It’s easy to think of monsters as metaphors for whatever needs metaphorizing(?), be it racism or drugs or being nicer to the weird kid at summer camp. But it turns out a lot of history’s greatest boogeymen only exist because of regular ol’ real people … being regular ol’ real dicks. Like how …
Count Dracula Was Based On Some Asshole Actor Bram Stoker Worked With
As worldly, educated types who read internet comedy websites, you’re all probably already aware that Wallachian governor and murder super fan Vlad the Impaler was the basis for Bram Stoker’s most famous creation, Count Chocula. But as it turns out, old Vlad was not the only inspiration, and he probably wasn’t even the primary one.
At one point in the lean “I’ll take any job you have available” phase that all famous authors go through, Stoker was a manager at the Lyceum Theatre in London, where he found himself in the thrall of Sir Henry Irving, arguably the premier actor of the British stage at the time. Helpless against the man’s charms, Stoker basically became Irving’s personal assistant … and Irving would be goddamned if he was going to be cool about it.
The actor regularly took advantage of Stoker, having the writer (who was, again, the fucking manager of the theater he worked for) answer all of his correspondence. Stoker once remarked that he wrote at least half a million letters for Irving. And being nothing if not a colossal dickhead, Irving bragged about Stoker’s subservience. Once, when asked if he had a college degree, Irving remarked, “No, but I have a secretary who has two.”
While all this was going on, Stoker began writing Dracula, his soon-to-be-world-famous novel about a well-mannered and relentlessly captivating asshole who feeds on the life force of others to sustain himself, which was definitely not drawn in any way from his one-sided relationship with Irving. Reportedly, the author also based a lot of Dracula’s physical descriptions and mannerisms on Irving, from his “smoldering eyes” to his “elegant long hands.” Stoker even tried to cast Irving as Dracula in a stage version of the book, only for Irving, a shitbag to the end, to refuse, calling the story “dreadful.”
“Godzilla” Was Apparently A Nickname For A Big PR Guy
Godzilla is hands down the most famous giant radioactive lizard on the planet. Everyone knows Godzilla, even your crotchety old grandma who thinks TV peaked with Ozzie & Harriet. But “Godzilla” is not Godzilla’s real name. “Godzilla” is the Americanized form of the Japanese “Gojira,” which itself is a portmanteau of the words for “gorilla” (gorira) and “whale” (kujira). Because Godzilla is big, like whales and … gorillas?
An Old-Timey Gentleman Thief Was The Real Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
Dr. Jekyll’s alter-ego Mr. Hyde may not be the most famous of evildoers, but the story is still easily one of the most borrowed in history (*cough*TheIncredibleHulk*cough* ). As much as it might seem like the notion of a man living two lives — one of renown and one of infamy — kinda writes itself, it turns out that Robert Louis Stevenson’s two-faced villain was based on a real dude.
But here’s where things got illegal. Brodie would make wax impressions of all of those keys, and then, dressed in black, he would break into their homes in the dead of night and take all their brandy, silverware, and other rich people shit. Like, for years. Then, after literally running into fellow thief George Smith on a street corner, he started a small gang of thieves that went around robbing stores of gold, tobacco, and tea. They even swiped the ceremonial mace from the University of Edinburgh.
Soon enough, Brodie and friends set their sights on all the money in Scotland — and that’s barely hyperbole. They were going to rob the Excise Office, where the country’s collected taxes were held in cold hard cash. Unfortunately, moments after breaking in, they got spooked and fled with only 16 pounds between them. But because people still got in trouble for using the government as their own personal piggy bank back then, everyone except Brodie was arrested and promptly started talking. Brodie fled to Amsterdam, only to get ratted out and sent back to Edinburgh. Within days he was hanged, with an audience of 40,000 watching.
Anyway, all of this added to the reputation of Brodie’s “monstrous” second life, and the story was passed around Scotland for the next century. Robert Louis Stevenson, who had a confirmed Brodie original cabinet in his bedroom, became fascinated by the tale. His first attempt at telling it, a play titled Deacon Brodie, Or The Double Life, didn’t go over so well, so he tried again, this time with a few liberties, and voila, The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde was born.
European Werewolf Mythology Drew From Stories Of Viking Berserkers
The first known European werewolf stories bear a striking resemblance to those told about Norse berserkers, an Odin-worshiping subset of Viking shock troopers famous for taking mushrooms and then going absolutely nuts on their enemies. Berserk, if you will. Now, “berserker” literally translates into “bear coat,” because — and stay with me here — most of these particular Vikings wore bear pelts (and only bear pelts) into battle. But like any good sect of skull-crushing lunatics, there were various factions within, though the term “berserker” became kind of a catch-all for all of them — including the significantly crazier Ulfhednar.
The Ulfhednar were the hardest of hardcore berserkers, favoring hollowed-out wolf skins over bear hides. These “Men in Wolf Skin” were said to become so bloodthirsty and savage, in fact, that many of their victims (and even fellow Vikings) reported that they actually turned into wolves. You see where this is going, right?
Thanks to the lingering gory memories of Viking conquest, a couple hundred years later, Europeans in the Middle Ages associated the “wolves” of the Ulfhednar with madness and inhuman murder. Soon enough, the werewolf was born. And they weren’t even subtle about it. Before curses and Satan entered the picture, some dude dressing up in a wolf’s skin and taking on the qualities of the animal was how werewolves were first said to transform.