Rethinking Frankenstein On Halloween

I am no longer angry at Frankenstein. One year ago I picked up Mary Shelley’s novel looking for something.

I knew I’d get to meet a monster, but I was also expecting darkness. Some campy themes. Maybe a bit of suspense. The mixture wasn’t really there. Halloween came and went. Disappointed, I put the book down and decided to wait another year.

A month ago I gave it another try. Totally worth it. Now that I’ve relived the “birth” of the monster and tried another perspective on his persecution, I can look back to what went wrong in my first attempt with this book.

Real People
When I first started Frankenstein, I had an image in my mind of who (what?) I was about to meet. My presumptions were primarily driven by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I’d read the year before. I thought Frankenstein the scientist, not the monster, was going to be a smart man with a whole cadre of supporting characters. There would be the beautiful love interest, a trusted sidekick, a mysterious but coincidentally well-researched and mystic scientist; and, finally, there would be a string of mysterious deaths which only our cast of characters would be able to explain.

Shelley’s novel had all those things. But there was no campiness about them. Instead of the stereotypes I was expecting, I actually met real people. Individuals who made decisions throughout the course of the book and who then were made to suffer the consequences of their actions.

Shelley was telling us a story. But she was also conveying her opinions about the scientific advancements of her time. There is a lesson in her work. One where campiness simply had no place.

Real Change
The monster I was anticipating was the one Hollywood wanted me to see. I’ve never watched any of the B-Movies, but remembered a flat-topped Frankenstein from The Addams Family. Whereas the thing in the former collection was always this frightening beast, in the latter he served as something of a comedic foil. In both cases, Shelley would have turned in her grave.

The real monster of the scientist Frankenstein was ugly on the outside directly from the outset. But it wasn’t until humanity–including his own creator–had scorned him on numerous occasions that he turned to evil. Again in comparison to Dracula, this abomination is completely different from his Halloween contemporary. The only changing we saw in Stoker’s character was from man to bat and back again.

Therein lies the real story behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We need to be careful with our ideas and with our science. What at first might seem an advancement could be anything but. And when we come across the unfortunate or the evil, it is worth reflection upon why the unfortunate or evil are such.

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Vietnam: Book Report

As referenced earlier, I thought some of the little book reports I indexed on cards a few years ago might make for an interesting read before I recycle the paper.

This post covers The Best and the Brightest, written by David Halberstam. The index card was dated 1/16/05.

After WWII the French and British wanted to return to some semblance of empire. The Americans needed to remain on friendly terms with Europe in order to defeat Communism so they backed off their own programs, which happened to favor self-identification (nationalism). So anticolonialism lost out in the U.S. and the French were permitted to return to IndoChina…against the wishes of the Vietnamese.

After China fell to the communists, McCarthyism became a string political force. It helped pundits position French struggles in Vietnam to the American effort in Korea. Rather than being a struggle for nationalism, which it was, Vietnam came to be reviewed through the lens of the Cold War’s fight to stop communism.

A young Kennedy administration was on loose footing after the Bay of Pigs and a Presidential meeting with a dominating Krushchev in Vienna. So on the issue of Vietnam, at least, the Party felt a need to be tough. A weak Secretary of State couldn’t change the nature of the debate.

Later, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution effectively gave President Johnson the power to escalate to a full war in Vietnam. Reasons to escalate in 1964:
70% – avoid defeat and humiliation (kept private)
20% – keep territory from China (kept private)
10% – help South Vietnam (publicized)

Development and Coincidence: Book Report

As referenced earlier, I thought some of the little book reports I indexed on cards a few years ago might make for an interesting read before I recycle the paper.

This post covers Twin Tracks: The Unexpected Origins of the Modern World, written by James Burke. The index card was dated 11/5/04.

James is the guy from the Connections series, of which I was a huge fan in eighth grade. His ability to link together seemingly unrelated events and details is continued in this book. It’s less of a review of how one discovery led to another which in turn led to another; more of a look at how small or coincidental the world actually can be.

A number of the case studies referred to the same people (Alexander Pope) or the same places (Kit Kat Club), which does remove some of the coincidental tendencies of those cases. But a good, quick read nonetheless.

Nature and American History: Book Report

As referenced earlier, I thought some of the little book reports I indexed on cards a few years ago might make for an interesting read before I recycle the paper.

This post covers Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. The book was written by Ted Steinberg. The index card was dated 10/24/04.

Ted shows how natural events need to be considered in conjunction with human activities when studying the past. But beginning with the American colonial period when farmers fenced off land and natural resources–effectively turning nature to a commodity–people have gradually “freed” themselves from the uncertainty inherent in nature and gained as a result.

Ted’s argument is that this process, driven by promise of economic gains, has decreased biodiversity and increased the risks that our society is less flexible in the face if future change. He points to Plains Indians’ ties to the buffalo as a clear example of our current predicament. So nature will still affect our lives.

The City In Mind: Book Report

As referenced in my last post, I thought some of the little book reports I indexed on cards a few years ago might make for an interesting read before I recycle the paper.

This post covers The City in Mind, written by James Kunstler. The index card was dated 9/24/04.

An extension of Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere in that the book looks at selected cities around the world that are just as meaningless as the suburban America he explored in his earlier work. Boston shines as a livable city poised to succeed in the 21st Century–when he claims so many others will fail. Mexico City and its Aztec past doesn’t connect well with other essays in the book. Paris and Berlin reviewed…Paris great, Berlin a lost opportunity.

American tendencies re: city and nature are linked to our Anglican history–the English upperclass as opposed to the French, despised trade and merchants so they wouldn’t live with them in mixed use housing. That was allowed to continue in America and became enfranchised through the easy availability of oil post WWII and the suburbs it enabled.

The split between city and nature, urban and rural, was institutionalized by movements such as those of Frederick Law Olmsted whose parks (Central Park being the most well known) set up a “here, there” geography whereby an urban area was not seen as capable of integrating nature, and nature was not seen as having a proper sense of belonging in an urban context.