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“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley: Creating Our Own Gods and Demons

This was my third reading of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece. What struck me on this reading was just how rich this text is and how many layers of symbolism and metaphor is woven in to the story. As pages of my journal filled with notes, I realized that I faced the daunting task of narrowing down all my thoughts to a short blog post. After some deliberation, I decided to focus on the concept of humanity creating gods and demons.

The first thing to point out is how Shelley uses the term “creature.” It is specifically the product of the creative process, particularly from the mind. A creature, therefore can be anything which we as creative beings consciously create.

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally at the panes, and the candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

(p. 34)

Throughout the text, I noticed that the creature is depicted as both godlike and demonic. That is because the things that our minds create can be both positive and negative, and often a combination of both. The issue becomes whether we allow the creatures of our minds to elevate us spiritually or drag us down to our lesser natures.

I will first provide an example of the creature as godlike, as a being described as both omnipotent, invincible, and in control of the future.

But to me the remembrance of the threat returned: not can you wonder, that, omnipotent as the fiend had yet been in his deeds of blood, I should almost regard him as invincible; and that when he pronounced the words, “I shall be with you on your wedding-night,” I should regard the threatened fate as unavoidable.

((p. 132)

The other thing I would like to point out regarding this passage is the tone of the creature’s proclamation. It almost sounds like how God speaks in biblical text. God speaks, and what he says comes into being.

Next we will look at a passage where the creature is depicted as demonic, particularly associated with Satan. Here the creature embodies Lucifer’s characteristics of persuasion and eloquence.

He is eloquent and persuasive; and once his words had even power over my heart: but trust him not. His soul is as hellish as his form, full of treachery and fiend-like malice.

(p. 145)

Near the end of the tale, Victor Frankenstein warns Walton about the dangers of creation, about how when we use the power of our minds to create our gods, we inevitably also end up creating our own personal demons.

Sometimes I endeavoured to gain from Frankenstein the particulars of his creature’s formation; but on this point he was impenetrable.

“Are you mad, my friend?” said he, “or whither does your senseless curiosity lead you? Would you create for yourself and the world a demoniacal enemy? Or to what do your questions tend? Peace, peace! learn from my miseries, and seek not to increase your own.”

(p. 146)

This parable in Frankenstein is an important one and pertinent to our times. Many of us allow the news, social media, and the plethora of mental distractions to create imagined threats, monsters, and demons that plague our minds. What we imagine ultimately becomes our reality. We should learn from Frankenstein’s mistake and not let ourselves create our own demons which will inevitably destroy ourselves and our world.

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Eerie: Issue #1

Eerie_01

As a youth, I was obsessed with horror and sci-fi comics. I devoured them and while it caused some slight concern with my parents, it ultimately planted the seeds which grew into a love of reading. One of the comics I remember distinctly was Eerie. As all good thing from the past somehow seem to come back, it doesn’t surprise me that Dark Horse Comics has resurrected the Eerie publication. I figured since it is October, it would be the perfect time of the year to pick up an issue and see if it is as good as the ones I remember from my childhood.

This was definitely a step into my past. The issue is hosted by Cousin Eerie, a somewhat jolly, plump creature with a twisted sense of humor. He’s almost like a macabre Falstaff. The issue is comprised of four short vignettes which fall into the sci-fi/horror genre.

The first one, “A Robot for Your Thoughts,” is all about artificial intelligence and robots taking over the world. A man suspects that his family has been replaced by robots, so it’s somewhat reminiscent of The Stepford Wives, but with a nice twist at the end.

The next tale, “Life Species,” is about a team of space explores searching extinct planets for the remains of previous life forms, then examining them to try and understand what happened to them and why the species declined. It reminded me of an old Twilight Zone episode, but with a humorous ending. This was probably my favorite story in the issue.

The third tale, “Beta-Eden,” is clearly inspired by the Alien films. It has space explorers encountering an alien race that lays their eggs inside the human host. The spawn then feed on the host. This was probably my least favorite story. It just felt hackneyed and the artwork was not so great.

The last story, “Child,” is a reworking of the Frankenstein archetype. A bereaved scientist decides to construct a child out of parts of the dead. Upon reanimation, he is initially horrified at his creation, but then forms paternal connection which turns to love. What I liked the most about this particular tale was the writing. It was written almost as an epistle, where the father is speaking directly to the child. It works very well and I liked the way the story unfolds.

Overall, I enjoyed this. It was $2.99 well spent and I think the writers capture the campiness of the original publication. I would certainly read more of these.

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Symbolism in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs

MissPeregrine

So I decided to take a break from reading Joyce’s Ulysses and read something more fun. Also, I was taking a short beach trip and was afraid I’d look awfully pretentious lying on the beach reading James Joyce. So this book was on my shelf and it seemed like a good choice for a beach read. I have to say that it was the perfect book, a quick read and enjoyable.

The book is kind of a dark fantasy novel, dealing with time loops, Lovecraftian monsters, mystical powers, and psychological trauma. While it sounds pretty morbid, it’s not quite as dark as it sounds. But what makes this book so cool, in my opinion, are the photographs included in the book. Riggs incorporates black-and-white pictures as part of the story, and there are quite a lot of them. It works really well. It is almost like a hybrid between a graphic novel and a “normal” book. It also sometimes feels like one of those old films that project a series of images to tell the story.

There is a lot of great symbolism in this book. So while it is a plot-driven story, there is much that you can think about if you choose. The first symbol worth considering is the island, where most of the story takes place. The island is a symbol for an isolated part of the psyche, a fixed point in the rippling sea of consciousness. And like our subconscious, the island is shrouded in mystery.

It was my grandfather’s island. Looming and bleak, folded in mist, guarded by a million screeching birds, it looked like some ancient fortress constructed by giants. As I gazed up at its sheer cliffs, tops disappearing in a reef of ghostly clouds, the idea that this was a magical place didn’t seem so ridiculous.

(p. 70)

The island has a bog, which is a point of transition between two dimensions. This represents a part of the psyche where it is possible to shift between states of consciousness. The bog is neither solid nor fluid, but a combination of the both, like a threshold. It symbolizes the psychic membrane which one must pass through when altering states of consciousness.

And as doors to the next world go, a bog ain’t a bad choice. It’s not quite water and not quite land—it’s an in-between place.

(p. 94)

There is one scene where sheep on the island were killed and mutilated. This is symbolic of the sacrificial lamb archetype. In this book, the sheep represent the Jews that were killed by the Nazis in World War II, and they also represent the peculiars, who are being hunted down.

The violence inside was almost cartoonish, like the work of some mad impressionist who painted only in red. The tramped grass was bathed in blood, as were the pen’s weathered posts and the stiff white bodies of the sheep themselves, flung about in attitudes of sheepish agony. One had tried to climb the fence and got its spindly legs caught between the slats. It hung before me at an odd angle, clam-shelled open from throat to crotch, as if it had been unzipped.

(p. 204)

The last symbol I want to mention is the homunculus. One of the peculiars is able to create homunculi out of clay. This draws on the golem mythology and the Frankenstein parable, of one who plays god and creates man from the earth. In the book, Enoch, the peculiar who makes the clay beings, takes on the characteristics of the cruel god, torturing and punishing his creations for not doing his will.

The clay soldier I’d returned began wandering again. With his foot, Enoch nudged it back toward the group. They seemed to be going haywire, colliding with one another like excited atoms. “Fight, you nancies!” he commanded, which is when I realized they weren’t simply bumping into one another, but hitting and kicking. The errant clay man wasn’t interested in fighting, however, and when he began to totter away once more, Enoch snatched him up and snapped off his legs.

“That’s what happens to deserters in my army!” he cried, and tossed the crippled figure into the grass, where it writhed grotesquely as the others fell upon it.

(p. 217)

As I said, I really liked this book. The only complaint I have about it is that it is the first book in a series, so it has an open ending that anticipates the next book, which is Hollow City. I will certainly read the next book, but I am just getting a little tired of serialized books. It seems to have become the norm in publishing, kind of a way to ensure future book sales. Other than that, great book and I totally recommend reading it. Cheers!!

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“The Witching Hour” by Anne Rice

WitchingHourI recently went on vacation to New Orleans with my family and as I was planning the trip, I thought about what might be a good book to read to get me into the New Orleans’ mood. Then I remembered I had a hardcover copy of The Witching Hour by Anne Rice on my bookshelf. Someone had given it to me as a gift years ago and I had never gotten around to reading it. I knew it was set in New Orleans, so I figured I’d give it a go. I had read several of Rice’s vampire novels and enjoyed them, and I had also met Ms. Rice at a book signing where she signed my copy of Tale of the Body Thief. Needless to say, I had fairly high expectations.

There are things about the book that I enjoyed and found interesting, and there are things that just did not work for me. To begin with, the book is long (weighing in around 1000 pages), and the pace was dreadfully slow at times. I kept finding myself wondering why it was taking so long to tell this story. I genuinely feel that this could have been told in 600 pages, that much of what is there was superfluous. Then, when I finally finished, the ending left me hanging. Come to find out this is only the first book of a trilogy (Lasher and Taltos are the two subsequent books). I have to say that I am personally getting tired of trilogies. I’m beginning to think it is a ploy by the publishers to sell more books. To back up my argument, Nook offers a free e-book every Friday through Facebook. Guess what. Usually these freebies are the first books in a series.

Alright, let me climb down from the soapbox and talk about what I liked about the book. First off, the descriptions of the Garden District were amazing. While I was in New Orleans, I stayed in an old bed and breakfast in the Garden District and Rice’s depiction of the area is magnificent. She perfectly captures the unique blend of southern grandeur and decay which is evident in the area. The scenes that are set in the Lafayette Cemetery stirred vivid recollections of what it was like to walk among the crumbling above-ground tombs.

The deepest connection that I felt while reading the book was with the Talamasca, an ancient order that dedicated themselves to the study of the supernatural and who maintained historical records of people and events. As a bibliophile with a particular love for old books, I could not help fantasizing about spending my days surrounded by aged leather books, carefully turning and reading the brittle pages.

We who live in a world of books and crumbling parchment, of flickering candles and eyes sore and squinting in the shadows, have always our hands on history. (P. 259)

Prominent throughout the book is the theme that science and the occult are closely related. I found this interesting, particularly when you consider that early scientists were labeled as practitioners of mystical arts and persecuted, and also that recent discoveries in the area of theoretical physics support certain occult beliefs and practices, particularly the discovery of how consciousness and human thought affects subatomic particles.

Science has always been the key. Witches were nothing but scientists, always. Black magic was striving to be science. Mary Shelley saw the future. Poets always see the future. And the kids in the third row of the theater know it when they watch Dr. Frankenstein piece the monster together, and raise the body into the electrical storm. (P. 889)

So, to sum up, while I didn’t hate the book and there were certainly things about the book that I enjoyed and found fascinating, I can’t say that I loved it. It definitely did not impress me enough to make me want to read two more books to complete the trilogy. For now, I’m going to say that I am done with the Mayfair Witches. I am curious, though, whether any of you have read the subsequent books and what your thoughts are regarding them. Let me know. I may be swayed.

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Macabre Inspiration

As writers, we constantly seek new sources of inspiration, and for me, I am fascinated by the events that sparked ideas leading to the creation of masterpieces in art and literature. Nothing lends to an understanding of a work of art more than knowledge of what inspired and influenced the artist. For this reason, I was intrigued by an article on the Huffington Post about events that influenced Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein.

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia

The article tells the tale of George Foster, who was convicted of murdering his wife and child and thereby sentenced to death by hanging. But that was only part of the punishment. According to the Murder Act of 1752, the bodies of convicted murders were given to medical study where they were dismembered and dissected. This was designed to provide an additional deterrent for individuals contemplating murder.

After the execution, Foster’s body would be  given to an Italian scientist named Giovanni Aldini. Aldini intended to use electric shock in an attempt to reanimate the body. His idea came from recent experiments that demonstrated that electrical shock caused the limbs of dead animals to twitch and react.

When Aldini performed his experiment, Foster’s “jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted and the left eye opened.” News of the experiment made its rounds through the salons in England and was eventually discussed in a gathering at the home of William Godwin, Mary Shelley’s father. It is believed that young Mary overheard the story, and the rest is literary history.

There is no shortage of inspiration for writers and artists. One need only watch the news or look closer at events in our past. It makes me wonder what is happening right now that could spark the next great masterpiece.

Click here to read the article online.

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