Happy Frankenstein Day

August 30, 2013
"The Annotated Frankenstein," co-edited by Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao (Harvard Univ. Press).
“The Annotated Frankenstein,” co-edited by Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao (Harvard Univ. Press).

It might seem odd to celebrate Frankenstein Day two months before Halloween, but Aug. 30 is Mary Shelley’s birthday. The writer was born 216 years ago today in 1797.

No ghost story has a better creation myth than “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” (1818). Shelley and her lover, Percy Shelley, were on vacation in Geneva when their traveling companions Lord Byron and John Polidori proposed they play the sort of party game that brilliant Romantic writers played before Trivial Pursuits: Who can write the best horror story?

Polidori gave us “The Vampyre”; Mary Shelley dreamed up the too-bold scientist.

In her story, we last see the guilt-wracked monster on an ice floe in the North Pole, but since then, of course, there have been countless sightings all over the world — in everything from children’s books to TV shows, movies, musical comedies and highfalutin’ literary criticism.

I asked Ronald Levao, co-editor of “The Annotated Frankenstein” (Harvard Univ. Press), why Shelley’s story has survived and thrived for 200 years. “She articulated our desire for, and fear about, the transgression of fundamental boundaries,” he says, “between vitality and dead matter, the human and the inhuman, ideal aspiration and monstrous consequence.”

We’ll see those monstrous consequences in play again this January with the release of “I Frankenstein,” a movie based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, who graduated from Howard University in Washington. The film, which has almost nothing to do with Shelley’s novel, stars Aaron Eckhart, looking like he was stitched together from the bodies of several “Men’s Fitness” cover models. (“Ditch those neck bolts and sculpt a 6-pack fast!”)

My friend and colleague Michael Cavna, who, among many other things, writes our Comic Riffs blog, is a fan of Grevioux’s “I Frankenstein. ” “I like that the graphic novel’s style isn’t too slick,” he tells me. “Visually, it’s got a chunky campiness to it that makes it great fun.”

So, happy birthday, Mary. We’re glad your creation is still ALIVE!

@RonCharles

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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Ron Charles · August 30, 2013