For those interested in the Twilight phenomenon or not, The Truth About Dracula is a fascinating read. Though this might not seem directly related to fairy tales, as I pointed out in my post on Victorian beliefs about fairies, the beliefs in dark supernatural beings are more prominent in folklore than we often realize.
Written by Gabriel Ronay, this book traces beliefs and legends about vampires through history, extending beyond Bram Stoker's famous figure. The man who inspired the book Dracula was Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476). As his nickname would imply, Vlad was famous for impaling people, and for the very slightest of reasons. But he didn't stick to just impaling; he also invented various kinds of torture. For example, (do not finish paragraph if you are squeamish/hate reading about torture), once he created a giant pot with holes in the lid, through which the victims' heads would be forced. The pot would be filled with water, then the water boiled, so Vlad could watch them scream in agony as they boiled to death.
Not exactly a guy you'd want to run into in a dark alleyway, but people have defended him. People expected different things from royalty back then than they do from government now--it was commonly believed that rulers had to punish the people every now and then, just to remind them who was in charge.
But vampirism isn't something we can actually accuse of Vlad the Impaler. The closest predecessor of a vampire, (as far as an actual person goes), would be Countess Elisabeth Bathory (1560-1614).
Elisabeth came from a very prominent family that had intermarried so many times, by the time they got to her, she was already kind of psychotic. Convinced that bathing in the blood of young virgins would help her become beautiful, she lured young peasant girls to her castle, which was really a torture chamber. She was also sexually turned on by seeing other people bleed and would get into ecstasies as her accomplices tortured and killed her victims. And, yes, she sometimes drank the blood as well as bathe in it. She was guilty of 650 murders.
Sadly, this obsession of hers was allowed to escalate to the point that it did, mainly because of the importance given to class and family name. The families of the young peasant girls were virtually powerless to do anything, because peasants were considered to be next to nothing. Only when the countess was led to believe that the real secret to youth and beauty was in bathing in the blood of girls of respected families, people finally started to take notice. Even when she was found guilty of kidnapping, torturing, and murdering hundreds of girls, she got off merely with house arrest, because of the fear of her family.
This book is very disturbing and not recommended for the faint of heart, yet once you start it's hard to tear yourself away. A fascinating read, I finished it in a day. Highly recommended for anyone interested in this subject.