ONE NIGHT AT THE VILLA DIODATI, PART 5: GEORGE GORDON, LORD BYRON

If such a thing as a “rock star” had existed in 19th century Britain, George Gordon, the 6th Baron Byron, would surely have been that individual. Born in 1788 to Catherine Gordon and Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron (who sounds like a supporting character from Pirates of the Caribbean), Lord Byron inherited his ancestral title, yet managed to earn wealth and eternal fame on his own merits as a best-selling poet (back before that expression became an oxymoron). He remains best-known for epic narrative poems of machismo such as Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan, and Byron’s own love life rivaled that of his legendary fictional libertine. His notorious sexual exploits and the sheer number of lovers—both female and male—he had during his short life would have put even Mick Jagger to shame.

No mere armchair adventurer, Byron lived as large as any of his heroes. Despite being born with a club foot, he became an outstanding swimmer. He even swam the one-mile breadth of the Hellespont, the narrow strait that leads from Turkey into the Aegean Sea, then composed a poem to brag about the exploit. (It’s a pity he didn’t teach Percy Shelley at least to dog-paddle.) He traveled extensively, partook of many and variegated cultures, and indulged in epic hedonism.

Eventually, his desire for real-life swashbuckling led to his downfall. Byron joined with Greek forces to fight for independence from the Turks. Before he could die heroically in battle, however, he contracted a terrible illness that was treated with an even more terrible remedy, a careless bloodletting that resulted in a lethal infection. He died in Missolonghi, Greece, in 1824, at the age of 36, which may not seem very old but is longer than Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain lasted, so for a rock star, he did pretty well.

On that tempestuous night at the Villa Diodati, Byron was the first to propose the ghost-story competition to the Shelleys and Dr. Polidori, yet his Lordship failed his own challenge. His own entry for the competition was a tantalizing “Fragment of a Novel,” which introduces the mysterious yet charismatic character of Augustus Darvell. Some readers believe Darvell may have been a prototype for Polidori’s “Vampyre,” although Byron’s sadly incomplete narrative leaves it open to question whether or not Darvell is a member of the undead.

But let us now imagine what might have been if, instead of a “Fragment of a Novel,” Byron had left us “The Novel of the Fragments.”

Hermit Tarot

 

The Novel of the Fragments

by

Lord Byron

 (as channeled by Peter Atkins)

 

I am to tell you, or so the muse instructs me, of the curious adventure that befell me during my wanderings in that mist-shrouded region of hills and caverns—nestled between two neighboring kingdoms and long the source of their centuries-old enmity—which our unimaginative guidebooks call merely The Taviani Pass (after the Venetian botanist who first mapped it) but which is known to one of its reclusive mountain tribes in their strangely beautiful mongrel tongue as Draumestauch, or The Place of Gentle Misfortune.

I was descending a south-facing slope, aware already of how low the sun was to my right, when I grew conscious of a whistled air, high and lilting and tantalizingly faint. At first convinced it was naught but the wind itself, transmuted into accidental melody by its passage through crevice and crevasse, I was forced to revise my opinion when a sudden sour note in a trilling climb within the tune prefaced a pause and then a renewed attempt at the melodic ascent. Neither wind nor accident then, I realized, and was at once—distance and nightfall be damned—determined to find the mysterious whistler. For you see, the air was not unknown to me; it was in fact one of those ‘Hebrew Melodies’ composed by Mr. Nathan some years earlier as settings for lyrics of my own invention.

A turn or two within the rocky bypaths brought me ere long to the narrow mouth of a cave hidden from the casual glances of most who would brave the mountain, and a walk of but a hundred feet or so within its shadowed reaches brought me to the source of the whistled refrain:

Illuminated by the dancing flame of a torch mounted on the cave-wall, a solitary Hermit in monk-like robes and cowl sat beneath a primitive looking glass of polished obsidian fastened to the rocky surface behind him. As I stepped into the pool of light cast by the torch, the fellow stopped his whistling.

“Welcome, my Lord,” he said, and beckoned me forward.

“You have the advantage of me, Sir,” I said. “In whose company do I find myself?”

“I am the Guardian of the Fragments,” he said, with a certain haughtiness not generally associated with—nor, to my understanding, encouraged in—those of the monkish persuasion.

“Fragments?” said I. For, I confess, curiosity had triumphed over my disdain for his cheap Mummers’ Show theatrics.

“Fragments of Time, my Lord,” he said. “Glimpses of worlds that were, worlds that will be, and even worlds that are.”

Well, the damned fellow had my attention. I had to give him that.

“Do we see them in the glass?” I said, nodding at the obsidian pane behind him.

There was a pause before his reply—“Alas, no,” he eventually said—and I realized I’d inadvertently knocked a chip out of his self-importance. Missed a trick there, he was probably thinking, while no doubt planning a quick bit of redecoration before the next punter wandered in.

Making the best of it, however, he reached within the copious folds of his robe and removed a document.

“From the distant past,” he said, and held the thing out for me to take, which I did.

It was a single sheet of a fine antique parchment and it was folded in half. On the outside of the fold, as one addressing an envelope, someone had written a three-word title in a decent copperplate while the inside, once unfolded, contained a prose passage of some two or three hundred words:

ONLY DEATH, SIR

           When the King of all the lands that were fair asked for berries, berries were brought. When his thirst sought sweet water, sweet water was found. So when he asked for wisdom, it was not long before his courtiers brought to him a man of whom no question had been asked for which he had not found an answer.

          And the King made the man his servant and bade him walk with him all his days so that wisdom was ever at hand.

          And the Servant showed him all the pleasures of the world and how to partake wisely thereof.

          And many years passed and the King, grown old with wandering, spoke again to his servant.

          “And after this, what then? After flesh and fruit and song, what more remains?”

          And the Servant made him an answer and the answer was kind.

          And the King, who by now was not himself unwise, accepted the answer but, seeking consolation, went to his window and looked out at his people below.

          “That sweet girl who runs eagerly, summer on her cheek, to find a faithful lover: Who will receive her embrace?”

          And the Servant made him an answer and the answer was the same.

          “And that young man whose heart seeks glory, be he poet or soldier: What will he find?”

          And the Servant made him an answer and the answer was the same.

          “And those trees, those flowers: To what end do they blossom? Those birds: To what end do they sing?”

          And the Servant made him an answer and the answer was the same.

          And the King looked at his Servant and saw him for the first time and his heart was heavy in his chest and all his joys were ash. And he gave to his Servant one more question.

          “And who are you, o most faithful servant, who has shown me all these wonders, who has walked always beside me, thy footsteps planted next to mine down all my days e’en like those of my own shadow?”

          The Servant smiled. And he made him an answer and the answer was the same.

 

I refolded the paper, handed it back to the hermit, and watched it disappear into the hollows of his monkish robe.

“A lesson the learning of which is hardly the exclusive prerogative of the past,” I said. “Nor one reserved solely for Kings.”

“I know nothing of lessons, my Lord,” he said. “I am merely the Guardian.”

His routine could plainly benefit from better dialogue and I felt a moment’s temptation to offer my services in that regard, but I feared it might bruise his feelings. He was, in any case, getting on with the show.

“From the distant future,” he said, producing the second fragment for my perusal:

 

THE LAST TIME I ALMOST WENT HOME

         The guy we’d actually been hired by, the guy who rounded us up from the club, was just some flunky in a tough-guy suit, spending government money. Nicer than he needed to be, though. “Ladies,” he’d said, as he held the limo door and waved the three of us into the back seat. Not a trace of spin on it. You learn to appreciate the little things, believe me.

          The guy we’ve been hired for is quiet, naked, and not great on eye-contact. It’s hardly surprising that he doesn’t understand the subtleties, that his hand is limp and unresponsive when we shake, that he answers honestly when Brigid asks if he likes her hair. It’s hardly surprising at all. I mean, how far has he come?

           The guy with the clipboard and the ugly machine had tried to explain, but I couldn’t even. I’m like, “Wait, what?” Mind blown.

            “C’mon, Caitlin,” Jeannie says to me, like she hears this sort of shit every day. “Like David Bowie. You know, in that movie.”

            And Brigid’s like, “Right, the one where his eyes are weird.”

            And Jeannie, very offended, is all, “Those are Bowie’s actual eyes, Brigid.”

            But she’s forgetting the scene with the tweezers, I think, and besides, that was a metaphor. This is a man.

            The ugly machine can’t make up its mind about its numbers.

             Jeannie’s tongue is at the corner of her mouth and none of us are sure what to do now.

             “Perhaps you could dance,” Clipboard says. “Perhaps he’d like that.”

 

Fragment, indeed. Somewhat shorter, even, than the first. And certainly more perplexing; full of words which one could understand singly but which, woven together, produced a tapestry so baffling as to court madness. I would not, however, have this fellow—of whom I had come to think, for all his affectation of a monkish spiritual rigour, as being too pleased with himself by half—believe me to be without opinion or insight.

“A machine that works with numbers,” I said. “A sophistication, I assume, of Herr Leibniz’s Stepped Reckoner?”

“Were Herr Leibniz to fall asleep and dream himself into a world of mechanical wonders unguessed-at in our present day and then, within that dreaming world of splendours, to fall asleep and dream of a world whose inventions put those of the first to shame, he would still be some distance from comprehending the …”

Good God. I know that I’ve been accused of as much myself, but it seemed to me that my monastic friend was making his point with an inordinate amount of excessive elaboration. I pretended to stifle a yawn but hints, it appeared, were not to be taken.

“… enormous strides in computational capabilities that await us in—”

“That’s as may be,” I said, finally cutting him off. “But I suspect two and two will probably still make four. In any case, there’s a far more important lesson to be learned from this little curiosity of yours.”

“Indeed?” said the Hermit, raising an eyebrow.

“Indeed,” said I. “It appears that, in the future, ladies shall still dance?”

“It appears so,” he admitted.

“Then the world shall not entirely have gone to Hell,” I said, and held out my hand for the third fragment.

“Past. Future,” I mused. “This next will, I take it, enlighten me regarding the present?”

A solemn nod was his only reply as he placed the document in my hand.

As with its companions, it was a single sheet of paper folded in half. As before, a title was on the outer fold:

HOW LONG DOES THE MAYFLY LIVE?

But the paper, once unfolded, was completely blank.

For a brief moment, I felt a chill of fear, its source unclear to me and its strength disturbingly disproportionate to the circumstance.

My second thought was that this was merely some ill-judged whimsy of the Guardian and that, upon renewed demand, he would provide the real document.

And then I understood. Or thought so, at least.

“The present is not ordained,” I said confidently, as one who has understood a clever puzzle. “It is ours for the writing.”

I looked to my cowled companion for what I fully expected to be an approving nod. But neither word nor gesture escaped him. How could it?

The Guardian was a statue. Man and robe alike hewn by some masterful ancient hand from the very walls of the cavern that appeared to be its home.

I snatched up the flaming torch from its niche in the wall and held it near my former companion. With every second, the thing seemed to be less well wrought until I began to wonder how I could ever have thought it the semblance of a man. A series of natural folds in the rock, and nothing more.

The flicker of the flame’s reflection in the obsidian panel above drew my attention to the looking glass. Holding the torch aloft and close to my own face, I stared into the glass’s darkling surface.

There was absolutely nothing to be seen within.

 THE END

© Peter Atkins 2016

 

For those unfortunates who have been living under rocks for the past few decades and may not be familiar with him, PETER ATKINS is the author of the novels Morningstar, Big Thunder, and Moontown and the screenplays Hellraiser II, Hellraiser III, Hellraiser IV, and Wishmaster. His short fiction has appeared in such anthologies as The Museum of Horrors, Ghosts, Hellbound Hearts, and Cemetery Riots, and has been selected eight times for one or more of the various ‘Year’s Best’ anthologies. His recent book, Rumours of the Marvellous, a collection of his short fiction, was a finalist for the British Fantasy Award. He blogs at peteratkins.blogspot.com.

The author of this blog wishes to offer his obsequious thanks to Mr. Atkins for embodying the immortal Byron for this Villa Diodati recreation.

If you enjoyed this story (and the stories within the story!), please LIKE and SHARE this post with all your fellow Gothic aficionados. And, while you’re at it, don’t forget to mention that, for a limited time, they can get the Kindle ebook of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN for the pittance of ONLY 99 CENTS! That’s less than a convenience-store king-sized pack of M&M’s! And it’s way better for you–a fraction of the fat and calories. But this SPECIAL OFFER won’t last long. Order yours today! Here’s the link:

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Thank you all for joining our party at the Villa Diodati! In the spirit of that fateful evening in June of 1816, I hope we have given you a few memorable shivers for a stormy night. I would love to hear what you think and whether you have suggestions for future features you would like to see in this blog. Until next we meet…HAVE A VERY GOTHIC HOLIDAY SEASON!

 

ONE NIGHT AT THE VILLA DIODATI, PART 2: PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY

Born in 1792, Percy Shelley lived to just a month shy of his thirtieth birthday, yet during that short time, he managed to secure a reputation as one of the preeminent lyric poets of the Romantic era. Best known today for such classic verse as “Ozymandias” and “To a Skylark,” Shelley was quite the rebel and free-thinker for his time, espousing atheism and nonviolent civil disobedience and taking up with sixteen-year-old Mary Godwin while still technically married to his first wife Harriet. After Harriet conveniently drowned herself (in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, no less!), Percy wed Mary in 1816.

Despite having multiple premonitions of his own death and having never learned to swim, Percy had a perverse, almost pathological penchant for sailing in small, open boats. His pastime proved his undoing in 1822 when his craft evidently capsized during a storm and drowned him.

A quintessential Romantic, Percy Shelley possessed an appropriately morbid sensitivity. Indeed, the ghost story competition at the Villa Diodati in June of 1816 was inspired, in part, by one of Percy’s panic attacks. One stormy night, Lord Byron had been spooking his friends with a reading from “Christabel” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. According to John Polidori, who was present, “the whole took so strong a hold of Mr. Shelly’s [sic] mind, that he suddenly started up and ran out of the room. The physician and Lord Byron followed, and discovered him leaning against a mantle-piece, with cold drops of perspiration trickling down his face. After having given him something to refresh him, upon enquiring into the cause of his alarm, they found that his wild imagination having pictured to him the bosom of one of the ladies with eyes (which was reported of a lady in the neighborhood where he lived) he was obliged to leave the room in order to destroy the impression.”

With that image in mind, consider yourself warned about the content of the story that follows. NOTE: THIS STORY CONTAINS EXPLICIT AND DISTURBING IMAGERY! WE PROMISE!

 

Orbs of Erato

 

THE ORBS OF ERATO

by

Percy Bysshe Shelley

(as channeled by Stephen Woodworth)

 She enters the villa from the courtyard, through the doors I have left open for her.The night, once racked by tempest, has become utterly still and clear, the nimbus dissolving to unveil a brilliant moon. Its beams frost her nude form in spectral white, the limbs sinuous as animate marble. Though the air is bitterly cold, no gooseflesh stipples her polished skin. Hair as wispy and lustrous as spider silk floats about a face so fine as to be featureless, its eyes shut, and she moves with the slow deliberation of a somnambulist. I am reminded again of the figure of blind Justice, but know that she is neither blind nor just.

I do not remember falling asleep, and yet the sudden, awful cessation of thunder has awakened me. I rise from my chair in the parlor and shamble toward the open doors, and I hear nothing in the smothering silence—not a footfall, no, nor even my own labored breath or beating heart.

She steps across the threshold into shadow, and I can see only her silhouette haloed in moonlight. Yet I can feel her nether gaze upon me as she waits with imperious bearing. I extend my hand to her in helpless invitation, and she, the guest, leads me to the bedchamber, as though I were the sightless one.

A single candle sits in a holder on the night table, and its wavering flame makes the rumpled sheets of the four-post bed appear to pitch and roll like an uneasy sea. She reclines on the down mattress, her eyelids still shut as if already in slumber. And that is when I see them—those other eyes that have no lids and never shut. One on each breast of her exposed bosom, the white of the eye like an aureole, a cornea in place of a nipple. The pupils contract in the candlelight, and the limpid orbs peer at me in languid expectation.

Under their stare, I grow faint, sickened, my head numb as the blood drains from it. When she raises her arms to summon me, however, I cannot refuse, nor tear my gaze from that of her nether eyes. Wearing only my nightshirt, I crawl forward like an infant, over the foot of the bed and onto her supine form. Despite my revulsion, I kiss and caress her stone-smooth bosom with insatiable ardor as the eyes follow the ministrations of my mouth. The pigment of their irises appears to shade from one hue to another, now green, now blue, now gray.

She grips me with the longing of a lamia, but she has come to nourish, not devour. As I touch my lips to her throat, to her jaw, to her cheek, the eyelids beneath her fine brows peel apart. Out of each opened eye peeks the iris of a reddish-brown aureole, its pupil a puckering nipple. I feel the flutter of lashes on my tongue as I lap at an exposed teat.

She lifts her breasts with her hands so that the nether eyes may continue to watch me. My mouth probes deeper into the hollow of her open eye until I suckle at the teat in desperate hunger. A taste sweeter than honeydew tingles my tongue, heady and dreadful and delicious, and it feels as if the milk flows not from her body but from the mind and soul behind that exquisite, implacable face. My brain dizzies with an intoxication of lurid visions and strange music, and I succumb to a drowsy numbness.

When I recover my senses, I am alone in the bed. The taper on the night table has melted into a frozen fountain of wax, its wick extinguished, and a haze of wan daylight shafts through the bedchamber window.

Far from lassitude, I feel an irresistible agitation. My skull is bursting, words leaking from its fissures. I jump from the bed and rush to my writing desk in my dressing gown. Verse gushes forth faster than I can capture it with ink and quill. The precious, elusive words threaten to skitter away, and I scribble madly to imprison them on the page. I write until eyes and arm and head are sore and still fail to catch all the fleeing rhymes.

Then the rapture dissipates like a vanishing dream, an ode half-finished on the paper in front of me. I am left with only a ghastly emptiness, a hunger that claws at me as if my stomach were full of rats.

I must see her again.

Night after night, I leave the doors open wide, but she comes no more. My mind is as blank as the sheets of foolscap that litter my writing-desk. Has she found another lover, one more worthy to nurse?

The thought is unbearable. I curl upon my bed and teethe my thumb, bawling, a babe bereft.

THE END

 Copyright 2016 by Stephen Woodworth

 

If you enjoyed this story, just wait until you see what “Mary Shelley,” “John Polidori,” and “Lord Byron” have in store for you! Stay tuned to this blog for more EXCLUSIVE, CHILLING, NEVER-BEFORE-PUBLISHED STORIES in the Gothic tradition, including a SPECIAL CELEBRITY GUEST APPEARANCE by PETER ATKINS, screenwriter of Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 and author of Morningstar and many other classic works of horror fiction! Don’t miss a single post!!! And please COMMENT, LIKE, and SHARE this terror with your friends!

While you’re waiting, if you need more monsters NOW, why not check out FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN? Your ticket to terror is just a click away!:

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Until we return to the Villa Diodati…STAY GOTHIC!

“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:

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Thanks again for reading!

 

 

“Why FRANKENSTEIN?” Part 1: How Mary Shelley’s Novel Was Cutting-Edge Science Fiction *Then*

I could not have picked a more appropriate year to publish my new book FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, as it is the 200th anniversary of the conception of Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic novel. On a fittingly dark and stormy night in June of 1816, Mary, then only 18 years old, had a nightmare that would not only inspire one the most iconic characters of all time–it would serve as the progenitor of an entirely new branch of literature, a genre that would not even have a name until the 1920’s, when Amazing Stories founder Hugo Gernsback dubbed it “scientifiction” or science fiction.

In researching the original novel while writing FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, I was struck even more forcefully by the visionary aspect of Shelley’s work. Nowadays, many critics will credit Shelley with giving Victor Frankenstein a scientific rather than a supernatural origin for his creation, but will dismiss the science she describes as little more than hand-waving necromancy. While the notion of fashioning a being from parts of dead bodies and then bringing it to life with lightning may still seem far-fetched and fanciful, it actually synthesizes several prescient speculative concepts that have since become scientific realities.

To recognize how perceptive Frankenstein really was in its scientific speculation, one must keep in mind the historical context. When Mary Shelley sat down to pen the story in 1816, electricity was still a little-understood force of Nature. Its effects had been observed in magnets, in electric eels, and in static electricity generated by the rubbing of wool or amber, but the underlying mechanism behind these varied manifestations had not been explained. It had only been 64 years since Benjamin Franklin had demonstrated that lightning was another form of electricity, and a mere 17 years since Alessandro Volta invented the voltaic pile, a battery capable of chemically creating a weak electric current. The idea that electricity could serve any useful purpose–to say nothing of raising the dead–was a novel one.

Mary Shelley’s ingenious extrapolation that electric current might be able to somehow reawaken dead flesh derived from another revolutionary–and relatively recent–discovery. In 1780, Italian physician and biologist Luigi Galvani found that he could cause a severed frog’s leg to twitch as if alive by passing a small electric current through it. The phenomenon, which we now call bioelectricity, was dubbed galvanism in his honor.

The scientist’s nephew, Giovanni Aldini, went on to do a spectacular demonstration of the principle at Newgate Prison in London in 1803. He ran an electric current through the corpse of George Forster, a convict hanged for the murders of his wife and child, and the results of the experiment were, quite literally, shocking. “On the first application of the process to the face, the jaws of the deceased criminal began to quiver,” according to an account published in the notorious prison bulletin The Newgate Calendar, “and the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion.”

Although it is unlikely that Mary Shelley witnessed this spectacle herself, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and his physician friend Dr. John Polidori would probably have mentioned it during their enthusiastic discussions of galvanism, which provided a key inspiration for Mary’s vision of Victor Frankenstein’s medical research. The idea that the same mysterious power inherent in a thunderbolt also energized the nervous system of human beings and all living things must have seemed a revelation to Mary, proof of a unifying force that bound together all animate and inanimate things in the universe…which it was.

One must also remember that the science of modern medicine was still in its infancy, its progress held back by society’s ongoing taboo against using cadavers for anatomical dissection. In Shelley’s novel, Victor Frankenstein himself had to plunder churchyards to obtain the raw materials for his creation. “Resurrectionists,” or grave-robbers, did a thriving business supplying medical students with fresh corpses; ten years after the publication of Frankenstein, William Burke and William Hare would be tried for murder when they decided to skip digging in the graveyard and go for fresh, living meat when procuring bodies for sale.

But the idea of taking pieces of dead bodies and attaching them to a living being went far beyond the taboo of dismembering corpses. To readers of the early nineteenth century, it would have seemed like black magic. From our perspective, however, we can see that Shelley clearly prefigured the organ transplantation and limb grafting that have become an essential part of modern surgery. It is coincidental but significant that 1818, the year the original version of Frankenstein was published, was also the year in which British obstetrician James Blundell performed the first successful human-to-human blood transfusion, a necessary precursor to all the subsequent transplantation procedures that have evolved in the succeeding two centuries.

Yet Mary Shelley goes beyond even the prospect of simply grafting human flesh. In her novel, Victor Frankenstein actually fabricates some of his monster’s gargantuan limbs rather than using existing pieces of corpses, for the practical reason that bigger parts are easier to work on. (Any mechanical engineer would understand and empathize.) “As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed,” he says, “I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionally large.” His plan, of course, backfires badly, for he ends up creating a murderous behemoth with the strength of a dozen men. But, although Shelley never really describes how Frankenstein manufactures his monster’s enormous frame, the simple fact that he makes a human figure from scratch, as ’twere, presages the prosthetic limbs, artificial hearts, and cloned organs of contemporary medicine.

And that is precisely why Frankenstein is still a cutting-edge science fiction novel today, a topic I shall address in Part II. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, if you have not already done so, I hope you’ll check out FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN here on its Amazon order page:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Order Page on Amazon

If you enjoy the novel as much as I believe you will, please post a review on Amazon and recommend the book to your friends.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

FRAULEIN Welcomes You to Castle Frankenstein!

As we enter the month of October, FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN is preparing for the ultimate Halloween Monster Bash. She invites you to enter the ancient medieval fortress where she was brought to life–Castle Frankenstein!

The accompanying photo shows the real Burg Frankenstein in Darmstadt, Germany, ancestral home of a line of barons that can trace its heritage back to the tenth century A.D. A bas-relief in a nearby church depicts one of the illustrious barons, Georg von Frankenstein, in full armor, victoriously trampling a serpent-like creature underfoot, so the family has had a special connection to monsters throughout the ages. Although the true-life Castle Frankenstein does not appear in Mary Shelley’s original story, some scholars believe that Shelley visited the castle as she traveled the Continent prior to writing the novel and that it provided her the legendary name of the title character .

When writing FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, I thought it would be fun to have FRAULEIN born in her namesake castle, and so I researched Burg Frankenstein and Darmstadt and set much of the book in that vicinity. I hope this real-world detail will give adventurous readers a visceral “you are there” Gothic ambience!

The ebook of the novel is now available from Kindle Press for the bargain price of only $2.99. Here’s the link to the order page on Amazon:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Order Page on Amazon

Please Like and Share this post to let any fellow monster mavens know about the book. For those who’ve received advanced copies, I hope that you are enjoying the story and will share your enthusiasm with other readers by posting a brief review on Amazon and by recommending the novel to your friends online. Thanks again for all your support, and let’s get ready for a Mad Monster Par-tay!

 

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN…Unwrapped!

At long last, FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN has been unleashed on an unsuspecting world! The ebook of the novel is now available from Kindle Press for only $2.99. Here’s the link to the order page on Amazon:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Order Page

Please Like and Share this post to let any fellow monster mavens know about the book. For those who’ve received advanced copies, I hope that you are enjoying the story and will express your enthusiasm with other readers by posting a brief review on Amazon and by recommending the novel to your friends online. Thanks again for all your support!

Your FRANKENSTEIN Playlist!

Greetings, Friends of FRAULEIN!

In honor of tomorrow’s official release by Amazon’s Kindle Press of my new novel FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, your humble mad scientist DJ has assembled a set of his favorite Frankenstein songs–a soundtrack for the laboratory of your mind. Igor, spin those platters!

  1. “Frankenstein,” The Edgar Winter Group. The classic instrumental monster jam. Winter said he spliced together scraps of several unfinished songs he’d recorded, a process that reminded him of how Frankenstein cobbled together his creature from the disparate parts of dead bodies. Hence, the song’s title. The resulting tune is so apropos that it’s hard not hear the thumping keyboard bass line as the monster clomping its way toward some unsuspecting village.
  2. “Teenage Frankenstein,” Alice Cooper. I suspect most of us felt like this at some point during adolescence: an ill-proportioned freak put together by someone who didn’t quite know what he was doing.
  3. “She’s Got a Frankenstein,” The Scared Stiffs. A paean to the delights and detriments of loving a make-her-yourself woman. The Scared Stiffs are one of my all-time favorite Halloween bands, and this track is from their spooktacular second album, The Last Horror Movie.
  4. “It’s ALIVE!,” Bobby “Boris” Pickett. Pickett is best-known for that Halloween perennial “Monster Mash.” “Mash” is, of course, a Frankenstein chestnut in its own right, but I thought you monster mavens might enjoy hearing this catchy, lesser-known “sequel” song, which Pickett recorded thirty years after the original.
  5. “Frankenhooker,” The 69 Eyes. It is hard to imagine a guiltier pleasure than the demented slapstick B-movie Frankenhooker, the (abnormal) brainchild of writer/director Frank Henenlotter, who also gave us such celebrated cinematic mutants as Basket Case and Brain Damage. Unless, of course, the guiltier pleasure happened to be a song based on said movie. This is a track by a great Finnish heavy-metal band called The 69 Eyes, who have also done English-language musical tributes to such horror movies as Lost Boys, Pitch Black, and From Dusk ’til Dawn. And, yes, both the movie and the song “Frankenhooker” deal with a prostitute composed of pieces of dead prostitutes. A lady of the night, indeed!
  6. “Weird Science,” Oingo Boingo. Danny Elfman meets John Hughes–’nuff said! I’m sure I wasn’t the only teenage boy in the ’80s who wished he could fabricate Kelly LeBrock in his bedroom.
  7. “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” The Rocky Horror Show. Of course, several songs from the musical and movie about Dr. Frank N. Furter and company would fit in this list, but I chose this song as the one that most explicitly references Frankenstein…and is also one of the prettiest of the lot.
  8. “Feed My Frankenstein,” Alice Cooper. The King of Shock Rock returns with another Frankenstein hit, in this case using the monster as a metaphor for sexual appetite. Listen closely for a cameo by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, at the end of the song.
  9. “Here Comes the Bride (The Bride of Frankenstein),” Elvira (featuring Fred Schneider). Did somebody say “Elvira”? In honor of FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN, I had to include this swell novelty song by the one-and-only Mistress of the Dark. Fred Schneider, frontman of the B-52’s, adds the perfect touch of mad-scientist quirk to the chorus.
  10. “Body Shoppin’,” The Scared Stiffs. Although not directly inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic, this Scared Stiffs song is definitely in the Frankenstein tradition, since it draws its inspiration from the 1962 Frankensteinian B-movie The Brain that Wouldn’t Die. The movie concerns a surgeon whose girlfriend gets decapitated in a tragic traffic accident–hey, these things happen! Our enterprising hero manages to keep the head alive, then goes out cruising the red-light district looking for a woman with the perfect body onto which he can graft his girlfriend’s head. Both moody and tongue-in-cheek, the Scared Stiffs song manages to make this silly scenario both hilarious and haunting, accenting the melancholy tune with eerie quotations from the original movie.

Well, that’s it for this set! I would love to hear any suggestions you have for other Frankenstein tracks, so please offer your “requests” in the Comments section. I realize there are at least two entire musicals based on Frankenstein from which I haven’t drawn a single song. For those interested in either Young Frankenstein: The Musical or Frankenstein: A New Musical, my lovely monster mate Kelly Dunn wrote an excellent article for Famous Monsters of Filmland in which she interviewed Shuler Hensley, who had the distinction of playing the Monster in both shows. You may find her article in in this issue.

You can hear many of these songs and other cool, spooky tunes on my favorite internet Halloween radio station, http://www.halloweenradio.net. I also recommend the Slacker radio app, which offers both mainstream and indie rock Halloween radio stations.

And when you’re done rocking out to these monster hits, don’t forget to check out FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN. The ebook is available on Amazon for only $2.99–more monster for your dollar! Here’s the link:

FRAULEIN FRANKENSTEIN Amazon Order Page

Thanks for reading…and listening! Please LIKE and SHARE this list with any fellow Frankenstein music fans you may know. Stay tuned for more Frankenstein fun!