I can picture my father at 9, an athletic, simple farm boy, sweet, shy, misplaced. He was always embarrassed to smile, though he did so perfectly. In a blink, he’s an old man. I remember his face that day, so animated, so filled with laughter. He recalled seeing the movie, “Frankenstein,” in 1931.
Dad always kept that slight Polish accent, so genuine and down to earth. He described how he and his older brother Tony hiked 5 miles into the village to watch it. They ran ALL the way home — in the dark — afterward. Mind you, this wasn’t through paved paseos or lit city streets. They ran through the dark forest that surrounded his mother’s farm, high-stepping it barefoot over fallen trees and splashing through brooks.
It’s hard to find a child not jaded in 2019. We expose them to tens of thousands of grisly visions, beatings, murders, sex, horror, gore. “Frankenstein” must have been such a trauma to a young and innocent soul. My goodness. A scant 10 years later, my father was 19, immersed in a real-life monster movie: World War II.
This marks the 201st anniversary of when a teenage intellectual, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, published one of the greatest stories ever written: “Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus.”
What a family lineage. Her father was the political philosopher, William Godwin. Her husband was the fabled poet, Percy Shelley. Her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, the author, philosopher and early women’s right’s advocate.
For two centuries, her “Frankenstein” has never been out of print — yet. Today, no one owns the rights. It’s public domain. The book has been made into uncountable movies and TV shows. Even Mel Brooks in homage created one of the all-time greatest comedies:“Young Frankenstein.”
Her father described Mary at 15 as: “singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible.”
Frankenstein should be in the Bible. And Talmud. And Koran. It should be mandatory reading in every high school. Of course, it won’t. It contains wisdom, spirituality and a cautionary myth: We make our own demons. They end up terrorizing us and ultimately destroying us.
It doesn’t get any more real than that.
The future author of “Frankenstein” fell in love with her future husband when Percy was 21 and she, 16. They would rendezvous at her mother’s grave (her mom died from a childbirth infection). Percy, a radical, was essentially banished from his wealthy family for his “social justice” views and the couple, now with a child, frequently had to hide from bill collectors.
There are all manner of courses and criticisms, dealing with the imagery and themes of “Frankenstein.” And, point of fact, the title is NOT the monster. Frankenstein is the doctor who creates the beast.
From that is the lesson all children — all adults for that matter — need desperately to learn, especially in these hostile climes.
We start first with an innocent idea. We feed it with thoughts. Like Dr. Frankenstein, we collect parts from the dead to build that very thing and give it life. Once alive, it follows us, seeks us out, torments us and then destroys our lives.
Right, Left or Center, we’ve all had that experience. Someone says something. We take that statement and it can be true as Scripture, Math or Fact or dumber than a bag of White House correspondents. We chew on it, form it, help it grow. There’s no such thing as a small imposition. This well-fed entity gets bigger and bigger. Soon it is the hairy and well-muscled grievance, with legs and arms wrapped around us, gnawing on our head. We blindly lash out.
And the beast owns us.
It could be the commentator on MSNBC or Fox News, your husband, the woman who cuts you off in traffic, the imbecile on the Internet who swears Godzilla is real and just ate Tokyo.
Back to Mel Brooks?
Dr. Frankenstein’s inept and comic assistant Igor is sent to come back with a brain. What is the name on the glass Mason jar housing the noodle?
Or, as Igor reads it: “A.B. Normal…”
Dear heavens me. Most of us spend the better parts of days creating not dreams, but daydreams, built from an abnormal brain. Bad things happen. We howl and blame others.
If I were king of the world, I’d make sure “Frankenstein” was taught in schools.
By good teachers.
I’d add two more horror stories to the curriculum. First, “The Wolfman.” It’s the tale of the monster who doesn’t want to be a monster, but can’t help himself.
Then, there’s “Dracula.” It’s about the devil only having the power to convince you to surrender your soul and life’s blood.
There is a profound — profound — common sense in these three fables, applicable in our daily lives.
Happy 201st birthday, dear, tormented Dr. Frankenstein. On my list of Things To Do, I shall try, today, to not make any monsters.
John Boston is a local writer.