It seems I’m still thinking about monsters. I was reminded of an interesting fact recently. Many of you will have been aided in learning mathematics by Sesame Street’s The Count (or Count von Count, to give him his full name). The number-loving muppet was obviously a parody of popular images of vampires in general, and especially Count Dracula as portrayed by Bela Lugosi. Hence the name: obviously a pun on Count Dracula, and the fact that the Count… counts. But there may be another layer of meaning to his name…
A little-known characteristic of vampires in European folklore is that they suffer from arithmomania. This is a real condition in which the sufferer is compelled to count their actions or the objects around them. For many sufferers of obsessive-compulsive disorder, this is one of the aspects of their condition. In many foktales, vampires could be evaded by scattering objects on the ground to distract them. The reason this aspect of vampirism isn’t well known is that it doesn’t feature in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which has inspired a great deal of our conceptions about vampires (the Twilight series would probably be dominated by scenes in which the vampires obsessively count their sparkles if Stoker had given the Count the characteristic).
But while Dracula may not be an arithmomaniac, the Count certainly is. I can’t seem to find any evidence that his creators were inspired by this characteristic of folkloric vampires, and one would imagine that the basic Count/count pun would be inspiration enough for the character. Still, it’s interesting that in this one sense, he’s more of an authentic vampire than Dracula.
I wonder though, did Stoker deliberately give Dracula the title Count as a pun? Jon Polidori created the image of an aristocratic vampire in his 1819 story “The Vampyre,” which could explain the title. Still, he could have been a Duke, or Earl, or Lord. And while the character doesn’t display arithmomania in the novel, Stoker would surely have been familiar with the trait, as he spent seven years researching vampire folklore before writing the novel. And in the novel, Dracula does hoard money (a huge pile of coins and banknotes fall out of his pocket when it’s slashed by a knife, in a scene which understandably hasn’t made it into most adaptations). It’s not hard to imagine spending his evenings counting all that money.
The title Count and the verb to count, by the way, have entirely separate etymologies, so the resemblance is entirely coincidental. Though perhaps not the resemblance between Count von Count and his counterparts in European folklore. And now you know how to distract a vampire if you ever encounter one, just another of the many vital lessons to be learned from Sesame Street.