Steven P. Unger has been a traveler and writer from the time he learned to type with two fingers on a manual typewriter in the basement of his parents’ house in Ferndale, Michigan. He still travels, writes and types with two fingers.
Worldwide fascination with Dracula, like the bloodthirsty Count himself, will never die. Completed and comprising approximately 35,000 words and 185 photographs, In the Footsteps of Dracula: A Personal Journey and Travel Guide is the first and only book to include … pictures and descriptions, in memoir form, of every site in England and Romania that is closely related to either Bram Stoker’s fictional Count Dracula or his historical counterpart, Prince Vlad Dracula the Impaler.
It’s not often that, as a reviewer of dark fiction, I get the chance to review a travel guide. Even less often do I enjoy reading travel guides at all. In the Footsteps of Dracula: A Personal Journey and Travel Guide is most certainly an exception.
Almost equal parts memoir, travel guide, history lesson, and an examination of fact and fiction (most particularly the Dracula myth), author Steven P. Unger weaves us effortlessly through the various styles. One minute you’re with him, standing on the fabled Borgo Pass, and the next you’re fascinated by the area’s historical links (or lack thereof) with Bram Stoker’s most famous novel.
Unger’s travels focus only on places mentioned or verified as inspiring the fictional Dracula, or those of the historical Vlad Tepes. In this way, he avoids most of the more ‘kitschy’ tourists haunts that have been created in the novel’s wake. Instead, his destinations include the less gaudy, but so much more interesting, Whitby Abbey (the real Carfax Abbey), Poienari (the real Castle Dracula), and the Reading Room of the British Museum. It is in these places that Unger discovers links between Dracula and Vlad Tepes that even Bram Stoker had no prior knowledge of.
The text is well broken up by an abundance of photographs too. Evocative images of bleak Romanian landscapes and abandoned abbeys do much to help keep you engrossed in the words. My only disappointment while reading was that all of the pictures are black and white. Sometimes I’d turn a page and just wish an image was in colour – it is a minor and selfish quibble, and does more to reflect the good choice and placement of photos than any real deficiency with the book.
Overall, the tone of the writing is never dry or overly academic. Unger sucessfully conveys his own wonder and disappointment at the places he visits, and his investigations into their legitimacy as part of Dracula folk-lore are always full of surprises.
The final section of the book, ‘Part V – Nuts and Bolts: A Practical Guide to the Dracula Trail‘, somewhat dispenses with the memoir and historical portions of the narrative. Instead, it focusses on the practicality of following Unger’s journey. This section of the book – a collection of travel tips on topics including: money, security, public transport, food and accomodation costs, and health – will prove indispensable to those who wish to visit the places that inspired Stoker’s Dracula.
I don’t plan on going anywhere far, but nevertheless, I found this book fascinating. There were so many ‘I didn’t know that!’ moments. And Unger’s own personal fascination with the history (fact or fiction) behind Dracula’s origins was certainly infectious enough to make it feel like I was there with him.
In the Footsteps of Dracula: A Personal Journey and Travel Guide is a book I very much enjoyed reading, and even if you’re not a traveller, it certainly should be on the shelf of anyone interested in the origins and ispirations for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.