Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Movie Frankenstein

As part of this reading challenge I decided that it would be fun to review the film adaptations of the book that we are currently going through.  With Frankenstein that became a bit of a challenge.  This book has been adapted more times than one could imagine in almost every way possible.  Within just a few years after the book was published plays were written based on this book, and it never stopped.  When the moving picture came on the scene this novel became fodder for dozens of movies as well. 

Of these multiple adaptations it would be almost impossible for me to review all of them.  There simply isn’t enough time in the day.  In order to keep myself from going crazy I decided to review just one.  I decided to review the one that is considered the greatest of them all.

In 1931 a film was released that was so shocking that viewers needed to leave the theater.  It was far too intense for most people and in some states portions of it were even banned.   Frankenstein suddenly became more than a work of literature.  Frankenstein was now a household name.
Unfortunately the household name was not all that close to the Frankenstein that we have grown to enjoy over the past month.  Much of the depth and beauty had been removed. 

Boris Karloff did a fantastic job of creating a monster that would inspire film makers for generations.  The work that he did is still touted today as one of the greatest monster portrayals in the history of film.  This monster though never lived on Mary Shelley’s paper. 

Despite the fact that I did enjoy this film I have to say that I was disappointed.  I was hoping for something closer to what I had read.  I was hoping to see the characters come to life on the screen before my eyes.  This didn’t happen.  Even the story itself was twisted to a point that very few elements remained. 

One could almost say that the script of this movie was much like the monster itself.  Mary Shelley’s work was cut to pieces and stuck back together in order to create new life.  The new horrific life created was nothing like the original, but was powerful in its own right.  This new life was so powerful that even though it was much different than the original it became even bigger than the original.  People around the world began to believe that this new version was in fact the story of Frankenstein.  They began to believe that the monster was a slow moving, stupid, psychotic, killing machine.  Billions of people recognize this new monster, and almost no one even knows that the original was something different. 

To this films credit though it is foundational to the modern horror film and for that fact alone I must tip my hat to it.  This is a movie that should be viewed by all, just don’t expect it to be true to the story.

The Next Generation of readers

Reading great books is becoming a thing of the past.  Children are being allowed to fill their minds with video games and TV.  By the time they reach adulthood they no longer care about books.  It is up to us to make sure that we are bringing up a generation of readers.    A generation that understands the importance of great books.  A generation that can get lost in the written word. 
This 100 novel challenge has made me understand the need for this even more with my own children.  I refuse to allow them to grow up without an understanding of the importance of the written word. 
Tomorrow I will post the last of our Frankenstein series, the movie review.  Then it will be time for us to grab our next book, Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor.

Monday, May 28, 2012

My reaction to Frankenstein

As our first month of this challenge draws to a close and we gear up for our next book it’s time for one last reflection on the book that we have just read. 

Starting this challenge with a well known book such as Frankenstein turned out to be a great blessing for me.  It allowed me to ease in with a subject that I thought I already knew.  Of course, it turns out that everything I thought I knew about Frankenstein was wrong. 

The modern idea of who this monster is differs greatly from the character that I found on the pages of Mary Shelley’s book.  I have always thought of Frankenstein (the monster) as a slow moving being both physically and mentally.  Reading this book was eye-opening.  The true character has deep emotions and feelings leaving the reader not knowing whether to hate him for his killings or love him because of the pain that he has experienced.  I found myself experiencing this same tugging of feelings.  Who is the real monster in this book?  After a month of reading, I still can’t answer this question.  Perhaps the answer is both.

As for the story itself I found it surprisingly simple, and yet wonderful.  The worlds flowed smoothly in front of me and I found myself immersed in the story, loving every minute of it.  Mary Shelley is a master of storytelling.  The simple narration led to the genuine feeling of the book, and by the time the book concluded I felt a vested interest in almost all of the characters.  This is a book that I would highly recommend.  I now understand why it is on the top 100 list, and yet surprised that so few people have read it. 

I know that this book was based in science fiction, but as I was reading it a very real life warning for myself came to mind.  The idea of destruction through the pursuit of a single passion not only impacts science.  It can also impact people like you and I.  Let me try to explain.

I have 2 dreams that I am currently pursuing.  First I have returned to school so that I can complete my Masters degree and go into vocational ministry.  This is an intense pursuit and it requires a great deal of time and energy from me.  Secondly I am working towards my dream of becoming a published author.  This is also an intense pursuit which keeps me awake into the wee hours of the morning.  There is nothing wrong with either of these pursuits and some might even say that they are good.  If I am not careful though, I may allow my pursuits to lead to my destruction.  Many who have sought these goals before me have lost their spouse and children along the way.  They have lost friends and family.  When they finally achieved their goal they looked up and found themselves completely alone and unsatisfied.

Like Frankenstein we each have the capacity to push ourselves to ruin, all in the name of some greater purpose.  May this book serve as a reminder of that possibility.  It was a good book with good characters but for a book to be truly great it needs to change us.  I believe this lesson (at least for me) is what makes this book great.

 What are your thoughts?  Did you enjoy the book?  Why?  Any takeaways that you can share with us?

Friday, May 25, 2012

A reader’s thoughts on Memorial Day

As we head into this long holiday weekend many of us have big plans for things that we are going to be doing with friends and family.  Perhaps you are going to spend time at the lake, or maybe you will just stay home and grill.  Maybe you will go to your local cemetery to decorate graves, or maybe you will use the long weekend to catch up on some much needed sleep.  If you are anything like me though, any plan that you have will also involve sneaking away for a bit and doing some reading.

As readers we have much to be thankful for as we celebrate Memorial Day.  We take it for granted that we can go to our local library and grab a book on any subject and read it without issue.  This ability to read freely was far from free.  Billions of people around the world today do not enjoy the same freedom that you do.  For them reading many of the books we enjoy is nothing more than a dream.  The only reason we are able to enjoy this freedom that they covet is the soldiers who gave their lives in service fighting for that freedom.  This weekend is meant to honor them.  

There is another soldier that we must recognize during our Memorial Day weekend as well.  This soldier though didn’t fight battles with guns and swords.  Instead they fought the battle for freedom with pen and paper.  It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and many times these men and women have proven it true.  Some of them lost their lives because of what they wrote.  They found themselves martyrs for causes that they believed a great deal in.  Others spent their lives as living martyrs sacrificing everything in order to fight for what they believed in.  Instead of seeking riches and fame they put words to paper.

These word soldiers have ranged throughout time and on Memorial Day I believe that we must honor them.  We must honor men such as those that penned the Declaration of Independence.  With each word they signed a possible death sentence knowing that they were fighting for something greater than themselves.  We must honor men such as Abraham Lincoln who used his words to change the heart of a nation and bring families back together.  We must honor men like Martin Luther King Jr. who used the written word to help bring an end to racial separation.  We must honor the thousands of other men and women have done (and still do) the same. 

I hope that whatever you plans are this weekend you take at least a few moments to think of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  Think of the soldiers that willingly laid down their lives on battle fields around the world and throughout the course of American history.  Millions of them have died over the years so that we can live in the country that we live in today.  While doing this don’t forget to remember the writers who have used weapons more powerful than even guns to change our country and allow us the freedom that we enjoy today.

Of course there is no way to thank them for all that they have done to earn and guard the freedoms we enjoy.  They are no longer with us.  Perhaps the best thing we can do is to simply enjoy the freedom that we have because of them.  Pick up a book and start reading it.  Billions of people around the world cannot do this, but you can.  Don’t waste this freedom that you have.  While you are reading it, think of the millions of soldiers who died so that you could.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Frankenstein’s social impact

Being in print for almost 200 years Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has left a large legacy.  Thousands of essays have been written on the topic of this book and Mary herself.  Students have even devoted dissertations to the topic of Frankenstein and its impact on society.  Had I planned better and not started this reading program during my first month of finals in a decade I was planning to explore each of the major points of interest in detail.  Instead I will use this thread to sum up the various topics that find themselves at the forefront of Frankenstein scholar.  If one of these topics interest you let me know and I can get you information for further study.  I am sure that as you read through these you will be able to pickup the source of these topics from what you have read.

Destructive Potential of Science
One of the most obvious topics that has been explored by those looking to this text and its reflection on society is the possible destructive nature of science.  When misused this tool we use to gain knowledge, and progress mankind, can in fact have the opposite effect causing harm to society.  When Mary Shelley wrote this book the scientific world was rapidly changing and this caused great fear.  People understood the power of the scientific search and knew that if it was allowed to progress too far irreparable damage to the world could be caused.   

In today’s world we have almost forgotten this fear.  Despite the fact that we live closer to global disaster than ever before we tend to forget the power of atomic bombs, or biological devices are cloning.  This book serves as a good reminder.  Some discoveries are not worth the consequences. 

Nature vs. Nurture
How would the monster have turned out had he been loved and cared for?  What would have happened had he been named Simon and tucked in at night with a bedtime story?  Of course this is a question that we can never answer, but the idea is intriguing.  The conversations between Frankenstein and his creation seem to suggest that things would have been drastically different. 

This story line may be different than anything we will ever experience in life, but I am willing to bet that a visit to your local prison may prove that the story isn’t too far off.  Humans struggle with the same emotions of rejection and vengeance as our demon do.

Tampering in God’s Domain
One of the most discussed themes in Frankenstein is the fact that God alone can create life.  By fooling around in this area we can only bring destruction on ourselves.  Of course some may disagree but even most passionate atheists will agree that some things, such as the creation of life, should be left alone. 

Gender identity
Yep, people use Frankenstein to discuss gender roles and identity.  It’s ridiculous in my opinion.  If you want information on where to find out more about this let me know and I will send it to you.  I tried to read about it and couldn't take it seriously…

Physical Deformity = Monster
I wish this were not true but I believe that it is.  The monster was reject almost everywhere he went instantly because of his appearance.  In our society this is true as well.  Of course we don’t beat and stone people, but watch from a distance sometime as a person with a major deformity or issue goes about life.  People leave a wide path for them, avoid eye contact and do not talk to them.  The less normal you look, the less as a human you are treated. 

I challenge you to change this in your life, and in the world around you. 

Other topics as well
Of course, these are not the only issues that are discusses regarding this text, but they are the main issues.  I apologize I could not devote more ink to them because of my poor planning.  That will not be the case in the future. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hope you are all enjoying...

I am enjoying Frankenstein much more than I thought I would.  Its really a good book and this experience is helping me get even more excited about things to come.  We still have 99 books left.  What are your thoughts so far?  How is your reading going?  Are you reading yet or still waiting to get started? 

I ask these questions for 2 reasons.  The first is I really want to know and covet a dialogue between readers.  Secondly, its finals week and I am half dead so I don't have the energy to create a long post...  Only a couple more left though and I will be done till fall. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Modern Prometheus

The full title of our book is Frankenstein or a Modern Prometheus.  Some of you may have that on the cover of your book, others may not.  My copy leaves this portion of the title off. 

What exactly does "modern Prometheus" mean though?  Follow the below link to find out. 

Click HERE

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The origin of Frankenstein -- and the modern vampire too

In the summer of 1816 Mary Godwin (later Shelley) traveled with her soon-to-be-husband Percy Shelley and her step sister Claire Clairmont to a villa in Switzerland to spend a couple of months with world famous poet Lord Byron and his friend Dr. John Polidori.  The idea was that they would spend a great deal of time out and about or on the lake, but the weather had different plans.  One of the strangest weather patterns in history was in place that year causing a great deal of rain and unseasonably cold temperatures.  Some have even called 1816 the year that "summer never came".

Of course in 1816 there was no TV or radio, and travel was only on foot or horse so one had to stay close to home.  This meant that the 5 (plus a small child) young vacationers had to come up with activities in order to avoid boredom.  They spent a great deal of time in conversation with each other debating current issues in all fields.  They also spent a large amount of time reading to each other various books.  At one point they even got there hands on a book of German ghost stories.  It was these stories that would prove fodder for a small piece of history.

The poet Lord Byron came up with the idea of a contest.  They would all write a ghost story to share with each other by the end of the summer.  Mary had a great deal of troubling coming up with the idea for her story.  One night that all changed.  Mary closed her eyes to fall asleep but instead she was greeted by an image of a scientist standing next to a table containing his creation.  She opened her eyes startled, but knowing that she had found her story. 

Over the next 2 years Percy Shelley encouraged and helped her grow the tale and bring it to novel length.  His finger prints can be found in the wording of the book, but based on what he changed it is obvious that he missed her point.  The only portions he adjusted were places where he made the monster less human and more monster-like.

Out of this 2 year labor stemming from a contest we get the book we hold in our hands today.  Amazingly though this isn't the only book (or piece of history) that came out of this contest. 

The famous Lord Byron began work on a vampire story but as far as anyone can see it was never finished.  Its fragment was eventually published at the end of one of his other works.  He did produce other works during this summer though.  Dr. John Polidori on the other hand wrote what may be the most important vampire book of all time in The Vampyre.  In it he creates the image of the modern vampire that has been used by almost all authors since including Bram Stoker.  What you think of when you think Dracula comes from this book.  Percy Shelley did write one of his most significant works during this contest in Hym to Intellectual Beauty.  Like most of his work it didn't receive great reviews.  Claire also wrote a book for this contest but it never found its way to publication. 

I can't find whether they considered Mary as the winner of the contest. I guess in the larger scope of history the answer is obvious. We are reading her book, but have never heard of the other 4 writers.

What we know for certain though is that out of the contest came two of the most important figures in horror writing history in the monster known as Frankenstein and the modern Vampire.

The other thing that came out of this meeting is what is known as the "curse of Frankenstein".  Of the 6 people in the house that summer only Mary and Claire would be alive in just a few short years. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Robert De Niro's Frankenstein - by Frank Caliendo

I found the video that Aaron posted about earlier and thought I would share it with the group. 

Have a great weekend!!!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Author of Frankenstein -- Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley always wanted to be a great writer.  Of course, considering her parents there is possibly little else she could have wanted to be.  She was born to literary celebrity parents on August 30, 1797 in London.  Her father was renowned novelist and essayist William Godwin, her mother a pioneering feminist writer named Mary Wollstonecraft.    The two had never married believing that marriage was simply a form of prostitution.  

In an event that would foreshadow the tragic life she would endure her mother died when she was only day’s old due to complications from giving birth.   Her father was crushed but quickly married the next door neighbor Mary Jane Clairmont in order to provide a mother for Mary and her older sister Fanny.  The relationship between Mary and her step mother was never a good one and her father appears to have emotionally removed himself from the equation as well. 

Mary did have a luxury that few young children have.  Because of the status of her father as a prominent author and thinker there was a constant stream of intellectual giants visiting the household.  She was able to rub shoulders with men such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sir Humphry Davy and Charles Lamb.  These figures played a large role in her education as well due to the fact that she was home educated.  

Although her father was emotionally distant he was still an attentive and involved father.  It was he who took time to educate his daughter at home.  He also worked to develop and encouraged her love for writing.  When Mary was only 11 years old he helped her to publish her first short book of poetry titled Mounseer Nongtonpaw.  Little did he know that in less than 8 years she would conceive and write what would become one of the most famous novels in history.

One of the famous men that made trips to visit Mary’s father starting in 1814 was a rising poet named Percy Shelley.  The attraction between the two was almost immediate and they fell deeply in love.  The fact that he was a married father of 2 apparently made little difference to either of them.  When Mary’s father discovered the relationship he was furious.  Shelley’s family was obviously unhappy as well.  So, in keeping pace with what young stupid people do, they ran away together to mainland Europe.  

In 1815 Mary delivered her first child but tragedy struck when the baby died only a couple of days later.  

Mary’s spirits were lifted a year later when she delivered a healthy baby boy named William.  Her spirits were lifted even further when her step sister Claire told her that she and Percy had been invited to spend the summer with famous poet Lord Byron in a villa in Switzerland.  It was in this villa that the story for Frankenstein would be born (more on this event on Monday).

Frankenstein was published on the last day of 1817 and would mark the beginning of a series of events which few could withstand.  First her half sister Fanny committed suicide.  Shortly after this Percy Shelley’s ex-wife committed suicide as well.  These events were followed by the birth and death of another baby and in June of 1819 her three year old son William died of malaria.  Her husband Percy passed in July of 1822 when a freak storm popped up while we was sailing as well.  These tragedies also go alongside the various friends that passed early, including almost everyone who spent that summer in the Swiss villa where Frankenstein was born.  In fact, the events following the publishing of Frankenstein were so terrible that many have called it a curse.  After reading the history I may have to agree.

Mary lived alone for most of the rest of her life.  She spent her time writing her own books, and publishing work that she found of her husband’s.  She never remarried or seemed to find any happiness.  She dies on February 1, 1851 at the age of 53.  Of all that she wrote throughout the remainder of her life nothing ever came close to her first major work, Frankenstein. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

#100 - Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - - let the book club begin!

Drama critic Christopher Small noted that Frankenstein is "uniquely new to every fresh generation of readers" but that it is also "familiar to them before they begin to read". For many of us this is true. We will be reading a book for the first time, but the story of Frankenstein has been around our entire lives in one way or another.  With each turn of the page we will go deeper into a world that we have never been before, yet we will be doing so alongside characters we have known since preschool.
As we move through this book you may be surprised to find that there are no hunchback assistants or angry villagers with torches chasing the monster through the country side. These images have been added over the course of 100 years of movie adaptations, graphic novels and all sorts of other pop culture. You may also be surprised to find that after 100 years of Hollywood the central characters and heart of the story has remained unchanged. These cultural icons in the public consciousness are almost identical to the ones that can be found in Mary Shelley's 1818 original copy.

As we progress through this tale it will be exciting to see what portions are as we expect them to be based on our film and pop culture knowledge and what portions shock us because of how different they are from what we know.  

A few words before we begin

As we begin this 8 year 4 month journey I would like to say a couple of words about how I plan to move forward.  

Each month we will all be reading a novel together.  Of course, we all have different schedules and responsibilities so we will not be reading at the exact same time, which could lead to some spoilers if not handled well.  Because of this I plan to spend the first half of each month on author, background, literary and historical information.  These posts will give some information about the book but will focus on bigger picture topics.  The second half of the month will be on the text itself.  This will allow time for all of us to be adequately progressing through the novel before information from the book starts coming out.  I would hate to spoil a great book for someone.  I probably will not be able to stay away from everything for the slower readers though, and discussions will be taking place throughout the month in the comment sections.  If something is being discussed that could ruin a plot twist I will place the text “spoiler alert” on the post or comment so you can decide if you want to read it or not.  I ask other commenters to do the same.

My goal is to post 3 times per week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) and I should stick to this pretty closely.  I tell you this so that you can hold me accountable if I get behind.  Also, I enjoy research immensely so if there is ever a topic that you would like me to cover, or feel I have not covered deep enough, let me know.

There are only 2 rules for this book club blog.  First is that language should be appropriate for all ages.  I don’t think this will be a problem but I want to say something now just in case.  I have run into some potty mouths before and I hate deleting comments for any reason.  Secondly, have fun.  

With that, I give you Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus.