Historical layers (no, not hoodies)

What does a 14th century vampire have to do with a parasol?

We'll get there.

The mountains of Transylvania are dotted with castles, citadels, and crumbling fortresses, but only one castle bills itself as Dracula's Castle.

Which is strange, since the closest the historical "Dracula," Vlad Tepes, came to living in the castle was maybe spending a handful of nights there while fleeing invaders. The labyrinthine Bran's Castle is named after the pass it guards, but maybe it was the echo of Dracula's author's first name as much as Vlad's brief visit that solidified the castle's place in the world's imagination.

The castle started its life in 1378, when construction first began. Over the years, explosions, storms, and fires toppled parts of the structure, but people kept rebuilding and adding. The result is a maze of rooms that feels a little like a muggle version of Hogwarts.

If that architectural layer cake weren't sufficient complication for one castle, then there are the uses the castle's occupants have put it to over the years. After defending against invading Turks, then helping collect custom taxes from passing merchants, the castle served as a retreat for Romania's new monarchy in the early 20th century. The beloved Queen Marie and her daughter, Princess Ileana, used the castle as their summer residence. 

Finally, under the Communists the castle became a museum. It reverted to the royal family at the beginning of the 21st century, and after a couple of years, they decided to turn it back into a museum. It's now an extremely crowded (in the summer at least) tourist highlight.

But isn't it strange that one pile of stones can house both the blood of tortured Turks and the cozy porcelain fireplace alongside which a modern queen used to take her naps? Some windows still swivel out to allow defenders to shoot out crossbows (see below), while others have charming mullions.

Of course, historical fiction writers and readers know that history is made of layers. We live on top of an ancient city, metaphorically at least (and often literally). Beneath us are layers of civilization and culture left by those who came before us. Our economy is built upon knowledge gained and passed down, our writing is made of styles discovered and modified by those who created before us. As Susan Vreeland wrote in Luncheon of the Boating Party, "Art was collaboration, and standing on the shoulders of those who came before."

Queen Marie's charming bedroom.

Queen Marie's charming bedroom.

The best historical fiction exposes those layers, and shows how at any moment in time, humans are reaching both backwards, to receive the flame, and forwards, to pass it along.

A writing desk in Castle Bran.

A writing desk in Castle Bran.