Before Fraulein…before Frankenstein…there was the GOLEM!

A scholar with arcane knowledge utilizes forbidden forces to bring a manufactured being to blasphemous life. When the hulking, misbegotten monster goes berserk, the horrified creator takes desperate action to destroy his wayward creation.

Does this story sound familiar, Franken-freaks? Any monster maven will recognize the concept as the basis of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the many works that have since emulated it. But the tale I’ve just described predates Shelley’s great Gothic novel, its mythological roots extending back centuries. The creature is the golem of Jewish folklore, arguably the first “man-made” monster in Western culture and a possible progenitor of Victor Frankenstein’s creation.

The Hebrew word golem originally referred to a “shapeless mass,” and, indeed, the golem of legend began as a formless lump of clay, which a Jewish Kabbalist sculpted into a hulking humanoid form. The sorcerer then brought the creature to life through the use of magic Hebrew words. In some cases, the word would be scrawled on a parchment and placed in the creature’s mouth; in other instances, the word was inscribed on the figure’s forehead or chest. While animated, the golem would be its creator’s slave, bound to do his bidding. By removing or altering the magic words, the magician could again reduce the monster to an inert statue.

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References to golems appear in texts as old as the Talmud, but by far the most famous tale of such a creature is that of the Golem of Prague. In the late 16th century, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel ostensibly created a powerful golem to defend the Jewish community in Prague from harassment by hostile locals. However, he made sure to deactivate the sentinel statue every Friday evening so that it would not disturb the devout Jews on the Sabbath the following day. One fateful Friday, however, the rabbi became preoccupied and forgot to incapacitate the golem. The clay being went on a rampage, and Rabbi Loew was forced to risk his own life to stop the monster. Although he stilled the golem once and for all, legend has it that he kept the dormant clay figure in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue in Prague, where it remains ready to be revivified if the Jewish people ever need its protection again.

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My wife and colleague Kelly Dunn and I recently had the pleasure of visiting the ancient and wonderful city of Prague, once the seat of the Kingdom of Bohemia, now the capital of the Czech Republic. The city still venerates Rabbi Loew with a statue in his honor outside the new town hall. As luck would have it, we arrived just before the Sabbath and did not have a chance to go inside the Old-New Synagogue, which was preparing for worship. (Incidentally, we never received an explanation of the apparent oxymoron of the landmark’s name. I imagine that, in the distant past, someone built the city’s first synagogue. Then, when the present building was constructed sometime in the 13th century, it became the “New Synagogue.” At some later date, an even newer synagogue opened its doors, resulting in the confusing taxonomy, like so: “Oh, no, that’s the New-New Synagogue! You want the Old-New Synagogue.”) Kelly and I cannot tell you what, if anything, lies in the attic of that holy place…but that figure behind Kelly in the photo below makes me wonder.

Kelly and Golem

 

Given the similarities between the two narratives, it is tempting to think that the cautionary tale of the Golem of Prague might have inspired Mary Shelley as she conceived of Frankenstein. Certainly, the image of Rabbi Loew and his misshapen figure of animate clay springs to mind when Shelley, in her introduction to the 1831 edition of the book, describes the nightmare that inspired her novel:

I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision,—the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.

In the novel, Victor Frankenstein even speaks of striving “to animate the lifeless clay,” as if his monster of flesh were a sculpted golem. Although film adaptations show Frankenstein assembling his creature from body parts harvested from cadavers, some scholars have pointed out that, in the novel, the scientist seems to fashion the raw material of his monster from scratch, so to speak. Mary Shelley cleverly uses this fact to explain the creature’s gargantuan size:

            As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large.

Like any pragmatic engineer, Frankenstein modifies his prototype to make it easier to work on. Miniaturization can wait until the product is ready for mass production!

As appealing as it is to theorize that Mary Shelley had the story of the Golem of Prague in mind when conceiving of Frankenstein, she makes no explicit reference to the fable in her writings. Indeed, in his article “The Golem of Prague” (Fortean Times #238, August 2008), Czech journalist Ivan Mackerle states that he was unable to find any account of the story in historical documents from the 16th and 17th centuries and says the apocryphal narrative of Rabbi Loew may be an elaboration on a legend brought to Prague by Hassidic Jews from Poland in the early 1800s—too late for Shelley to have used it as the basis for her horror story. Still, Mary Shelley seems to have tapped into the universal archetype the golem represents and reinvented it for the modern age by making its genesis scientific rather than magical, a topic I addressed in this earlier blog post.

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Although not, strictly speaking, science fiction, the cautionary tale of the Golem of Prague could be said to have engendered an entire subgenre of sf, for it is the primordial “Bad Robot” story. It comes as no coincidence, therefore, that in 1920, almost 400 years after Rabbi Loew, Prague also gave the world its first actual Bad Robot story, a science-fictional play entitled R.U.R. by the Czech writer Karel Čapek. The abbreviation stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots, a fictional company in the play that manufactures the world’s first line of artificial humanoids. Karel, with the assistance of his brother Joseph Čapek, derived the term “robot” from the Czech word robota, which can mean either “hard work” or “slave labor.”

The robots in the drama are not mechanical, however, but rather an assemblage of fabricated biological organs and tissue—again, shades of Frankenstein. Like the Golem of Prague, Rossum’s robot servants turn on the humans they were created to serve, rising up in violent rebellion. The play ends with the new beings virtually exterminating humanity—a sobering finale to us in the 21st century, where genetic engineering and burgeoning artificial intelligence threaten to make the grim prognostications of Shelley and Čapek a reality.

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Somewhere, Rabbi Loew shakes his head sadly…and a sleeping golem awaits its ultimate resurrection.

If this post whet your appetite for more monster mayhem, be sure to check out the Kindle ebook of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN at Amazon here.

And don’t forget that I will be signing copies of the fabulous Shadowridge Press paperback edition of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN at the venerable Dark Delicacies horror bookstore in Burbank, California, at 4pm on Saturday, July 8th.

You’ll also have the opportunity to get signed copies of books by other wonderful Shadowridge Press authors, including Dennis Etchison (The Death Artist, Red Dreams, The Blood Kiss), Tracy Carbone (The Proteus Cave, The Rainbox), and my ONE NIGHT AT THE VILLA DIODATI co-authors Kelly Dunn (Beloved of the Fallen, editor of Mutation Nation) and the irrepressible Peter Atkins (screenwriter of Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Wishmaster and author of Morningstar, Big Thunder, and Rumours of the Marvellous). We’ll have copies of the DIODATI chapbook available for purchase and signing, as well. Here’s a link to the Dark Delicacies website for more info, including directions to the store:

Dark Delicacies Bookstore Website

For those who can’t make it to Burbank on July 8th, you’ll be happy to hear that Dark Delicacies will take your pre-orders over the phone, and will ship your order for an extra charge. All of us at Shadowridge Press would like to express our sincere gratitude to Del and Sue Howison of Dark Delicacies for hosting the event.

Hope to see you all there!

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Mark Your Monster Calendar! FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Book Signing!

Greetings, Friends of FRAULEIN! I wanted to let you all know that I will be signing copies of the fabulous Shadowridge Press paperback edition of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN at the venerable Dark Delicacies horror bookstore in Burbank, California, at 4pm on Saturday, July 8th.

You’ll also have the opportunity to get signed copies of books by other wonderful Shadowridge Press authors, including Dennis Etchison (The Death Artist, Red Dreams, The Blood Kiss), Tracy Carbone (The Proteus Cave, The Rainbox), and my ONE NIGHT AT THE VILLA DIODATI co-authors Kelly Dunn (Beloved of the Fallen, editor of Mutation Nation) and the irrepressible Peter Atkins (screenwriter of Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Wishmaster and author of Morningstar, Big Thunder, and Rumours of the Marvellous). We’ll have copies of the DIODATI chapbook available for purchase and signing, as well. Here’s a link to the Dark Delicacies website for more info, including directions to the store:

Dark Delicacies Bookstore Website

For those who can’t make it to Burbank on July 8th, you’ll be happy to hear that Dark Delicacies will take your pre-orders over the phone, and will ship your order for an extra charge. All of us at Shadowridge Press would like to express our sincere gratitude to Del and Sue Howison of Dark Delicacies for hosting the event.

Hope to see you all there!

 

TO BOLDLY GO WHERE WANNABE TREKKIES HAVE GONE BEFORE!: My Adventures as a Next Generation Extra

 

Okay, this doesn’t really have much to do with my new novel FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN (which you may find for purchase here on Amazon), but an interested reader stumbled across the fact that, for a brief time in my checkered past, I served as an extra and stand-in on Star Trek: The Next Generation, thereby upping my “geek cred” among sci-fi nerds throughout the Federation. Said reader asked if I would share some reminiscences of my Trek sojourn, and since followers of this blog tend to be fans of all things fantastic, I thought you might enjoy hearing some of the Adventures of Ensign Woodworth.

My Hollywood experience prior to Trek had been limited to some extra work on that timeless classic Teen Wolf, Too!, which filmed on campus at my alma mater Pomona College while I was a student there. I composed part of what the filmmakers referred to as “background action” or “atmosphere.” I found the latter term rather insulting, since it made us extras sound like nebulous, gaseous beings who would simply dissipate when the director yelled “Cut!” Nevertheless, I had fun on the set, despite catching a horrible stomach flu that nearly caused me to puke on star Jason Bateman as I rode behind him in a shuttle van when the last day’s shoot wrapped.

My first gig on Next Generation was as an unnamed, uncredited (of course) “security officer,” which in Classic Trek would have made me a “redshirt.” (Hence, the photo above.)  Alas, I did not get to die horribly in the first act of either of the two episodes in which I was cast! (I would be remiss if I did not express gratitude to my childhood friend David Trotti, who was 2nd Assistant Director on the show and without whom I would never have had the opportunity to take part in it)

My stint began with the show’s costumers at Paramount Studios fitting me for my sleek, one-piece gold jumpsuit Next Generation uniform. To ensure an absolutely wrinkle-free veneer, I had to wear a special tuck-in tank top and brief undergarment combination. The jumpsuit worn over the undergarment consisted of a stretchy, Lycra-type material with bungee-type straps that ran underneath the soles of the costume’s boots to pull the entire outfit taut. This arrangement made the outfit look super-snappy, but it felt like I had giant rubber bands dragging down my shoulders all day. Furthermore, the uniform had no fly; in order to relieve yourself, you had to unzip the jumpsuit and essentially drop the entire costume down around your knees. The design made me wonder if people in the future will be genetically altered so they never need to go to the bathroom.

Sadly, I only got to be a human crew member on Next Generation. I was hoping I might get cast as an alien, not only because that would be even cooler from a geek standpoint, but because I’d get a “bump” in pay, as we extras say. I gather the amount of the “bump” depended on what percentage of your face they had to cover with makeup: a little bit more for a latex wrinkle across the bridge of your nose, more still for the ridged scalp of a Klingon, and most of all if they had to remake your whole visage.

Both of the scenes for which I served as “atmosphere” for Trek took place in Ten Forward, the lounge where Enterprise crew members go to unwind after a hard day of dodging photon torpedoes and repairing overloaded dilithium-crystal warp drives. No doubt this pub serves its squeaky-clean crew Trek patrons nothing but non-alcoholic smoothies and juice cocktails! (Actually, I vaguely recall reading a copy of the Next Generation series bible that stated that the drinks in Ten Forward are chemically designed to give crew members a pleasant buzz that, somehow, they can immediately shake off if the ship needs all hands sober on deck for an emergency. No bar fights, and the Enterprise navigators are never DUI! And, as I mentioned earlier, you never have to go to the bathroom, even after all that drinking. What a truly utopian future awaits us in the Trek universe!)

I first reported for duty in the Next Generation episode “Masks,” in which an alien archive starts to transform the Enterprise into a replica of what looks to be a Mayan temple. As I indicated, I was in a crowd scene in Ten Forward, strolling through the bar in the background with a colorful (and completely innocuous) cocktail in one hand while chatting with an attractive red-headed female navigator. Unfortunately, this scene appears to have ended up on the proverbial cutting-room floor. (Not because of me, I hope!) At least, I have been unable to spot myself in the show in the couple of times I’ve watched the episode.

My second tour of duty on the Enterprise came in the episode “Bloodlines,” which centers around a young man who may—or may not—be Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s son. Again, the scene takes place in Ten Forward, where Picard and his presumed offspring are having an intense discussion. This time, I actually made the final cut: You can see me (albeit out-of-focus) in my gold security officer’s uniform seated at a table behind Picard’s “son,” where I am playing a futuristic checkers game with an older, African-American crew member. The actor playing my opponent was a very warm, funny gentleman who cracked me up with the flamboyant, enthusiastic jumps he made with his space-age checkers. Neither of us knew any rules for the game we were supposed to be playing, but whatever they were, he was clearly winning.

The rest of my work on Next Generation was off-camera as a stand-in for Picard’s “son” and for Brent Spiner, beloved by the known universe as that affable android Commander Data. As I was of a similar height and hair color to these two actors, the camera crew would use me to set the lighting, sharpen their focus, and practice any camera movements prior to the actual shot. I have particularly fond memories of Brent Spiner, who went out of his way to introduce himself and shake hands with me the first day I served as his stand-in. (Shaking hands with Data—I was in geek heaven!)

Spiner was as much fun off-camera as on. In between takes, he and Michael Dorn, who played the formidable Klingon Worf, would amuse themselves (and everyone else) by doing improv comedy. During one rehearsal for a scene on the Bridge, Patrick Stewart as Picard barked an order at the two of them, and they both dropped to the ground and crawled away like groveling slaves. On another occasion, they adopted the accents of Borscht Belt comedians and ad-libbed an incredible routine as the screenwriting Epstein brothers, doing a hilarious Yiddish version of Casablanca. (“This could be the start of a beautiful frayndshaft!”)

Messrs. Spiner & Dorn were not the only ones with a sense of humor on the show. In this pre-HD era, the set designers took advantage of the fact that the home audience would never be able to read the blurry, out-of-focus labels on the Enterprise’s control panels. They embedded several inside jokes on the Bridge and elsewhere, including a set of buttons devoted to the “Improbability Drive” from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

My contact with the other principal actors on the series was limited, although I was seated on the ground near Patrick Stewart at one point when he stumbled slightly and used my shoulder to catch himself, for which he apologized like the English gentleman he is. (Picard almost fell on me! I was in geek heaven again.)

Those are the high points of my personal Star Trek voyage. I would love to post a picture of me in my security officer’s outfit, but everything Trek-related is so thoroughly copyrighted and trademarked that you’ll just have to take my word about how dashing I looked in uniform. Or squint really hard as you watch that one Ten Forward scene in “Bloodlines.”

Until our next blog journey…LIVE LONG AND PROSPER!

ONE NIGHT AT THE VILLA DIODATI, PART 3: MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT SHELLEY

Formidable intelligence and futuristic free-thinking were wound into the DNA of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. She was born in 1797 to radical political philosopher and atheist William Godwin and pioneering feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Although her mother died within a month after giving birth, Mary inherited her mother’s restless intellect and received an exceptional “masculine education” from her father (William Godwin’s words, not mine).

William’s progressive parenting backfired when his sixteen-year-old daughter fell in love with Percy Shelley, an atheist and radical free-thinker so much like William that they naturally detested one another. William’s antipathy to Percy might have had something to do with the fact that the poet was still married to his original wife, Harriet. Despite this technicality, Mary and Percy eloped to France in 1814.

Upon their return, Papa Godwin promptly cut them off from all financial support, which forced the couple to return to the Continent in 1816 in order to live on Percy’s meager income. It was then that they met Lord Byron and Dr. John Polidori and participated in that fateful contest at the Villa Diodati. Later that year, Harriet Shelley obligingly drowned herself, thereby clearing the way for her successor to marry Percy. Together, Mary and Percy had four children before Percy’s untimely demise in 1822. Alas, only one of their children, Percy Florence Shelley, survived to adulthood.

Mary Shelley first published Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818, thereby securing her literary immortality. Although none of her other work would ever achieve such lofty recognition, she continued to write and publish books throughout her lifetime, including The Last Man, one of the first post-apocalyptic dystopian novels in science fiction, a genre she essentially invented. Although she died of a brain tumor in 1851 at the age of 53, she long outlived all three of her male counterparts from that celebrated Villa Diodati ghost-story competition.

In the following story, “Mary” weaves together many of the same themes that endowed Frankenstein with such timeless relevance—the sinister double, the creation of artificial life, the infringement of science and technology on the spiritual realm—while incorporating a cautionary feminist moral that would have made her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, proud.

 

Dearest Adiela

MY DEAREST ADIELA

 by

Mary Shelley

(as channeled by Kelly Dunn)

“You may open your eyes now,” my husband said.

I looked at the figure before me in amazement. “Why, it’s my very likeness!” I cried. It really was startling to see a machine that resembled me in so many respects. It sat in a chair at my worktable, leaning slightly forward as if eager to communicate with me.

Glimpsing it for the first time in the dim morning light caused me a momentary shock, for I thought I’d got caught in a dream and could see myself sitting in front of me. I confess I jumped a little, much to my husband’s amusement.

Dominik kissed my hand, his eyes sparkling with the success of his surprise. “Merely a plaything, dearest,” he said. “Its beauty but a pale imitation of your own.”

“But—how on earth—?”

“I constructed it, sweetest heart,” he told me. He went on to say that, as his family’s manse was so isolated, that he thought it would be amusing for me to have a sort of companion. Dominik had often lamented—more than I had—that my father’s objection to our marriage had painfully separated me from my small, proud clan. I chose never to speak of my loneliness, but it seemed Dominik had divined it.

“You ought to have someone about who is not a servant or a menial,” Dominik went on. “One who is like unto yourself, who can be a bosom friend, even a teacher for you, if you like.”

I looked more closely at the automaton’s finely modeled features, the hair that matched the chestnut shade of my own. I could easily see why my father had so valued Dominik’s skills as watchmaker and artist, for these were united in the automaton I saw before me. I pointed to it. “So you made it—for me?”

He smiled. “For you. And her name is Adiela, the same as yours, my love.” Seeing me hesitate, he added, “She cannot harm you. She is here for your improvement, your peace of mind.”

I moved closer to my namesake, examining the lace on its dress, its faintly blushing cheeks, its smooth tapered fingers. It almost looked as if it could breathe. A work of art, truly. No one had ever given me so precious a gift.

“Well, go on,” he encouraged. “Bid her good morning.”

I ignored my husband’s command, looking instead into his handsome face. “It’s very beautiful, but why should I need another companion when I have you?”

He didn’t answer, and I knew I had done what I’d tried so hard not to do—said the very thing to vex him.

“You will find her a useful friend when business calls me away, dearest. And you know that time is at hand.” He gestured in the direction of the front door, where a long box had already been strapped to the waiting carriage.

I did not want to appear ungrateful, had no wish to provoke his frown. “Is it—she, I mean—really so accomplished?” I asked.

“Of course! Try her and see.” He showed me how to activate the motions of the automaton, and how to command it to perform. Filled with the pride of creation, he seemed to find it easy to brush away my tears as he got into the carriage that morning to deliver a custom-made “marvelous machine,” as Dominik called his automatons, to a far-off princely patron, and to receive his further orders.

For my part, I would far rather have had my husband with me than any machine, no matter how intricate. Even my pet canary seemed a preferable companion, being a living thing with feelings, even if of the avian variety. But after days upon days of communing with the little bird, and giving unnecessary orders to my husband’s well-trained servants, and looking out the windows to the barren icy fields and dark woods beyond, I found myself drawn to her—the new Adiela.

I went into the day parlour, where the automaton still sat poised at my worktable, and gave the command. She straightened her posture and looked at me. “Good morning, Adiela,” she pronounced in sweet accents. “What shall we do today?”

The moment I heard that dulcet voice, my fears vanished away. What harm would it do to pretend, to play best-of-friends with the machine my husband had crafted with such care? I smiled at her, a gracious hostess. “Shall we begin with our embroidery?” I placed a threaded needle and hoop into her hands, and to my amazement, the new Adiela began to sew.

That evening I discovered she could sing, and play the pianoforte, and soon I began to repeat the words and memorize the music made by her mechanical hands. At first, I considered the new Adiela a pastime to beguile the hours until hearth or husband should require me. But with each visit, another of her talents came to light. From her I learned the rudiments of French, German, Italian, and Latin—all languages my father had not deigned to teach me. From her mechanical gait I learned the walk and gestures of the demimonde, for I had always secretly longed to be a woman of fashion. Adiela’s smiles of beaming approval would reward me for each task I mastered. Many and many a time I thought, ah, how pleased Dominik would be, if only he could see me thus! And yet, with each new morning, I found myself eager to gain the approbation of the new Adiela.

As my husband’s absence extended from weeks to months, I found myself on many occasions looking deeply into Adiela’s artificial eyes, taking her cold hand, telling her the secrets of my girlhood and newly married life. To my amazement, the new Adiela seemed to understand! She would nod, her eyes reflecting mine, as I confided some childish peccadillo, or revealed to her my thoughts from the most noble to the deeply uncharitable. Whatever the case, she would reply with gentle words of advice, quoting the ancients and the wits of the day. I told her, too, of my increasing loneliness, how I had begun to feel quite weak as darkness came on each night—”Not on account of you, dear Adiela, but because Dominik has been away so long”—and her cold hand would squeeze mine in seeming sympathy.

I felt sure my bodily weakness would pass when I received word of Dominik’s return, but his letters said he could not tell when he would be home again. With each additional day of his abandonment my weakness spread, turning my limbs to lead and my resolve to fog.

One morning I found even leaving my bed difficult. I shook my head at my maid’s indifferent “Shall I call the doctor then?” No, a doctor could not help me. I dressed and slowly made my way downstairs. Only one countenance could cheer me; only one companion could re-energize my enervated frame. I directed my halting footsteps to the beloved figure sitting in her usual place at my worktable. “Oh, what shall I do, my dearest Adiela?” I cried, throwing my arms around her neck. “If only you could help me!”

As I clasped the automaton in my arms, I experienced the strangest sensation. A shock like electricity ran through me. I saw the gears and levers of the new Adiela all at once, experienced a feeling of melting, dissolving away, and then I found myself looking out through her eyes—a pinhole camera of near-blindness. But I could see well enough to observe my body falling like a heavy cloak and crumpling on the floor.

I do not know how much time passed. It seemed an eternity, but at last I perceived my husband, my Dominik, approaching me. Ah, how I wanted to run to him, but I could do nothing unless he chose to activate my mechanism.

“So it has happened,” he said. “Can you hear me, sweetest heart? Your essence has been absorbed into the automaton. Your body is quite used up, as you see—” and here he actually kicked my body which still lay insensible on the carpet—”and your spirit could not sustain it. Therefore you shall animate this machine, dependent on your lord’s commands.”

I could comprehend his words, but my false lips could form no protest to counter them.

He came to me, gently touching my face. I could not feel the caress. “You will speak to me in any language I choose, you will walk for me, and play music for me, my Adiela,” he said. If I could have run away on my mechanical legs, I would have, but I could not. I could only respond to his desires; I could not act on my own. And so my body and my voice did as he required.

At last he nodded, satisfied. “My automatons are the most lifelike in the land,” he commented, “but you, my dearest Adiela, surpass them all. You will soon be delivered to the Emperor himself, and I believe he will be very pleased indeed with all you can do! Once he possesses you, every crowned head in Europe will demand one just like you or better—though I must say, my dear, that will challenge my skill to the utmost.”

He placed me upright in a long box, arranging the packing around me himself and placing the parcel in the farthest corner of the parlour. After another eternity of activity and abyss, his manservant came in. “Your new machine is quite the masterwork, sir,” he commented, jerking his head toward the day parlour’s interior. Dimly, I could discern a pretty female figure—a new “marvelous machine” to replace me.

“That’s all right, Christian,” my husband responded as he entered the room. He waved his hand, indicating the neglected nook where the container confined me. “Merely nail the lid on that box there, and have it securely fastened to the carriage.”

Even as he spoke, Dominik was hurrying a young, well-dressed damsel into the chamber. “Not yet,” he teased her, playfully. “Not quite yet.” The youthful lady held her hands up to her face, yet darted her head about as if trying to catch the slightest sound or scent that might give hint to the surprise. How I wanted to call out to her! But my lips had been sealed against free speech forever.

The man who had been my husband smiled upon the new lady. “You may open your eyes now.”

She gave a little smothered scream of shock as she looked upon the adorable automaton posed charmingly at the worktable. “O! I thought for a moment you were hiding another woman in here! But—it’s—a kind of doll?”

“Only a plaything, dearest—” I heard him say as Christian cut off my view by lowering the box to the floor and positioning a lid upon it, shutting me in darkness. “—its beauty but a pale imitation of your own.”

 THE END

Copyright 2016 by Kelly Dunn

 

The multi-talented Kelly Dunn is a professional journalist, editor, actress, and university instructor, to say nothing of her onetime stint as a hearse-rental dealer. Her fiction has appeared in such venues as The Dead That Walk, Midian Unmade, and the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology After Death. In addition, she has published the urban fantasy novel Beloved of the Fallen under her pseudonym “Savannah Kline.” and edited the speculative fiction anthology Mutation Nation: Tales of Genetic Mishaps, Monsters, and Madness: Oh…and she also happens to be the love of my life! No wonder, eh?

If you enjoyed this story, please LIKE and COMMENT–Kelly and I would love to hear what you think!–and SHARE it with all your Gothic-minded minions! And let everyone know that they can get a novel-length dose of monster madness with the Kindle ebook of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, which, for a limited time, is at the bargain price of ONLY 99 CENTS!  WHAT A DEAL!!! Get yours NOW by clicking the link below:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Amazon Order Page

And don’t forget to read ALL of the chilling stories from the Villa Diodati! If you missed it check out Percy Shelley’s story, and come back to see what horrors “John Polidori” and “Lord Byron” dredge up. It’s more fun than a blind date with Dracula!

Until next time…STAY GOTHIC!

One Night at the Villa Diodati…with Monsters!

It was a dark and stormy night…

No, really, it was! That wasn’t just a Bulwer-Lytton/Snoopy reference. I am referring to that tempestuous night in June of 1816 that inspired Mary Shelley to  invent one of the most celebrated monsters in all of horror fiction. As we continue to celebrate both this year’s release of my new novel FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN and the 200th anniversary of the conception of Shelley’s original FRANKENSTEIN, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit that pivotal event in Gothic literature, which many scholars believe also spawned the nineteenth century’s other iconic monster character, Dracula.

Simple necessity occasioned this unlikely but serendipitous event: Not technically married yet due to the inconvenient existence of Percy’s first wife Harriet, Percy and Mary Shelley were up to their cerebral brows in debt, and Percy was persona non grata with his not-yet-father-in-law, William Godwin. With only Percy’s modest income for subsistence, the couple believed they could live more cheaply on the Continent. Mary’s half-sister Claire Claremont was one of the randy Lord Byron’s many groupies, and she convinced the Shelleys to rent the Maison Chapuis, a small villa on the shores of Lake Geneva near the one where his lordship was summering with his fawning sidekick, Dr. John Polidori. Percy and Byron, being mutual admirers of one another’s poetry and of a similar egotistic Romantic temperament, got along famously, and Byron regularly hosted the Shelleys at the Villa Diodati, which you may see as it appears today in the photo accompanying this post. Percy and Mary Shelley are pictured on the left, Byron and Polidori on the right.

It was on one such visit in June of 1816 that a frightful downpour began, and Byron invited the Shelleys to stay at Diodati so they wouldn’t have to venture back to their own villa during the storm. The thunder and lightning excited their morbid imaginations, and since they were cooped up anyway, they took turns creeping each other out by reading outre works of Coleridge and others. Byron puckishly proposed a friendly competition in which they should all write their own ghost stories.

Of the four participants, Shelley and Byron had soon produced abortive fragments of ghostly narratives. Polidori, who had pretentions of being a writer but little talent, even came up with a story. Only Mary seemed to suffer from writer’s block, unable to think of a good idea.

Then she had a nightmare. Evidently inspired by conversations that Percy, Byron, and Polidori had regarding the science of galvanism and how electricity could make the limbs of dead animals and humans twitch as if alive, Mary dreamt of a medical student who brings to life a horrible humanoid monster. Both the medical student and his nameless creation would come to be known by the eventual title of the story she wrote: Frankenstein.

Mary’s was not the only famous work inspired by this unique meeting of minds, however. Inspired by the mysterious main character of Byron’s “Fragment of a Novel,” Polidori  created his own charismatic antihero in “The Vampyre,” a popular novella that became the first modern fictional treatment of vampirism in the English language. Many critics believe Polidori’s work was a seminal influence on Bram Stoker when he first conceived of Dracula.

In honor of this momentous occasion in the history of monsterdom, I thought it would be amusing to recreate the legendary evening at the Villa Diodati in miniature. With the aid of my own lovely wife, Kelly Dunn, and a very special surprise guest writer, we propose to channel each of the celebrated Diodati literati to write four *new* Gothic tales for your enjoyment. You won’t want to miss these new stories, so follow this blog for every chilling installment!

While you’re waiting, you can get your Frankenstein fix by checking out FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN on Amazon. Follow the link below!:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Order Page

Thank you, and stay tuned!

“Why FRANKENSTEIN?” Part 2: How Mary Shelley’s Novel Is Cutting-Edge Science Fiction *NOW*

One of the primary difficulties filmmakers and others encounter in trying to update the story of Frankenstein and place it in a modern setting is that the very rationale for Victor Frankenstein’s experiment now seems obsolete. Not only does the technology itself seem dated–we know now that zapping a corpse with electricity will cause it to twitch but won’t bring it to life–but there are now so many more expedient options for creating an autonomous being. If Victor Frankenstein were a current researcher, he might focus on genetic engineering to engender the perfect human, or perhaps build an android with artificial intelligence, but would probably not be stitching pieces of dead bodies together. For this reason, the most successful dramatic adaptations of Frankenstein are either period pieces (the classic Peter Cushing Hammer Horror movies come to mind) or campy contemporary comedies such as the Re-Animator series.

Yet it is precisely because technology has surpassed Mary Shelley’s wildest nightmares that her cautionary tale is more timely than ever. In genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and other fields, science is now on the verge of accomplishing Victor Frankenstein’s aim of creating new life forms in ways no one in the nineteenth century could have imagined. And it was Mary Shelley’s genius to have anticipated ethical dilemmas in medicine and scientific research that are only now arising, two centuries later, as we begin to manipulate the building blocks of our own being. In this respect, she has become the Cassandra of the new millennium.

In an age of global warming, biological weapons, and nuclear meltdowns in Chernobyl and Fukushima, we have little trouble seeing that technological advancement is a double-edged sword. But Shelley was writing shortly after the Enlightenment, an era in which the intelligentsia viewed science as a beacon that would banish ignorance and superstition and give humanity mastery over the harsh vicissitudes of Nature. At the time, there was little talk of “some things man was not meant to know,” to paraphrase a cliché from many a science-fiction B-movie.

On the contrary, the secrets of the cosmos were ours by divine right, bequeathed to us by the Creator himself. “The Almighty Lecturer, by displaying the principles of science in the structure of the universe, has invited man to study and to imitation,” Thomas Paine wrote in The Age of Reason. “It is as if He had said to the inhabitants of this globe that we call ours, ‘I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the starry heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. He can now provide for his own comfort, and learn from my munificence to all to be kind to each other.'” Clearly, the Enlightenment viewed science as an almost sacred force for good in the world, for it had yet to unleash the potentially apocalyptic devastation of which we now know it to be capable.

By the Romantic era, however, the downside of technological innovation had just begun to creep into the public consciousness. From 1811 to 1816–right before Shelley wrote Frankenstein–English textile workers protested the incursion of mill modernization and automation that reduced the need for human labor. The protestors took the name “Luddites” after Ned Ludd, a mill worker who supposedly destroyed a couple of stocking frame weaving machines in a fit of rage. The epithet Luddite is still used to describe an individual who resists adopting new technology.

Science has always been viewed with suspicion by those who fear (correctly) that it may overturn prevailing religious beliefs or social order. Mary Shelley’s concern differed, however. She did not object to the acquisition of knowledge through scientific discovery, per se. She worried more about what humanity would do with that knowledge once they had it. “Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world,” she wrote when speculating upon the results of irresponsible use of divine forces.

Hence, the subtitle of her book, “The Modern Prometheus,” in which she explicitly compared Victor Frankenstein to the mythical Greek titan who stole the sacred fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to humankind. In this regard, she introduces a uniquely modern morality for scientific endeavor: that scientists themselves are culpable for how their discoveries are ultimately used by humanity. This sense of responsibility has since haunted scientists and inventors ranging from Alfred Nobel to Albert Einstein to Robert Oppenheimer, even though they have little control over the actions of those who abuse the power these researchers have revealed. Like Victor Frankenstein, these scientists have each attempted to rein in the exploitation of their achievements, only to find that the monster has taken on a life of its own.

There is a reason the adjective “Frankensteinian” still applies to any product of scientific experimentation that seems misbegotten and unnatural. When we get queasy at the thought of genetically-engineered “Frankenfood,” or of a goat whose genes have been spliced with those of a spider to give silk in its milk, or of a rabbit bred to glow in the dark just to show such a thing can be done, we think of Victor Frankenstein and wonder if we, too, will lose control of our own creations. And perhaps the most frightening realization is that, like Mary Shelley’s audience in the nineteenth century, we have yet to see all the potential horrors that science may eventually let fly from its Pandora’s box.

That’s why Frankenstein, Shelley’s parable of scientific hubris, will remain one of science fiction’s most relevant classics for as long as human beings seek to understand, manipulate, and alter their reality.

If you’ve enjoyed this two-part essay, please Like and Share it with your fellow Frankenstein freaks, and Follow this blog for further Franken-fun! If you have not already done so, I hope you’ll also check out FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, my own humble homage to Mary Shelley, here on Amazon:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Order Page on Amazon

If you like the novel, please share your enthusiasm by posting a review on Amazon and by recommending the book to your friends.

Thanks again for reading!