October 27, 2012

At the end of Mary Shelley’s haunting story of scientific hubris, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster floats into the Arctic darkness to let his spirit “sleep in peace.”

But of course, we’ve been digging up the poor guy ever since. In movies, television shows, plays, books and video games, the tale has been sliced and stitched back together in so many ways that the doomed creature wouldn’t recognize himself. It’s refreshing, then, to see three new editions that zap Shelley’s story back to its original.

1Serious students of horror should check out Frankenstein Galvanized, edited by Claire Bazin (Red Rattle; Paperback, £9.99 ($16); available at Amazon.co.uk), which contains the 1818 edition followed by eight critical essays. Though relatively short, these pieces provide an interesting variety of responses to Shelley, the themes of her work and the social climate of early 19th-century Europe. A number of suggestions for further reading will take college and graduate students deeper into these fields.


’The Annotated Frankenstein’ by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao (Belknap Harvard)

2Two Croatian artists bring their eerie aesthetic to a gorgeous new edition called Steampunk: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Running Press Classics, $18.95). Working from the unabridged third edition published in 1831, Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac have produced a thick, square book filled with color illustrations that blend the macabre with Victorian technology. Basic and Sumberac manage to create scenes that are somehow surreal and precise. Here’s Dr. Frankenstein wearing dark goggles, screaming with horror and awe at the power coursing through some ghastly machine. “No one,” he cries, “can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane.”

3The Annotated Frankenstein (Belknap/Harvard Univ., $29.95), edited by Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald L. Levao, brings scholarship to life for the lay reader. This latest volume in the irresistible “annotated” series from Harvard University Press presents the 1818 edition on oversize, creamy-white pages divided into two columns. While the story runs down the inside columns, helpful commentary runs alongside. Every geographical, biographical and literary allusion is explained; themes are highlighted; and obscure words are defined. A hundred color illustrations sprinkled throughout reproduce manuscript pages, works of art, medical etchings, portraits of Shelley and her friends, and scenes from movie treatments of this deathless tale.

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.