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.