It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me: Jane Congdon
Evil can be defined as profound immorality, wickedness or depravity when thought of as a supernatural force. Someone who thinks nothing of inflicting pain, tormenting another person, wicked, cruel or just enjoys seeing others suffer. Within the pages of It Stated with Dracula: The Count, My Mother and Me we hear the voice of author Jane Congdon describe evil in many different ways. Two young teens sitting together in a darkened movie theater about to see a movie that would have a great impact on one of the viewers. Count Dracula is often thought of as a romantic character to some and there are many that wish they could have received his vicious bites and become just like him. Bram Stoker is the man who in 1897 brought him to live in his Gothic Horror titled The Horror of Dracula. Described by many an archetypal vampire and some of his character traits inspired by the 15th century Romanian general and Wallachian Prince VladIII the Impaler who was also known as Dracula. As these two teens sit in the theater and watch the story unfold one becomes so transfixed and so engrossed that years later she would find her way to Romania to learn more about the Count, Romania and the history of the country. Throughout chapter 3 the author relates many important facts about Dracula, his characteristics and the fact the many think that Bram Stoker modeled him after his personal assistant Henry Irving who was thought to be “overbearing, and tyrannical,” more like a “ blood-sucking count.” But, there is much more as she then moves to her home and her mother whose behavior took on a dark side and who manners began to change wondering just what was wrong with her, was evil entering her body and her life and just what was she in for next.
Describing the town of Glen Ferris the author relates the scenery, the beauty and the fact that a shadow of evil hangs over the town namely over her house. Describing her childhood you can tell that she and her brother Joe were left to their own devices for the most part. With 2 parents that spent most of their time in their bedroom drinking and staying to themselves, Jane learned to deal with many things on her own. Her only allies were her grandparents and she describes her grandpop with pride. He owned and ran a company store and post office in Notomine. Just hearing her voice and her description of him you can feel the love that she missed from her parents. With her best friend, Billie, Jane would explore the town, enjoy sports and try and have fun except when her mother was in a D.M. (drunk mood.) At times she tried to get her attention, help her to cope but the end result was never good as her father drank too and what was happening to her mother. At times she was normal and at times as blood sucking and as evil as the count himself. Except the count might be fiction her mother was definite fact.
The author, Jane Congdon, sits with her best friend in the near-darkness of the Gauley Theater, mesmerized by a 1950’s movie, Horror of Dracula. The movie tells the story of a vampire, Count Dracula, of Transylvania and those who seek to destroy him. Christopher Lee plays the starring role, with which young Jane is at once fascinated.
Jane didn’t know then that Transylvania was a real place among the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, nor did she understand why it called to her. But, from the moment she discovered it was indeed real, she wanted to see it for herself–every aspect! She was only fourteen years old, but vowed she would make the trip one day.
Forty-five years later, she planned that trip. Jane managed to overcome her fear of flying and who wouldn’t be pumped for adventure with a hot and handsome guide named Lucian to bring her into the world of Dracula. The author’s research is extensive and as you take the journey to the many places along with Jane and Lucian be able to envision the landscape, the castles, the people and the scenery, which is so graphically and vividly depicted. Dracula, the author states still has a prominent presence in the capital of Romania. Referring to Vlad Dracula, not the vampire, Vlad the impaler founded and named Bucharest. Can you imagine being in “Vlad’s stomping grounds?” Within pages 88-90 we meet Vlad up close and personal as the authors shares his life with readers. Visiting the National Museum was next and going to the headquarters of the Romanian Orthodox religion totally amazing. I just wish that she had included some of her pictures in this book. Snagov Monastery was not a vampire site but still related much history to Vlad and the author really enjoyed visiting the monastery. Although she was immersed in the culture, the history and enjoying the scenery while taking pictures, flashes of her past kept filtering through. While driving through Bucharest she observed many homes enclosed. Each enclosure was a different fence and this brought back a memory from her childhood driving with her mother in her Pontiac Sunbird. Where Lucian was cautious on the road her mother you might say was more of a daredevil. She continues to relate more about the different fences and recalls an incident in her hometown of Glen Ferris where she and her father spent a special Saturday together. Read more on page 107 to learn why this was so special. Her manner driving with both her father and Lucian the same: quiet. The author then continues with the history of Romania and a special book written by Dr. Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu, the son of a diplomat. I had the pleasure of interviewing his granddaughter on my radio show to discuss her novel A World Torn ASUNDER.
There is so much that the author shares with readers regarding the history of Romania that I will highlight two places next and let the reader find out more on their own. Lucian took her to Poenari Citadel, which is on of two structures in Romania known as “Dracula’s Castle.” Driving with this handsome guide in a blue sedan must have been great but seeing the Romanian countryside, meeting the people, taking pictures, learning about the money and the customs even more. Some of the foods and dinners she shared would break anyone’s diet and definitely, as she said would make dear “Jenny Craig,” cringe or insist she order another month of food. Poenari is one structure and the second one is Bran Castle. The first is not as well known and Bran Castle is as she states, “an actual standing castle in the village of Transylvania.” This had to be more than just exciting. Any fans of Dracula, like this reviewer, would love to see both. The Poenari Citadel according to Dracula insiders is said to be the “real castle.” Information to back this up is found in the McNally and Florescu book “In Search of Dracula,” which sounds like a book I just might want to read. But, even this castle evoked a nightmare from her past as she often compares her mothers and her personality to that of her favorite fictional character.
One weekend with her mother would bring to light what happens when she partied with her friends and got drunk. The entire experience that she relates on page 127 drained her totally even more than if Dracula would have drained her blood. Imagine being in car and thinking that you were coming to be hit by an oncoming car and your mother was driving drunk. Bringing her to the present she and Lucian were going to see monsters and monasteries next as described in Chapter 20. Describing the ancient monasteries and the churches you can see the landscape, the stain glass and the history of the country come alive. Chapter 23 describes the Scholmance, the legendary witches school that was an extra-added bonus for her on this trip. Eighteen days was long time to see the country but would it be long enough for Jane to sort out her feelings about her mother, her father and her life at home?
Each day was another adventure for Jane and the trip seemed to allow her to release her emotions, come to terms with her past and finally reconcile her present. So, when she did not feel well, wait until you learn what Lucian did, and oh, shucks, he’s married. Next, we learn the history of the Roma and about the accident they got into. What happened as a result would affect her eyes and the end result was surgery. But, then she continues with her love of coffee, a vampire’s need for blood and the chapter “We Thirst,” will get you searching for your favorite drink.
Finding her way to Romania, learning about Christopher Lee, Dracula and reliving her past with all that she wanted to forget would allow the author to take two journeys during those 18 days: One to the land of Dracula and the other to her past and Glen Ferris. Which one was more powerful? You decide!
Taking her camera out while viewing the Carpathian Mountains, clicking the shutter, looking into the camera’s lens and recording for posterity the scenery right out of a Dracula movie. Imagine the mist coming down from the mountain and the way the light fell on the porch. The entire scene was breathtaking. The final question so many would ask: What is the home of Count Dracula without THE MOON? But, not just any moon a full moon. Jane at times seemed so consumed with his history, with him and with the man who created the role as only he could do it, Christopher Lee. Dracula had fangs that might have been deadly but her mother’s were just as evil at times.
The trip would not have been complete without a visit to the Romanian prisons. This chapter 30 was powerful in many ways. Seeing the prison released her own feelings of being enclosed, imprisoned and encased within her life, her own choices and her wanting to leave where she came from and live within her fantasies. Verbal abuse is sometimes worse than physical as she shares her mother’s rants, raves and assessment of her with readers. As she recalls how Lee portrayed his own view of evil you might compare it to her mother’s too.
Dracula Park, creatures of the night, Vlad’s Town, Devil House chapter’s 39-43 bring Dracula alive. Chapter 46 highlights what happens when you forgive, readjust reconcile your past. Within this chapter tears will come to your eyes as she relates her newfound relationship with mother. Chapter 47 visit Bran Castle along with Jane and her guide and finally take put on your T-shirt: Dracula: Coming Straight from the Heart of Transylvania: Join her for this once in a lifetime journey to the heart of Dracula’s world and to the last day of the trip and finally home.
Dracula took many different roads and Jane and her mother found a new one to travel one. It is all summed up in the last two chapters and the epilogue. Ghosts haunt. Your past follows you and this memoir will haunt you, make you smile and perhaps want to take the journey too.
Fran Lewis: reviewer