News update and the last Mary Shelley post

DotW update

Real life demon-hunting adventures will continue this week, starting Thursday.

You guys are the best! (Okay, that’s not really news.): DotW hit 1000 hits on Thursday. Thanks everyone who came out. Especially if you decided to never miss a demon by signing up for Demon of the Week by Email, subscribing to my feed or following on twitter.

As of this week, we have a new most popular search term. “Astaroth” beat out “spider eyes,” though a new term showed up “spider -bite -man -alpha -kiss -.” I have no explanation for that. “Demon halitosis” showed up, too. I have to say I’m very disappointed that if you search on that, DotW doesn’t show up until the bottom of the second page.

Also, whoever you are who felt the need to read the Astaroth post in Spanish, stay awesome. (Hey, look, ‘halitosis’ is the same word!)

Mary Shelley and the Last Man on Earth

Mary Shelley wasn’t just the inventor of the ‘mad scientist’ subgenre of literature. She also invented the apocalyptic novel. Seriously. She was the first person to write about the end of the world. The Last Man was her story of a plague that kills everyone on earth, except for the hero of the book. Check out the wikipedia article.

The Last Man is hard to get a hold of in a physical copy, but there are copies. If you’ve got a Kindle, you can download it free.

But the copyright has long expired, so I have no issues with showing you how to get it on Google books: Volume 1, Volume 2.


In case you missed the link, here’s an experiment in ‘galvanism,’ something Frankenstein mentions in the book (perhaps the inspiration for the lightning?). In the late eighteenth and very early nineteenth centuries, scientists and amateurs studying the ‘natural sciences’ used to open up dead creatures and apply an electrical current to the muscles to make them twitch. This was a revelation to folks to whom electricity was new, and made them wonder if perhaps life itself was made of electricity. In 2003, a guy opened up a frog, implanted a web server, and attached a battery in order to do a modern version of this experiment as an art installation. Have a look if you want to. It’s a little gruesome.


Is “Don’t play God” the theme of Frankenstein?

So, what is the theme of Frankenstein? High school logic says it’s “Don’t play God.” This moral goes back to the Greek tragedies, with which Shelley would have been familiar.

But I read the book a different way, I guess. For me, one part struck me more than others–right after the monster comes to life, Dr. Frankenstein abandons it. He decides that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the monster and runs away. He just leaves it.

For me, the danger wasn’t in the technology, but in the fact that he didn’t take responsibility for it. The monster needed him to teach it how to deal with the world (and possibly integrate into society?), but the doctor left it alone. He takes one look at it, decides it’s ugly and runs away.

For me, the theme was, “Take responsibility for what you create.” Which if you think about it, is a pretty female theme–did the monster need a father?

Shelley wrote the novel between 1816 and 1818 (during the Regency era, not Victorian times). There were a lot of unemployed men hanging around, having just come back from the Napoleonic wars. Manufacturing was just starting to be automated, taking away possible jobs for them. This created a lot of social dissonance, you can imagine, unemployment and crime.

Gin Lane by Hogarth, 1751. It depicts the social dissonance caused by the availability of cheap gin. (He believed in beer, though...)

Gin Lane by Hogarth, 1751. It depicts the social dissonance caused by the availability of cheap gin. (He believed in beer, though...)

A big contributing factor to crime was a) the lack of a modern police force and b) people drank gin because the water wasn’t safe. You could get “Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two pence” (a sign hung above many tavern doors). Counting for inflation and currency exchange, that would be about forty/eighty cents.

In Shelley’s world, she saw machines taking people’s jobs and the social problems this caused. Did she write the novel to encourage people to take responsibility for the effects their machines had?

Was Frankenstein’s creature a revenant?

The 1931 Boris Karloff film showed us a Dr. Victor Frankenstein who robbed graves to sew together a creature and brought it to life with a bolt of lightning, and that’s the way most of us think of Frankenstein now. A revenant made of reassembled corpses.

But was it true to Mary Shelley’s story?

First off, you have to know that the structure of Shelley’s book is an ‘epistolary novel.’ The “Epistolary” part mean that it’s written as a document itself–in this case, as a series of letters. (Bram Stoker would later incorporate this same structure into Dracula.) This wasn’t anything revolutionary at the time–and it isn’t now, either. Think Bridget Jones’ Diary.

But we end up with two narrators, Robert Walton, who writes letters to his sister telling her the tale as it is told to him by Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

In answering the question of if the creature was a revenant–a dead body that rises from the grave–or not, we end up looking at the method Frankenstein used to create it. But the doctor is quiet on the subject, telling Walton, “I see by your eagerness and the wonder and hope which your eyes express, my friend, that you expect to be informed of the secret with which I am acquainted; that cannot be.”

Which only means we have to look a little deeper for clues…

So where did the idea of the doctor using corpses for his experiment come from? If we look in the book, Frankenstein becomes interested in researching the line between life and death: “Now I was led to examine the cause and progress of this decay and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses.”

Dr. Victor Frankenstein studied the decay of dead bodies. Absolutely. He “saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain.”

“Who shall conceive the horrors,” Frankenstein says, “of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?

He “collected bones from charnel-houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame[…] The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials.”

What about the bolt of lightning? Earlier in the book, Dr. Frankenstein talks about his interests while at school. “Before this I was not unacquainted with the more obvious laws of electricity. On this occasion a man of great research in natural philosophy was with us, and excited by this catastrophe, he entered on the explanation of a theory which he had formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism, which was at once new and astonishing to me.” So he knew about electricity and galvanism–which is the word for applying an electrical current to a dead muscle. (A modern experiment in galvanism involving a frog and a webserver.)

So is the creature made up of dead bodies, brought to life by electricity?

No. It can’t be. In Frankenstein’s own words, (the bolding is mine), “Pursuing these reflections, I thought that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.”

In the brackets, Frankenstein himself says he found it impossible restore a dead body to life. We can guess that the work he was doing with corpses and animal bodies was to figure out the secrets of how a body works.

Okay, you can maybe make an argument saying that he thought he could renew life–if death hadn’t corrupted the body. BUT Frankenstein says “A new species would bless me as its creator and source.” A new species–not the human species. He’s not reanimating a human here. He’s creating a new thing.

So what was his method? Dr. Frankenstein doesn’t tell us. He specifically doesn’t want us to know. What we do know is that he found the small scale of the human body frustrating to him. He had to work on a larger being. “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 a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large.”

If Frankenstein was sewing together existing nerves and sinews, why would the creature be huge? There would be no reason for a creature made of previously existing human body parts to be larger than a human body.

No, Frankenstein was working with something like human body parts, only bigger.

I can only come up with two theories:
a) He was working with mechanical things.
b) He was growing body parts in a vat and assembling them.

For me, I’m going to guess at option b. It’s a total guess. But the reason I’m picking it is that the creature has this desire to integrate into human society, and to me, that’s biological. It observes, it learns, and it wants things. Dr. Frankenstein takes one look at it when it rises alive, and he runs away. And this hurts the creature’s feelings. The rest of the book is about the creature’s hurt feelings.

But either way you go, the answer to the question of if Frankenstein’s creature was a revenant, risen from the dead… Our answer has to be no.

Frankenstein on film

When most of us think of Frankenstein, we think of the 1931 Boris Karloff movie that introduced us to a mute monster with a bolt in his neck. Unlike the book, the creature was violent evil from conception, as a result of having the brain of a criminal. This version, with its portrayal of grave-robbing to create the creature and the creature being unable to reason or speak, would become the standard vision of the book.

But twenty-one years before, Thomas Edison produced a silent film portraying the story. 1910. Check it out.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley Week: The First Female Science Fiction Author?


This blog in no way wishes to imply that Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley was a demon.

Thank you,
The Management

Mary Shelley

Since I’m a writer myself–check out for info on my books–early female writers impress the crap out of me. Way up there is Mary Shelley.

Mary, a little later, around 1840

Mary, a little later, around 1840

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley wrote one of the first science fiction novels, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. In fact, some people claim that Frankenstein was THE first science fiction novel–but considering that people can’t even agree on a definition for science fiction… We can’t say for sure. Other people claim it was Gulliver’s Travels (which seems more fantasy to me).

(Sagan and Asimov say it was Kepler’s Somnium in 1630, in which a student of Tycho Brahe visits the moon.)

Yep, a woman. One of the first science fiction authors. And we’re almost sure (oxymoron!) that she was the first female science fiction author (in English at least). Okay, but before you cite that as a reference in your doctoral thesis, let me say I could be wrong about that. Even today, many female sci fi authors use male pseudonyms, so someone we thought was a man could very well have lacked an Y chromozome.

Frankenstein was published anonymously in 1818, when Mary was 19. Nineteen. Her name was first attached to it in the 1831 edition. For the story of how she started writing it, check out my Saturday post.

Mary was the daughter of two famous writers–a feminist and an anarchist. Her mom was Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the 1792 tract “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects,” in which she argued *gasp* that women have the right to a rational education. She argued that because women are the first teachers of children, not educating women degrades society. Mary Wollstonecraft, quite a scandalous person in her day, as she had the uppityness to have love affairs (and even a daughter) before her marriage, died ten days after Mary was born.

At the age of seventeen, Mary ran away to Europe with the Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, (you might know him from the favorite of high school teachers everywhere “Ozymandias“) who was married at the time. Percy believed in free love, and in principle so did Mary… but there’s no evidence she ever loved anyone else. Her step sister Claire Clairemont went with them.

Mary was hit hard when she had a baby girl, premature by two months, who died. This was right after Shelley’s estranged wife gave birth to his legitimate son. Shelley was over the moon about his son. After the girl died, he left Mary alone and went off with her sister for a while. This was before Mary wrote Frankenstein.

Hmm. So, basically, Shelley helped bring something into the world, then pretty much abandoned it, taking no responsibility. Hmm. And he published some poems under the pen name “Victor.”


Coming up on DotW

Tomorrow, I’ll give you a look at the Frankenstein movie. (Nope, not that one.)

Thursday, we’ll answer the question “Was Frankenstein’s creature a revenant?”

Friday, I’ll talk about the other genre of literature that Mary Shelley invented.

Vampires we know and love #4: The first English Vampire

Think vampires are all the same? Think again! Vampires come in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins ice cream. So, this special DotW feature, Vampires we know and love, spotlights different kinds of bloodsucking fiends from around the world.

The first English Vampire

Or should I say “vampyre?”

The most famous ghost story-telling session in the history of the world happened in June 1816, in a rented house, Maison Chappius, at Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

Present were poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; the author he would soon marry, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; her half-sister Claire Clairmont (whose parents had obviously been drunk when they named her); the poet Lord Byron; and Dr. John Polidori, Byron’s doctor and traveling companion.

the players

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Mary Shelley
Claire Clairmont (She later bore Byron a daughter, Allegra.)
George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron
John Polidori

It was rainy and the whole company was bored. They turned to reading a book of ghost stories out loud, “Fantasmagoriana, ou Recueil d’Histoires d’Apparitions de Spectres, Revenans, Fantomes.” That means “Fanstamagoriana, or Collection of Stories of Apparitions of Spectres, Revenants, Phantoms.”

After reading this, Byron–or someone else–suggested that they all write ghost stories themselves and tell them to the group.

By the way, the lot of them were drunk/wasted most of the time.

According to Mary Shelley’s diary, Polidori’s story was pretty bad. But Byron told a story with vampiric elements that wasn’t.

Byron got sick of Polidori and fired him soon after.

A couple of years later, a vampire story appeared in New Monthly Magazine. It had Bryon’s name attached to it, but it was written by Polidori, ‘inspired by’ the notes he had taken on Byron’s ghost story from Geneva. Whether Polidori meant for it to published or not is up in the air. It was titled The Vampyre.

Also, Byron was listed as the author.

Byron was mad, mad, mad. Especially since the vampire villain seemed to have a lot in common with him. Goethe said it was the best thing Byron had ever written (except he didn’t write it).
Byron denied the story and wrote his own vampire tale “Fragment of a Story.”

But it would never change the fact that “The Vampyre” was the first English vampire story and “Fragment of a Story” was the second.

Polidori killed himself. Eventually someone wrote a story in which Byron is a vampire.

But the moral of the story should be this:
While Byron abandoned his tale, forever giving up the chance to write the first ever vampire story and Polidori had to borrow someone else’s name to get published… Mary Shelley kept working on her own story. She stuck to it and worked her arse off.

Eventually, hers was the only novel to come out of that story-telling session, and while The Vampyre and Fragment of a Novel became kinda famous, hers lives on to this day.

It’s a little something called Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

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