Numerous fictional characters were inspired by real people. The president in Primary Colors is a stand-in for Bill Clinton. Nora Charles of The Thin Man is based on playwright Lillian Hellman. Surgeon Joseph Bell inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes. According to conventional wisdom, Bram Stoker based Dracula, the original sexy vampire, on Romanian tyrant Vlad The Impaler, but this is indeed a myth.
Scholars assumed that Dracula was based on Vlad because Vlad was a member of the noble family House of Drăculești, whose title translated to Voivode Dracula in English. (A voivode was the Slavic equivalent of a baron.) Vlad was born in Transylvania. Before Dracula became a vampire, he, like Vlad, battled the Turks. The idea that the blood-thirsty character is based on Vlad is so pervasive that some of the numerous film and television adaptations of him, including the current Dracula Untold have used the conceit that Vlad was turned into a vampire after his death.
However, all of this so-called evidence that Dracula is Vlad is circumstantial. Gothic supernatural novels were already an established genre when Stoker wrote Dracula. Transylvania was as clichéd a supernatural setting as New Orleans is today for the simple reason that it was a legitimately creepy place.
Stoker’s actual writing notes reveal that he read a book with the super-exciting title Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. Sadly, it was a dry history text, not a prescient description of the Moldavian Massacre on “Dynasty.” It was so boring that Stoker was inspired not by the actual book, but by a footnote which revealed that “Dracula in Wallachian language means Devil.” That was where Stoker got the name. If he weren’t such a close reader, Dracula might have been named Lucifer or Satan or Joe.
Stoker based his famous character on earlier fictional vampires and used his own imagination to make him bigger and badder than his predecessors. His son, Irving Stoker, had the best explanation for the source of his father’s creativity. He claimed Stoker saw Dracula “in a nightmarish dream after eating too much dressed crab."