Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rant #570: The Birth of "Frankenstein"

Now that we can talk about something else other than the hurricane, let's get into something that is even more macabre.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born in London on this day in 1797.

To some, this name means absolutely nothing.

To others, this name, and the date of her birth, probably conjures up the thought, "Who cares about someone born more than 200 years ago?"

And to others, the name sends chills up their spines.

That is, after all, the way it should be, as Shelley was the creator of the character of Dr. Frankenstein and his even more famous monster.

Shelley's own life was dogged by many personal tragedies, including the deaths of many of her children and the drowning death of her husband that preceded her own death at age 53 of a brain tumor.

But in her short life, Shelley created a real monster, one that would not only outlive her, but whose very name conjures up images of a mad man.

Legend has it that Shelley and her husband, who traveled in very rarified circles, spent the summer of 1816 with some hoity-toity types, including Lord Byron, in Switzerland. On an evening which was filled with much rain and fog, Shelley was dared by her hosts, including Byron, to come up with an idea for a "ghost" novel, and thus, "Frankenstein" was born.

The story was supposed to be a short one, but due to husband, who believed that the story could be much longer, Shelley doggedly added to her tale, and it was published in novel form, as "Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus" in 1818.

Shelley continued to write after the deaths of her husband and all but one child, but her life was cut short by serious illness.

Through the centuries, the story of "Frankenstein" has reached epic proportions.

Although the Frankenstein in the title refers to Dr. Frankenstein, the creator of the monster, many people still believe the monster is named Frankenstein. The novel has been adapted for stage and screen and for television, and the character of the monster symbolizes everything from fear to cereal, as its likeness was used for the cereal Frankenberry, with no Dr. Frankenstein in sight.

And the character has been the subject of satire. "The Munsters" TV show featured esteemed actor Herman Munster as the patriarch of the Munster clan.

And, of course, "Young Frankenstein," Mel Brooks' fond take on the doctor and his monster, is seen by some as one of the best films of all time. And to backtrack, the original "Frankenstein" film is, itself, seen as a masterpiece of 1930s cinema. Colin Clive played the doctor, while Boris Karloff played the monster.

And let's not forget that the monster even took a bride in the movies. "The Bride of Frankenstein," although not as good as its predecessor, was an excellent sequel, one of the earliest of the film sequels.

So Shelley's creation has stirred us, and has also made us laugh.

Although she lived a relatively short life, her legacy will probably live on for many centuries more.

To take a play on an old movie title, "Frankenstein Cannot Be Destroyed!"

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