Thursday, September 28, 2017

Essential Literature: Dracula in Istanbul

Like the recently released Powers of Darkness, Kazıklı Voyvoda (now named Dracula in Istanbul) was less a translation and more a re-imagining of Dracula. In some respects this was much more important, however.

Firstly, this was not a lost book. Adapted by Ali Rıza Seyfioğlu in 1928 it was known outside of the native Turkey (and previously translated into German), it led to a film adaptation in the form of Drakula Istanbul’da and it took the use of the name Dracula, as borrowed from the historical Vlad Ţepeş by Stoker in the original novel, and made a definitive connection between the Count and the historical personage.

That a Turkish writer should draw the line between Count Dracula and Voivode Dracula is not surprising. Whilst Ţepeş appears little known in Victorian Britain, he was a known historical enemy in Turkey. In fact Azmì (the Jonathan character) mentions the historical Dracula in the first diary entry (the novel remains epistolary) and also references that his Mina, Güzim, is a history buff. Whilst Ţepeş is referenced it takes time for the penny to drop, with doubt expressed as to the Count being the actual man rather than a descendent part way through the novel, which then morphs at the end to an unequivocal belief that they are one and the same.

The book is slim, coming in at 139 pages, and misses some integral aspects, most notably an absolute absence of Renfield. As well as this there are some interesting changes. One obvious one is the use of Islamic religious talismans rather than Christian. I have noted that Azmì is given (and takes and keeps) a crucifix but it is his En'am-ı Şerif that protects him when he cuts himself shaving. Indeed it is the sacredness of religion – rather than the talismans of a specific religion – that is recognised as important. The term ghoul is used – which, of course, connects strongly to vampirism through the Arabian Nights, via Hoffmann’s Vampirismus and into the works of Dudley Wright. Later in the novel the terms Cadi, meaning witch, and Hortlak, meaning ghoul, are also used as Turkish versions of vampire.

By 1928 blood types had been discovered so when it comes to Dr Reshuî (Van Helsing) giving Şadan (Lucy) transfusions from himself and the three suitors there is mention of the unlikely coincidence that all five persons share the same blood type. This of course indicates that the three suitors remain in place in the novel, indeed the three served together in the Turkish War of Independence, but any mention of (possible) polyandry is lost. It was also interesting that the Soviet ship that brings the boxes of earth is not named and does not shipwreck. Though there are mysterious deaths on board three of the crew survive and the whole scene is glossed over. When Şadan remembers the first attack on her she recalls feeling as though her blood was being drained and it being a “bittersweet pleasure”, a more deliberate description than Stoker used.

Our vampires can turn to vapour – indeed it is how Lucy enters her tomb, they must be in their coffin by sunrise (despite Dracula being active during the day) and silver bullets are specifically mentioned.

The end section is greatly curtailed and there is no pursuit back to Castle Dracula. However, it is the explicit connection to Vlad Ţepeş that makes this essential literature.

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