Inspiration for Van Helsing and Vampire Hunters

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Van Helsing
Van Helsing by BagoGames

This week, for the third installment of our Dead Author Dedication in honor of Bram Stoker. We’re going to be discussing one of his characters who doesn’t get quite as much attention as the vampire king Dracula, but is still a character that blossomed beyond the original story by Stoker. The mysteriously knowledgeable and most famous vampire hunter, Dracula’s nemesis, Abraham Van Helsing.

Polish journalist Adam Węgłowski has claimed he has finally solved the mystery of our favorite good guy and that the Stoker character is actually based on the real-life of a historically documented vampire hunter. While it has been understood that Stoker may have originally modeled Van Helsing after a real individual, it wasn’t until Węgłowski’s research that a name could actually be attributed as the main source of inspiration.

Who Was the Inspiration for Van Helsing?

Born December 14, 1666, in Angerburg (known as Węgorzewo today)–Georg Andreas Helwing (or Helwig in some places), was a part of the Duchy of Prussia–a fief of the Crown of Poland. Helwing was an incredibly learned man of letters and a reportedly brilliant scientist. In Koenigsberg, Helwing studied philosophy and theology and pursued his education while traveling; eventually, Helwing ended up in Venice and Leida where he collaborated very closely with Herman Boerhaave, a Dutch Botanist.

Georg Andreas Helwing
Georg Andreas Helwing

It wasn’t until 1691 that he returned to his hometown; shortly following his father’s death, Helwing took up employment as a Lutheran pastor. Aside from his religious line of work, he was also a physician who took a great deal of interest in studying botany and other natural sciences while doing his duty as a clergyman. What is really interesting about Helwing though, is that despite his fairly mundane line of work, he was also a student of the paranormal and supernatural. This, of course, led him to study vampires and werewolves in particular and even went so far as to talk about how the inhabitants of Masuria fought supposed vampires by decapitating them during the bubonic plague epidemic. Węgłowski’s research shows that peasants of the time also had a “habit of stabbing the corpses with stakes.”

From Helwing to Van Helsing

So with what we now know about Georg Andreas Helwing and the little we know of the mythology of Van Helsing, are the two really connected in a meaningful way? Well, within the books and papers that Helwing wrote, many of those had to do with vampires; Węgłowski makes the link not only with the similarity of surnames but also with the kinds of education that both Helwing and Van Helsing pursued. Scholars believe that Stoker also had the fortune to find out about Vlad the Impaler–his inspiration for Dracula–from his friend Ármin Vámbéry, so it is speculated that he found out about Helwing from the same source.

While Helwing may have not hunted vampires in the sense that we might think today–he didn’t actually believe in vampires–he did hunt the folklore which led people to believe in them and therefore display the practices they did. In Helwing’s homeland, the bubonic plague (1708-1711) brought the height of vampire hysteria, where he was able to describe an incident where the people of the village found a monster; he reported that “after singing a song for the dead, the head was chopped off with a spade and thrown back into the tomb together with a live dog.” This was due to the widespread belief that the dead could rise from their graves as vampires and further spread the disease which was exterminating the population. Like Van Helsing though, Helwing risked his life to save those in danger, according to Węgłowski. The only difference is that Van Helsing attempted to kill monsters, and Helwing attempted to eradicate disease.

Dracula (1931)
Dracula (1931)

Abraham Van Helsing

Interestingly enough, Van Helsing has gone through a transformation in his appearance in television and cinema; in Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) with Anthony Hopkins, Van Helsing makes his appearance as a man who is more advanced in age. Television and cinema of the modern age are more likely to have Van Helsing be portrayed as a younger, rogueish looking, strong but not violent man in an effort to capture the hearts of women and spark a fan base. There are of course pros and cons to both portrayals of this character, an older Van Helsing while knowledgable seems frail, where a younger Van Helsing seems physically capable, but perhaps a bit less wise.

Popular Vampire Hunter Culture

Van Helsing is not the only vampire hunting character we have seen throughout vampire movies, because it seems that with every horror and adventure story involving vampires we get another hunter or slayer to rely on to save us from the monsters. Van Helsing’s status as a vampire hunter inspired such characters as Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003), Angel (1999 – 2004), the Blade franchise where we see the vampire-human hybrid Blade try to eradicate the vampire threat. Then we also have the underdog heroes, like the Frog Brothers in Lost Boys (1987) who represent those of us who don’t have super powers, but still have a powerful need to protect people from evil.

Stoker: More than Just the Author of Dracula

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For fans of Bram Stoker, it’s no surprise that he wrote more than his infamous novel Dracula (1987); credited for being the major influence on popular vampire culture, Stoker was a master of Gothic horror. While not critically acclaimed in his day–even H.P. Lovecraft had critical words for some of his literature–Stoker was a successful author and did great work within the genre.

Leaving a Mark With Short Fiction

Authors like Bram Stoker had much more potential for short fiction works than they did in novel-length literature, at least in the opinion of this writer. While it’s true that Stoker is considered a master of the Gothic horror genre, his short stories were captivating and less drawn out. Below is a selection of just a couple of his short stories that are available on YouTube for public consumption.

Dracula’s Guest

This short story is an offshoot of Stoker’s famous novel, Dracula and proves to be an interesting side-plot of the story of our favorite evil blood-sucking fiend. Have a listen to this short story as it is narrated in a proper spooky fashion!

The Judge’s House

This classic ghost story as told by Bram Stoker is definitely one that people need to hear read aloud–listen here and enjoy!

Horror Novels by Bram Stoker

The Snake's Pass by Bram Stoker

The Snake’s Pass (1890)

Bram Stoker’s first full-length novel, The Snake’s Pass, is a story about Englishman Arthur Severn who inherits wealth and a title from an aunt who chose him as her heir, much to the chagrin of closer relations. What he inherits, is essentially the ability to become an adventurer and he seizes this opportunity as a man of leisure to tour western Ireland. A storm forces him to stop for the night in a mysterious village where Arthur hears the legend of “The Snake’s Pass,” which alludes to a hidden treasure hidden in the boggy hills near the village. This deadly bog, hidden treasure, and a sinister man from the village proved to give Arthur the adventure he sought after.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Snake Pass GoodReads Listing

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula (1897)

By far the most famous of Stoker’s literary works, Dracula became the foremost authority on vampires within fiction. Where introduced to Jonathan Harker a solicitor from England who is sent to Transylvania to assist Count Dracula with who has a need for legal assistance regarding real estate. Dracula’s ultimate plan, of course, is to spread the curse of vampirism as much as possible while supplying himself with a fresh source of blood. Through the course of the book, we see the malignant plans of Dracula come to fruition and are introduced to Abraham Van Helsing, a character that would become part of modern folklore of vampires.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

Dracula GoodReads Listing

The Mystery of the Sea by Bram Stoker

The Mystery of the Sea (1902)

The Mystery of the Sea tells the story of an Englishman living in Aberdeenshire, Scotland–he falls in love with an American heiress who has a special interest in the Spanish-American war. Over the course of the novel, we see elements of the supernatural with instances of second sight, and other thrilling aspects such as kidnapping, and cryptic codes. More of a political thriller than any of his other novels, the story explored themes important during his own time, such as the changing concepts of womanhood, and the uprising of feminism.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Mystery of the Sea GoodReads Listing

The Jewel of the Seven Stars

The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903)

Written in a first-person narrative, we follow a young man by the name of Malcom Ross, a barrister. Summoned by Margaret, the daughter of a famous Egyptologist with whom he is enamored, to find that he had been called due to the strange sounds that were heard from her father’s room. When Margaret went to check on her father, she found he was bloodied and unconscious–as if in some type of trance–along with cryptic instructions to watch him, in case of his incapacitation, until he awoke.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Jewel of Seven Stars GoodReads Listing

The Man by Bram Stoker

The Man (1905)

Strangely, for a book entitled The Man, this story is initially about a tomboy named Stephen (at the behest of her mother who died shortly after childbirth). Stephen grows to be an assertive, free-thinking child and becomes friends with Harold, the son of a friend of her father. After her father’s friend passes away, Harold becomes a ward of Stephen’s father. She and Harold pass the time visiting her family’s graveyard. After reaching adulthood romantic storylines enter into play, causing characters to suddenly disperse and then later and unexpectedly come together unwittingly. This tale is wrought with death and romance, key components to gothic horror, and Bram wrote it fantastically.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Man GoodReads Listing

The Lady of the Shroud by Bram Stoker

The Lady of the Shroud (1909)

An epistolary novel, narrated primarily by the central character Rupert Saint Leger, the black sheep of his family. Rupert finds out that he is his uncle’s choice to inherit a large million-pound estate, under the condition that he lives in the castle of the Blue Mountains for a year before he can claim his fortune. Needless to say, this is his uncle’s way of testing him, to find if he can truly be worthy of such a grand fortune–little does Rupert know what awaits him in the castle of the Blue Mountains and how completely his life will change.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

The Lady of the Shroud GoodReads Listing

The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker

The Lair of the White Worm (1911)

Based loosely upon the tale of The Lambton Worm, Stoker gave us a horror story based upon a giant white worm who has the ability to transform into a woman. The story revolves around the Australian-born Adam Salton, who receives word from an estranged uncle who wishes to make Adam his heir.

A free version of this public domain book is available on the Official Bram Stoker Website.

Bram Stoker’s twelfth and final novel before his death, The Lair of the White Worm (2011) is also sometimes titled as The Garden of Evil. Along with Dracula and The Jewel of Seven Stars, The Lair of the White Worm was actually one of Stoker’s most successful novels, which is interesting because the reception by the literary community was not entirely favorable. In 1988 it was adapted into a horror film, which starred Hugh Grant and Amanda Donohoe.

The Lair of the White Worm GoodReads Listing

Telling the Difference Between Demonic Entities

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Possession movies, even when they are highly religious in context, bring in huge crowds of fans, starting with The Exorcist (1973) and continuing on throughout the years, we never really get down to the brass tacks of demonic entities, who they are—or might be—and the people they have affected. Demon lore is complex in every religion and affiliated culture, there are elaborate organizational schemes for demons dated back from the 16th and 17th centuries and yet we still have so little understanding of them. For the many ills and misfortunes that plague the human race, there is the possibility of a demonic association that leads to exorcisms in many cultures. Specifically, in Catholicism, exorcisms deal with demonic possession, in which demons are said to battle for control of the soul of the victim they have targeted, these practices date back to 1614.

The Demons that Invade Our Lives

Christian demonologist Johann Weyer estimated that there were nearly 7.5 million demons that served as minions to 72 different princes of hell. Each of these demons belongs to a class of demons; to name a few, there are demons that attack people in their sleep, drain vitality, or possess those who are struggling with their own identity. So, let’s take a look at the different types of demonic entities that go beyond the typical Catholic exorcism expectations.

Attractive demoness
Photography by Alice Alinari

The Succubus

During the Middle Ages, authorities within the Christian religion asserted the existence of sex demons, which they furthered that to insinuating that sex with such demons was a sign of witchcraft. Although it’s a widely accepted possibility in the paranormal community, the stories and theories of such acts are described as horrific to experience. To be clear, while this may sound like an exciting ride for some lonely people out there, it’s not something that anyone in their right mind would purposefully pursue—it’s never consensual.

The Djinn

Collection of Genie Lamps--don't summon a Djinn!
Photography by Louis Hansel

Between 100 and 400 AD, the Testament of Solomon was written, which served as a list for Hebrew, Greek, Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Persian demons. The Djinn are self-propagating, malicious, yet mortal demons. They are an invisible creature by nature but have shape-shifting abilities so they may better stalk their prey. Solomon was able to control these types of demons which he called djinn with his magical ring and he would frequently treat them as his own personal slaves by making them transport him wherever he wished upon their backs.

My Dream, My Bad Dream, Fritz Schwimbeck, 1915. Fritz Schwimbeck
My Dream, My Bad Dream, Fritz Schwimbeck, 1915.

The Nightmare

The story of this nocturnal visitor originated in the ancient world, in which a spirit or demon would come into the room of its sleeping victim, male or female, to incapacitate the individual and feed off of their vitality. In all reported cases, it is said the victim awakens to either a heavy weight on their chest or one that starts at their feet and progresses to their chest, either way, they are unable to move out from under the weight of the night hag. As they’re feeding off of the individual, the victim feels as if they’re suffocating and paralyzed, despite being fully conscious. Victims of the night hag end up reporting feeling groggy, sick, and otherwise exhausted both mentally and physically the next day.

Western-style vampire bears her fangs.
Photography by Rondell Melling

The Vampire

Now just wait, you’re probably conjuring up an image of Dracula hunched in a dark window of his castle in Transylvania, brooding and dangerous. The concept of the vampire in modern culture, especially since Stoker’s rendition, are the undead who return to kill and torture the living, but the actual origin is somewhat different. Older than the Slavic version of Dracula is a supernatural and demonic entity that did not actually take human form and it spans the world with small variations.

The Stoker Legacy Continues

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Featured Horror Books

The influence that Bram Stoker has over modern horror culture continues on and despite his works being within the public domain, the universe that Bram originally created for Dracula to reside within continues to be expanded upon through the works of Bram’s great grand-nephew, Dacre Stoker.

Who is Dacre Stoker?

Born August 23, 1958, Dacre grew up in Montreal, Quebec–he’s a Canadian-American author, sportsman, and filmmaker and taught at Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario for several years. In 1988 he ended up coaching the Canadian men’s pentathlon team at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea–that’s not really the information you’re looking to read about here though.

As a descendant of Bram Stoker, Dacre has become the international best-selling co-author of Dracula: the Un-Dead (2009) an official Stoker-family endorsed sequel to Dracula (1897). The Stokers’ have always had a frustrating history with Dracula‘s copyright, however, so when he was given the opportunity to reestablish creative control over the original novel, he decided to write a sequel that bore the Stoker name. He ended up co-writing this sequel with Ian Holt and both writers claim that they, “based [their work] on Bram Stoker’s own handwritten notes for characters and plot threads excised from the original edition,” along with research they conducted on their own. Surprisingly, the plot and characters directly contradict the original novel on many occasions, and it wasn’t well received by reviewers. To be fair though, Bram Stoker didn’t get exceptional reviews on much of his body of work, but they are still considered classics today.

After writing Dracula: the Un-Dead, he and Elizabeth Miller co-edited The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker: The Dublin Years (2012); most recently, he created Dracul (2018) along with J.D. Barker, as a prequel to Dracula and the book has been released in nearly twenty different countries and the film rights it seem have already been purchased by Paramount Studios. In the past decade, Stoker has contributed to his great grand-uncle’s legacy through Dracula in Visual Media: Film, Television, Comic Book, and Electronic Game Appearances, 1921-2010 along with several others, as well as writing, directing, and producing the documentary film Dracula meets Stoker (2011). It is said that he is currently working on a Bram Stoker Dracula travel guide with his colleague Hans C. De Roos, which will identify real-life locations that appear in Stoker’s novel, as well as the places in which Bram grew up.

Dacre and his wife Jenne now live with with their two children in Aiken, SC while managing the Bram Stoker Estate together.

Dracul by Dacre Stoker J.D. Barker

Serving as a prequel to Dracula (1987), Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker were inspired by the texts and notes that were left behind by Bram Stoker. This supernatural thriller reveals the true origins of Dracula as well as those of Bram Stoker himself.

Paramount secured the movie rights for this prequel, which is currently still in the development phase, but it is rumored that Andy Muschietti, director of It (2017) will be heading the projects, so we’re looking forward to hearing more on that!

Dracul (2018) listing on Goodreads

Dracula the Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt

Bram Stoker’s classic Gothic novel Dracula was followed over a hundred years later by Dracula: The Un-Dead (2009) and was co-written by his direct descendant, Dacre Stoker, as well as the famous Dracula historian, Ian Holt. This story follows the resulting horror of the original novel and is the first work that replicated the original Stoker content with the approval and support of the Stoker Family Estate since Bela Lugosi starred as the famous vampire in 1931. Derived from the notes that were handwritten by the great author himself, Stoker and Holt pulled characters and plot threads that were excised from the original edition of Dracula that were cut from the book before it was published.

Dracula: The Un-Dead (2009) listing on Goodreads

Have you read any books by Stoker’s descendant, Dacre Stoker? Feel free to comment below and let us know what you thought of Dacre’s work in comparison to the original classic!