Sunday, November 16, 2008

Truth more interesting than theory

The publication of Charles Robinson's interesting The Original Frankenstein has given more people the opportunity to discuss the niggling claim that Percy Bysshe Shelley is more the creator of the monster and the myth than his wife-to-be. I appreciate the comment in today's Independent online review, in which James Grande says that “the theories that deny Mary Shelley's authorship are much less interesting than the true story behind Frankenstein.” Grande imagines the two of them passing a manuscript back and forth in bed. I like the image.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Continuing the row over authorship

Charles Robinson's new volume, The Original Frankenstein, published by Cambridge's Bodleian Press and noted here about a month ago, has sparked new discussions about who wrote Frankenstein. It is a debate not quite as interesting as those over Shakespeare or Homer, since there is only one alternative answer to Mary Shelley, and that's Percy Bysshe. It is also a debate that conjures up the same voices, in particular that of independent scholar John Lauritsen, who is PBS‘s unending champion and one of the few, if not the only, person who outright claims that Mary's husband wrote -- not helped her with -- the novel. Both Lynda Pratt in The Times and Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education took the opportunity to explore the issue again.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Vote green in the coming election

It has been an amusing intersection, the Halloween season and the U.S. election, spawning wonders like this one: JibJab - Frankenstein for President!

A special thank you to Pierre Fournier of Frankensteinia for finding this gem.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Speaking of the monster

I had a great afternoon last Friday, meeting with a few graduate students at the University of Virginia (mostly in English, one in Spanish) and showing them the high points of the Dome Room exhibit that features my collection of Frankensteiniana, hosted by the University of Virginia's Rare Book School and titled “The Monster Among Us.”

A University representative greeted us and said that after years of Rare Book School exhibits in the Dome Room, this is the first time that visitors have come to her to ask, “What is this and what is it doing in Mr. Jefferson's Rotunda?” We laughed, and talked about whether Thomas Jefferson might have read Frankenstein -- it's highly likely, but no evidence -- and I voiced my opinion of why it belongs: Because Mr. Jefferson was always an advocate of pushing the limits of knowledge, and that is what the myth of Frankenstein is all about. The official answer is that Rare Book School mounts Dome Room exhibition about the history of books, and this exhibit shows how one book has infused the culture of the world, influencing millions over almost 200 years.

“The Monster Among Us” will be in the University of Virginia's Rotunda Dome Room through the calendar year. Come see it if you can.

Move over, Santa

When I ask my mother, who edges in and out of aging dementia these days, what Halloween was like during my childhood, she talks about razors in apples. "I never got one," say I, eternal optimist and lover of the monster holiday. "Did anyone in our neighbhorhood ever get one?" She has to admit no. One scaremonger newspaper story 25 years ago and she's sure it was happening next door.

But all that is to say that times have changed and sadly children do not as often go out in costumed gangs on their own to trick or treat. I loved that evening. We did get to travel door to door -- saw inside neighbors' houses that we always wondered about from the sidewalk -- and got to walk through the darkness by ourselves, no adult watching over us. Thrills beyond treats.

New conventions are developing to assuage the fears of razor blade believers. Here is one from my homeland of Michigan: A monstrous grown-up takes children on his knee, asks them what they want to be for Halloween, and gives them a hug and a bag of candy. Might have possibilities -- although it's a little too mall-defined to satisfy my need for the fear that comes with chaos and the darkness of night.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Female gothic

In the 1970s, when Mary Shelley's novel was just peeking its head over the horizon and peering into the Ivory Tower -- or, in other words, when scholars were only just beginning to pay it respectful attention -- scholar Ellen Moers published an essay called "Female Gothic." In it she used the little-respected Frankenstein as a central example of the phenomenon of gothic horror, at its core feminine, because it is at its core a visceral, body experience -- scaring by getting down "to the body itself," "quickly arousing and quickly allaying the physiological reactions to fear." The frisson -- the little shiver of fear that we love to feel. That's at the heart of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

This seems to be the point made in this weekend's New York Times Book Review by Terrence Rafferty, who appropriately calls his round-up of female-written horror novels “Shelley's Daughters.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

You too can rise from the dead

Here's the scoop from Young Frankenstein makeup designer Angelina Avallone on how to turn monstrous for the coming evening of thrills and chills.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Poster child for . . .

A friend in England tipped me off to a monstrously engaging poster for a public forum on "How the Media Promote Public Misunderstanding of Science" at Cambridge's Babbage Lecture Theatre.

And whose lovely visage do you think was chosen to symbolize said misunderstanding? One of the more misunderstood monsters around.

Never too young to love the monster

Time to get the baby teeth chattering with the best of children's Halloween read-alouds. Diane Petryk Bloom in Norfolk, Virginia, mentions two of my favorites, Maurice Sendak's creepy pop-up, Mommy?, (mentioned, by the way, by pop-up artist Robert Sabuda, whom we featured in our last post) and Adam Rex's humongously delicious Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich.

But don't forget the best of the recent bunch, Keith Graves's Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted Dance, with a cheery, singsong ending that reminds me of my favorite kids' joke punchline, something like, "Franky! Pull yourself together!"

You can get a look at this wonderful book here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shadow puppet

In light of the many mentions of our favorite monster these days, seen again and again and again and again in commentaries on the financial debacles of the times (as pointed out recently on another blog, The Teeming Brain), we followed the lead of Haunt Style blogger to the wonderful pop-up site of paper engineer Robert Sabuda to learn how to make a pop-up monster.

With a few snips and clips, you can animate your daily read of financial disaster with a paper monster that rails and raises his arms in horror.

Have fun.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Props for sale

Now I know where to go if I'm shopping for the best that Hollywood has to offer in hand-me-down electrophysical props -- the van de graaf generators and the oversized switches that go whizz and buzz in the night of every B-grade monster movie: Jadis, a shop in Santa Monica, California, featured on today's Weekend America. Since it's across the continent, I won't be dropping in soon. But I loved the visit by radio. Thanks, Claes Andreasson. You can read a transcript and see a few more pictures on the show's website.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

One day in the sun

Publication of Charles Robinson's Original Frankenstein by Cambridge University Press presented an opportunity for Cambridge's Bodleian Library to display -- for one day only -- their recently acquired manuscript of Mary Shelley's novel. Cambridge's Frankenstein Day highlighted not only Robinson, visiting from his Delaware home, but also Brian Aldiss, the English novelist who wrote Frankenstein Unbound (inspiration for the Roger Corman film). Hear BBC Radio interview Robinson and Aldiss, who publicly pronounces our favorite monster's stepfather, Percy Bysshe Shelley, a creep.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Apt comparison

Q: When is a pumpkin like a monster?
A: When it overwhelms its maker.
Nearly a ton, this one qualifies.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A new Frankenstein

There is a debut set for October 7, 2008, at Cambridge University's Bodleian Library, introducing our favorite monster novel with a new twist, edited by Charles E. Robinson, professor of English at the University of Delaware. Robinson already made Frankenstein history in years past by publishing the amazing Frankenstein Notebooks, photoreproductions of the manuscripts of the novel, accompanied by a meticulously annotated time line of events leading up to and following after its publication.

Now, taking up his side into the fray about how much Percy Shelley had to do with the writing of Frankenstein, and putting his editorial pen where his mouth is, Robinson removes any of the changes PBS impressed upon his beloved Mary's manuscript. He has undone about 5,000 edits to the manuscript, resulting in a version that's all Mary.

The book is published in England only right now, but available online. Its publication has inspired Frankenstein Day at the Bodleian, and a publication party has none other than Brian Aldiss, the grand old man of science fiction history and author of Frankenstein Unbound, arriving to give a toast to start up the 3:00 lecture on the 7th.

Congratulations, Professor Robinson! The monster thanks you.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

'Tis the season

As we enter the witching month, local versions of the monster's myth abound. The University of New Mexico Department of Theatre and Dance stages a performance that's part Mary Shelley, part Salvador Dali, comments Albuquerque reviewer Aurelio Sanchez. Broadway greets Clive Barker's Frankenstein in Love, "horrifying and poignant yet funny," Michael Sherrin says. Local movie theaters will be offering monster fare, like Pitman, New Jersey's Broadway Theatre, where they'll do up Bride of Frankenstein right, with organ music and all.
And I'll be tipping my hat to monster at two events: October 20, 7pm, Randall Library, University of North Carolina-Wilmington, speaking of the eerie connections between Shelley's novel and Ishiguro's quiet chiller, Never Let Me Go, and then a week later: October 28, 7pm, Frederick County Public Library, Laurel, Maryland, introducing all comers to the monster and his tale.
More sightings soon.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Son of Frankenstein on Wall Street

The monster in the Treasury Department has a name, according to the Deal Professor Steven Davidoff, who evokes our favorite phantom to express his outrage and fear over the megadeal maneuvered by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to bail out AIG with US funds. Read his blog on Henry Paulson's Frankenstein here.

My question is, where's that money coming from? Rumor has it the presses are rolling night and day. It takes a long time to print a trillion dollars.

It's worth noting that in years gone by, another writer connected America's economic woes with the story of the monster made by man. As the nation slid deeper into the Great Depression, a month before Boris Karloff's classic film hit the screen, a book titled Frankenstein, Incorporated by Maurice Wormser came out, questioning the new legal entity called the corporation.

“Corporations are not natural living persons, but articial beings . . . created by the nation or state, which endows them with distinct personality in the eyes of the law, special privileges and comprehensive powers,” wrote Wormser. (Read my Frankenstein: A Cultural History for more about his 1931 book.)

So Paulson's Frankenstein is at least second-generation, proliferating the monstrosity.

No one does it better

I continue to be amazed, amused, delighted, and awed by Pierre Fournier's blog, Frankensteina. He keeps those antennae up constantly for news, appearances, performances, publications, and every fascinating iteration of our favorite monster's endless life. Check it out.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Meet my monsters

Proud to announce that part of my own collection of Frankensteiniana forms the core of the new exhibition hosted by the University of Virginia's Rare Book School in . . . drum roll, please . . . the Dome Room of Mr. Jefferson's Rotunda.

Good company. Graduating fourth-year student Shannon Gorman is the curator.

It's called "The Monster Among Us: Frankenstein from Mary Shelley to Mel Brooks," and it's open to the public, 9 to 4:45, seven days a week. The exhibition will be in the Dome Room through next October.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cat out of the hat

It has long amused me that a novel once considered censorable not only for children but for adults has in the past two centuries spawned dozens if not hundreds of children's books. There are easy reader versions of the novel and picture books taking the monster on many adventures. At the same time, the monster has appeared in one cartoon show after another -- first as a guest star with such animation greats as Mickey Mouse, Mighty Mouse, Mister Magoo, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Scooby Doo, then in variations on his own theme, chief among them the lovable Hanna Barbera Frankenstein Jr.

Well here comes the feline version, based on a picture book by Curt Jobling (already rich and famous because he created Bob the Builder), now making its way into the Saturday morning lineup via UK TV. Meet FRANKENSTEIN'S CAT.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stitching together the various parts

My monster alerts carried me to this amusing YouTube creation. Take a few body parts from one Democratic presidential candidate and a few from the other, and you get --- is it a monster or a dream vision come true? Take a look.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Swing, batter

Ooooh, I like this one.

One of my hobby-horses involves finding new analogies that connect the monster to new realms -- and I like this one.

Roger Clemens, alias Dr. Clemenstein, who started out a man and made himself a monster, an all-star monster at that, by taking performance-enhancing steroids.

That's the terminology chosen by commentator Robert Lipsyte on

"The drugs went in and the soul came out. . . . We'll see him go down," writes Lipsyte melodramatically.

All we need is a burning windmill.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Winter's monster may rebound

In among mentions of the motorcycle rallies where he plays live these days comes news that Edgar Winter is writing a musical based on his history-making rock classic, "Frankenstein."

"Part of what I've tried to do throughout my career is broaden musical horizons and play a really wide variety of music," a Washington, PA, reporter quotes him as saying. "I'm primarily thought of as a rocker, but I really do love jazz and classical." The occasion for the article is a live performance this weekend by Winter at—don't you love it?—the Pepsi Cola Roadhouse in Burgettstown, PA.

Move over, Mel Brooks. Here comes someone who has had his finger on the pulse of the monster for as long as you have.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Election allusions

It's bound to happen. You can't have an election in the United States without someone finding some way—or many people finding many ways—to bring the monster into the conversation.

Today it's Mike Garibaldi-Frick, commenting on the flak Hillary is taking for being a woman with a strong presence. "If the mob is flocking to Obama while launching vicious attacks on the Clinton Frankenstein monster with 'crazy eyes,'" he wrote, "I'll feel compassion to help Frankenstein."

Mary Shelley is settling down a little more comfortably in her grave. If she were alive, who would she be campaigning for?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

3D experience from My Boss

My Boss? National Geographic Society.

Monster? Well, not really -- but monstrously entertaining.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Yin or yang?

"I've always considered Frankenstein's creation more a creature than a monster," Christopher Lee is quoted as saying today in an article with a few other juicy tidbits about the place of the monster in his acting career.

Too bad the makeup crew of his Hammer portrayals didn't agree. Remember those pustules? Yuck.

What about you? Creature or monster? Let us know.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pan's monster

Recent rumor has it that Guillermo del Toro, creator of the magical Pan's Labyrinth -- influenced tremendously, he admitted at its opening, by Mary Shelley and the making of her monster -- is just waiting for the writers' strike to end in order to get going on his new vision: a new version of Frankenstein.

The more monsters the merrier -- and I believe del Toro's would be merry indeed.