Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In the Footsteps of Dracula — A Personal Journey and Travel Guide

In the Footsteps of Dracula—A Personal Journey and Travel Guide (paperback)Author: Steven P. Unger
Publisher: World Audience Inc./$20.00
Date of Publication: 2010
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

Steve Unger, a veteran traveler and writer, has accomplished something truly original with In the Footsteps of Dracula — he has created a personal travelogue for “the Dracula trail.”

Unger’s work is divided into five main parts: Part 1 delves into Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Parts 2 and 3 unearth the historical Prince Vlad Dracula and the path of national heroism and unspeakable cruelty that both defined him; Part 4 visits various Bram Stoker itinerary stops in London and Dublin; and Part 5 provides an indispensible and immensely practical travel how-to for readers who decide to embark on their own footstep-following trip.

Penned to “entertain, to inform, perhaps even to inspire,” noted Unger, “it is a memoir for the armchair traveler.” It is more than that, of course, too, as Unger is able to deftly weave impressive historical, political, cultural and literary research into what is also an original and intimate approach to looking at the Dracula trail as not merely an adventure but also a pilgrimage that each one of us can take to make it our own.

With Unger’s curatorship, for example, we can see what inspired Stoker as he vacationed in Whitby, and we can look down from dizzying mountain heights upon soil that was drenched in the blood of tens of thousands of soldiers, boyars and citizens by Prince Vlad and his armies.

Partly thanks to an entertainingly eclectic selection of pictures taken by Unger (and included in this volume) and partly due to the witty and enjoyable narrative provided to us along the trail, we as readers are also able to bring it all home as we learn about such disparate and colorful details as Gothic Weekends in Whitby and MaxiTaxis in Transylvania, and much more.

While there are many historical and mythological digs, if you will, into Bram Stoker’s Dracula character, Prince Vlad the Impaler and vampirism, my favorites have always included: In Search of Dracula (by McNally and Florescu), The Complete Vampire Companion (by Rosemary Ellen Guiley), The New Annotated Dracula (edited by Leslie Klinger — which is an annotated edition of Stoker’s Dracula, true, but the notes for which are so rich in scholarly annotations as to qualify for a cyclopedia in and of themselves), and the hard-to-get-through yet seminal, Vampires and Vampirism (by Montague Summers). I am now adding Unger’s entry to that list of essential works for students of Bram Stoker, Stoker’s Dracula and of Vlad the Impaler.

While there will always be quibbles among scholars and students of our stake-philic prince (e.g., Was Castle Dracula built onto Castle Arges with stones from the ruined Castle Poienari, or was it Castle Poienari itself?), there should be no quibbling at all regarding Unger’s In the Footsteps of Dracula; it is a fresh, and uniquely personal, addition to our realm of wonder about all things that go bite in the night.