be amazing.
Cover: Painted depiction of Castle Bran by night with a really nice title in white over the night sky. Very promising.