Interview with Elizabeth Miller

Elizabeth Miller

Elizabeth Miller is a well-known member of the vampire community. In addition to being a former Professor of English at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, she is President of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula - Canadian Chapter as well as Baroness of the House of Dracula. 

What was your first exposure to Dracula?

Miller: I did see Dracula movies while I was growing up, and had even read the book at one point. But I had no particular interest in it all until much later. For several years I had been teaching a university course on the Romantic Poets (Byron, Shelley & Keats) and was looking around for new material. I tried using Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Polidori's "The Vampyre" and found the course enriched as a result. Then I followed the vampire's literary trail through the 19th century and ended up with Bram Stoker. I was hooked! That was about 6 years ago [1991], and I have been working on the novel and its widespread influence ever since.

In your opinion, which Dracula film was the best, and why?

Miller: That is difficult to answer as it depends on what criteria I apply. If I were to pick the movie that is closest to Stoker's original novel, my choice without hesitation would be "Count Dracula" (BBC 1978, starring Louis Jourdan). But that is not my favorite Dracula movie. That would have to be a draw between "Nosferatu" (the 1979 version with Klaus Kinski) and "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (Gary Oldman) - even though it was a major departure from the novel. I like the understatement in "Nosferatu" (and the incredible soundtrack); as for the Oldman movie, I like Gary Oldman, I like the luxuriant costumes, the resonances of earlier Dracula movies and (again) the soundtrack.

You've been to Romania many times. What is it about Vlad's home country that keeps you coming back?

Miller: My first trip to Romania (1994) was the standard Dracula tour. But while I was there, I was introduced to the Transylvanian Society of Dracula (a Romanian organization of scholars, researchers & others interested in the Draculas of both history and fiction) and was encouraged to join. In fact, I have since formed a chapter of the TSD in Canada. The TSD held a World Dracula Congress in Romania in 1995 and I helped them organize the event. It was a huge success and brought together enthusiasts from all over the world. It was a combination conference and tour of Dracula sites. At its conclusion, my work in the field was recognized when I was invested as "Baroness of the House of Dracula" in a ceremony at the Castle Dracula Hotel in the Borgo Pass.

I have been back to Romania two more times, on both occasions to give papers and lectures at conferences and universities. I have grown to love Romania and have expanded my interest beyond Dracula into the country's history, culture and language. I especially enjoy Transylvania which is renowned for its beautiful scenery. Even though the association of Transylvania with Dracula and vampires was fortuitous (Stoker originally intended to have his vampire come from Austria), the connection is there in the collective Western imagination, and certainly adds to the appeal of the place for any Dracula fan.

Your book Reflections on Dracula will soon be released by Transylvania Press. What made you decide to write it and how long did it take?

Miller: The book should be out later this fall [1997]. It comprises 10 "chapters" which are actually 10 separate essays I have written about aspects of Dracula - the novel, the connection with the historical figure, and the influences. There are also a couple of more "personal" chapters, about my experiences as a "Dracula aficionado" and my travels to Dracula-related locales. I started the book early in 1995 and finished it a few months ago (about 2 years). Actually, I already had much of the material before I started, as I had given several lectures on Dracula both in North America and Europe. I decided I should do something with all of this material I had gathered and the book is the result.

You have had the opportunity to attend conventions and meet many people... Which meeting holds the most meaning for you?

Miller: This is not easy to answer. I would have to say "It depends". Most of the conventions I have attended have been academic conferences and each has been important in its own way. For example, I would have to rank the World Dracula Congress in Romania (1995) high on the list, because of the unique experience of having these discussions in Romania. This year has seen many conferences; I have given papers in Ft Lauderdale (Florida), Dublin (Ireland), Cluj (Translyvania) and Wetzlar (Germany). And of course there was "Dracula 97", perhaps the most unique event of all because I was able to meet a number of writers for the first time (Fred Saberhagen, Jeanne Kalogridis, P N Elrod, etc.) I had already met most of the scholars and researchers, but meeting the novelists and artists was an added bonus.

There has been a great deal of debate regarding Dracula's history; did Stoker, in your opinion, use Vlad Tepes as a historical reference to his Dracula character?

Miller: This subject interests me quite a bit. I did my paper at "Dracula 97" on it and have devoted a full chapter of my new book to it.

The widely held view is that Stoker actually based the character of Count Dracula on the historical figure Vlad the Impaler. I think that is a stretch! It is based on speculation rather than conclusive evidence. Now there is no doubt whatsoever where Stoker found the name "Dracula" (in a book written in 1820 that refers to a "voivode Dracula".) But nowhere does that source mention that he was named "Vlad", or that he used to impale people. I don't think Stoker knew this. Because we know it, we tend to go back and "read" it into the novel. But the evidence just isn't there. There's all kinds of speculation about sources of information about Vlad that Stoker may have consulted, but no evidence that he actually did. My view is that all Stoker knew about Vlad was that there was a Wallachian voivode named "Dracula" along with a few scraps of vague information such as his fighting the Turks (info that he found in the 1820 book by William Wilkinson).

Why do you think Dracula has remained such a popular figure in the minds of the public?

Miller: There are many reasons, most of which are connected with the vampire figure itself. Vampires represent many things to different people: immortality, forbidden desires, rebellion, power, eroticism, etc. Unlike other "monsters", vampires attract as well as repel; and they are in many ways so much like us. Add that to the general fascination with the darker side of our natures, with the supernatural, and with the nature of evil, and you have the fascination with Count Dracula.

One major reason that Dracula has survived is his adaptability. He is, after all, a shape-shifter. Writers, artists, filmmakers and others have done creative new things with the vampire in general and Dracula in particular. Every generation creates its own Count Dracula, reflecting the fears, anxieties and fantasies of its own time.

As far as the "scholarly community" is concerned, Stoker's novel has yielded up a wealth of diverse interpretations (ideal for our post-modernist age). Whereas formerly Dracula was seen merely as another horror novel (with maybe a moral that good will win over evil), now it is viewed from psychoanalytical, feminist and post-colonialist perspectives as well as a window into the world of late Victorian England.

A good indication of the spectrum of interest in Dracula was evident at "Dracula 97", held recently in Los Angeles. Participants included scholars, researchers, film critics, film stars, scriptwriters, novelists, cartoonists, painters, dancers, publishers, goths and just ordinary fans. What other literary work could claim such a cross-section of devotees?

 

Source: interview conducted by Angie McKaig in 1997

Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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