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Tricks and Treats

Vampires finally get credit
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Study of the myth of Dracula creeps onto college calendars across land
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By KIM LUNMAN, The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, October 31, 2001

VICTORIA -- Scholars with a stake in Dracula can take heart. The bloodsucker is creeping out of the crypt and onto university-course calendars across Canada as vampirology is being taken seriously in academic circles.

And make no bones about it, said Professor Peter Golz, who recently introduced The Cultural History of Vampires in Literature and Film to the University of Victoria's campus curriculum. This is not Buffy 101.

"I don't think there is another myth in the 20th century that comes close in terms of popularity and breadth," said Prof. Golz, whose undergraduate class this term attracted a capacity crowd of 75 students.

Prof. Golz's office is crammed with books about vampires, including The Encyclopedia of the Undead, Bram Stoker's classic 1897 epic novel Dracula, and lesser known titles such as A Sharpness on the Neck. Videos including The Lost Boys, Once Bitten, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer also line his shelves. He keeps a Dracula CD featuring Vampires by the Pet Shop Boys and Neil Young's Vampire Blues next to his computer.

Prof. Golz's fascination with vampires began when he was a teenager in Germany. His interest in Dracula resurfaced when he was a graduate student at Queen's University where he started his PhD on a Swiss writer who specialized in Freud and wrote a novel about a vampire therapist. "I just got hooked on it," he said.

The 45-year-old Germanic studies professor is not alone.

Vampirology, the study of the myth of vampires, is being taught at universities across Canada, mostly in film and literature departments.

Thousands of novels, films, poems and plays have been dedicated to vampires since the bloodsuckers first made their literary debut in the mid-18th century, most famously in Stoker's Dracula.

Few fictional ghouls enjoy the vampire's cult status, making Dracula costumes a Halloween staple alongside pumpkins and goblins. Romania is even trying to capitalize on the fact that it is the home of the mythical pop icon by opening a Dracula theme park in Transylvania.

It's all enough to make academics studying the undead come out of the closet, said Canada's leading Dracula scholar, Elizabeth Miller, an English professor at Memorial University in St. John's.

"There's been a challenge to the old concepts," said Prof. Miller, who teaches a course called Vampire Literature. "There's now a wider view of what's accepted as literature."

Vampire-related courses are also being offered at the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia and many U.S. campuses, she said.

Her reading list includes Anne Rice's vampire novels along with Stephen King's Salem's Lot and Dracula.

Prof. Miller, who travels to Transylvania frequently for research, said the most common misconception about Dracula stems from Stoker's classic novel.

She said there is little evidence the author based his novel on the Romanian prince known as Vlad the Impaler, who had a nasty habit of running stakes through his enemies in the 15th century. He didn't drink blood. But Stoker did appropriate the name Dracula from him. Dracula means Son of the Dragon in Romanian.

Much of the modern folklore surrounding Dracula can be traced to the classic 1931 movie starring Bela Lugosi, Prof. Miller said. Vampires have been glamorized in recent years, with portrayals by Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in the 1990s movie based on Ms. Rice's Interview With a Vampire.

"It's presumably sexy now," Prof. Miller said. "He used to be portrayed as this walking corpse. Now if you saw him through the window, you'd want him to come in."

Prof. Miller, who has written four books on Dracula and is at work on a fifth, became intrigued by the topic 10 years ago while studying gothic literature.

Next month she is giving a lecture in Arizona entitled Life as a Dracula Scholar -- the Funny, the Weird and the Downright Insulting.

She recently gave a lecture in St. John's called A Dracula Smorgasbord. Prof. Miller took a string of garlic and a wooden stake along with her research notes.

She receives strange e-mails from people claiming to be blood drinkers and others asking her how they can become vampires. "People make jokes about it all the time," she said. "You have to have a sense of humour about it."

Prof. Golz said his colleagues appear to be accepting of his unusual source of study. "Some people take it seriously," he said. "Others just smile or wince."


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