The Debunker: How Was Dracula Killed?

by Ken Jennings

The poet John Keats called autumn a “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” Let’s leave the “mellow fruitfulness” for November - October is all about the season of mists. We’ve asked Jeopardy! smart-aleck Ken Jennings to fact-check the spookiest Halloween lore he could dig up and fill us in on all these monstrous misconceptions.

Spooky Myth #4: Dracula Was Killed By a Stake Through the Heart.

A wooden stake through the heart is often said, in vampire lore, to be the only way to kill one of the pesky bloodsuckers. But apparently Bram Stoker, the Irish novelist who created Dracula, didn’t get the memo. At the climax of his 1897 novel, Mina Harker describes Drac’s death like this:

“But on the instant came the sweep and flash of Jonathan's great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat whilst at the same moment Mr Morris's bowie knife plunged into the heart. It was like a miracle but before our very eyes and almost in the drawing of a breath the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight.”

The count is finished off by two knives: a Nepalese machete called a kukri, and a regular old Bowie knife. This is more the kind of arsenal you’d expect to see in one of the Blade movies than in an old Gothic novel, but Stoker was just ahead of the curve, I guess.

You’ve probably heard that Stoker’s count was loosely inspired by accounts of the 15th-century Vlad the Impaler, a superfluously cruel Romanian ruler sometimes called “Dracula,” meaning “son of Dracul,” his royal dad. Vlad was just a jerk, not an undead creature of the night, and his death wasn’t a stake through the heart either. He was assassinated under mysterious circumstances in 1476, presumably by the sword. (His head was placed on a stake by his Turkish enemies, however.)

The biggest shocker about the original Dracula: he wasn’t from Transylvania! Well, he was born there, but he actually ruled a neighboring region called Wallachia. In fact, the Transylvanians were the real Dracula’s military opponents. It’s a pity Stoker didn’t go with “Wallachia” as the site of Count Dracula’s castle in his book, because it sounds much scarier when you say it right. And we never would have had to suffer through that terrible Transylvania 6-5000 movie.

Quick Quiz: Name the three monster-themed General Mills cereals that are now only sold around Halloween and not during the rest of the year.

Ken Jennings is the author of Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

Photo by Flickr member Ednaar. Used under a Creative Commons License.