Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and Times, by Radu R. Florescu and Raymond McNally -- A Book Review, Vlad Tepes

This is the only known portrait of Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, that is believed to be painted during his life.
This is the only known portrait of Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, that is believed to be painted during his life. | Source

In the late 1800's, Bram Stoker wrote a book about the vampire Count Dracula. Since then, countless people have read the book, or seen one of its many reproductions on television - from a direct re-telling of Stoker's tale to such parodies as Mel Brooks' Dead and Loving It. Though so many know the story, few know Stoker's inspiration for his awe-inspiring character.

The name Dracula has, for over a hundred years, called forth images of dreary castles and suave gentlemen who murder in the dead of night in most unsettling ways. The name of Vlad the Impaler lurks ever further back in the shadows of history. Few know about Vlad Tepes, the prince of Wallachia who realized that only the most unforgiving brutality would stop the Turkish Empire from taking over his tiny domain. From forests made from the bodies of impaled soldiers to thousands of beggars burnt alive, Vlad the Impaler is perhaps one of the deadliest men to have ever lived.

In-depth, knowledgeable and balanced retelling of the life story of Vlad the Impaler, as well as a look at his ongoing legacy

5 stars for Dracula: Prince of Many Faces, by Radu R. Florescu

The story in Dracula: Prince of Many Faces

Dracule: Prince of Many Faces begins in the times of Vlad Dracula's great-grandfather, at a moment in history when the conflict between Islam and Christianity hit a boiling point. It would not retreat from this point for over a hundred years. Through numerous crusades and civil power struggles, the family of Tepes kept a footing in Wallachia, a part of modern-day Romania situated near the infamous Transylvania.

At the time of Vlad's birth, his father was a part of what was known as the Order of the Dragon (thus his nickname Dracul, meaning "of the dragon"). He was also allied with both the Hungarian king and the Turkish sultan. As a gesture of trustworthiness, Dracul left his sons Vlad and Radu as hostages of the Turks, keeping only his oldest son Mircea with him. Seven years in the court of the sultan taught young Vlad, among other things, inventive torture tactics and a certain disregard for human life.

Vlad's later life was consumed by power struggles, crusades, mixed alliances, and the governing of Wallachia. However, it has never been clear to historians just what sort of man he was, or in what regard he was held. In some parts of the world, he was a feared tyrant whose name might be used to scare small children and grown men alike. Within his own domain, he was a strong ruler who seems to have been loved by his people (except the "useless ones" he executed). Finally, the question of his burial or the eventual fate of his princely treasure has never been satisfactorily answered. The authors cover every known angle of these mysteries, giving readers a rounded view of the life, myth and legend of Vlad the Impaler.

Final resting place of a decapitated Impaler?

Snagov monastery is believed to be the final resting place of Vlad Tepes, though no one knows exactly where, and his head may be lost to history. These facts lend dimension to the tales of the vampire Dracula.
Snagov monastery is believed to be the final resting place of Vlad Tepes, though no one knows exactly where, and his head may be lost to history. These facts lend dimension to the tales of the vampire Dracula. | Source

Did you know?

Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, is viewed as being one of the most perfect examples of a Machiavellian prince in history. He shares the dubious distinction with such individuals as Cesare Borgia and Catherine de Medici.

A woodcut depicting Vlad Tepes eating dinner among his impaled victims. History reveals that he actually preferred to impale with a blunted stake, inserted rectally, so his victims would take days to die.
A woodcut depicting Vlad Tepes eating dinner among his impaled victims. History reveals that he actually preferred to impale with a blunted stake, inserted rectally, so his victims would take days to die. | Source

About the Contributing Authors to Prince of Many Faces

Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally have devoted themselves to studying the history of Vlad the Impaler, known as Dracula ("son of the dragon", but also a reference to the devil), and have written several books on the subject. Both are professors of history at Boston College. Florescu came into the subject as one whose family lived in the area under the Impaler's power, whereas McNally lived near Stoker's home and was raised with the legend of the vampire Dracula. Starting from these opposite viewpoints, they make an exceptional team in revealing Vlad Tepes' true character.

Why should you read Prince of Many Faces?

What first fascinated me about Vlad Tepes is the fact that, despite the known heinous deeds of this infamous prince, historians have been unable to pin down his precise character or the factors that drove him. The authors of this book address three of the most popular views of him -- as a cruel but just ruler, as a hero of the people, or the more widespread view of a deranged psychopath. It covers the possibilities of mental and physical disorders, as well as the disregard for individual life in securing the stability and safety of his country. One thing that Dracula: Prince of Many Faces does not do is label Vlad Tepes a monster or otherwise disregard his contribution to history. This balanced view is the reason why anyone who wants to learn about the real Vlad the Impaler needs to read this book.

A discussion including George Hamilton, Florescu and McNalley about Dracula: Prince of Many Faces

Prince of Many Faces is jam-packed with the history surrounding the Impaler and obscure details of his imprisonment, death, and burial. For the most part it was easy to read, the authors keep the text to plain language that anyone can understand. Some parts are extremely information-dense, but the authors seem to keep such sections to a minimum. If you are very serious about truly learning the details about Dracula's life and times, I'd consider taking notes. The first couple of chapters, especially, are riddled with various dates and numerous people, mostly with the names Mircea, Mihnea, Mehmed, or Vlad, which makes it hard to follow. A simple timeline with all of the names and positions makes it a lot easier to keep up.

Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times
Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times

This is the reviewed book, which is a must-read if you want extensive information an insight into Vlad the Impaler. It can be a little dense, but has tons of information and an engaging format that makes it a relatively easy read.

 

Finally, at the end of the book, the authors present Stoker's Dracula and compare him to the historical one, pointing out differences and similarities between the two and speculating on Stoker's various influences.

The bottom line...

Overall, this book is a must-read for enthusiasts of the historical Dracula, or those who are interested in the history of Romania during the crusades. It is a bit graphic, as can be expected when you're talking about mass murder by impaling or burning, and is not suited for the younger crowd. I doubt that will be a problem anyway, as the writing level is geared for high school on up. In my opinion, this book went into far more detail of the times in which the Impaler lived and the folktales surrounding his life than any other work I've found on the subject.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments about this book, or about Vlad the Impaler or the story of Dracula in general. There are so many different aspects of this age-old tale that it never gets worn out as a discussion topic.

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