Lunar Observer records upcoming dates of interest: holidays, birthdays, best day to cut hair.
March 11 marks the 199th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Wow, 199 years (you’re saying), so what, call me when it’s 200 years. I hear you. But the reason (this is me talking again by the way) I’m bringing it up now is so you have a solid year to plan what your 200th Frankenstein Anniversary is going to look like.
There’s a rock music venue up the street from me with a big marquee out front, but they only update the marquee on the very night of the show, and then they leave it up until the night of the next one! Do they only have the sign so concertgoers can take pictures in front of it? I guess that makes a sort of 21st-century sense, but I walk by this place all the time. It’d be nice to know what’s coming up. It’s maddening.
Anyway, this Saturday is the 199th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, and next year on March 11, it’ll be the 200th anniversary, that’s a Sunday. If looking that far ahead seems unimaginable to you, or you don’t need a mega-milestone to appreciate the classics, I salute you and I welcome you as a friend to Frankenstein: Year 199.
The story of Frankenstein had its start on one presumably dark and stormy night in 1814, when a small group of friends (including Percy Shelley and Lord Byron) decided to have a contest to see who could write the best horror tale. Mary Shelley, 18 at the time, set to work immediately, which is to say, she thought about it. After a few days, she had a dream in which a scientist created life and then was horrified by his accomplishment. This dream was put on paper, and obviously the details were greatly fleshed out. It was published anonymously four years later, and nonymously four years after that. As regards the contest, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron did just okay. Mary Shelley went the distance.
Critics mostly panned Frankenstein when it was first published anonymously, and those who caught wind of the rumor that it was published by a woman were especially petulant and dismissive. But today you can find the tale of Frankenstein very much alive in the popular imagination, featured in a host of popular movies, books, magazines, pinball games, and even on a U.S. postage stamp. Anywhere you have a few things sewn together and struck by lightning, you’ll find Frankenstein. Universal Studios’ Frankenstein from 1931 defined the look and remains the canonical Frankenstein. Readers looking for a movie that hews closer to the book would be wise to avoid Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is extremely bad, and not in a fun way. It’s probably the worst movie starring Frankenstein I’ve ever seen, and there’ve been some real clunkers.
Anywhere you have a few things sewn together and struck by lightning, you’ll find Frankenstein.
A popular riff among jerkoffs is that Frankenstein is the name of the scientist who created the monster, and the monster’s name is Frankenstein’s Monster or just “The Monster.” They aren’t entirely wrong, but they are sufficiently wrong. It’s true that in the story, Frankenstein the scientist is careful not to ever name his creation or treat it with respect. But Frankenstein the scientist, like deadbeat dads the world over, is ultimately not that interesting or noteworthy. Time, the mother of history, has seen fit to name the monster after the creator, regardless of what either of them might have preferred.
Again, that’s this Saturday, March 11, Frankenstein Day. Birthdays on the 11th include the benevolent science-fictionalists Douglas Adams, Nina Hagen, Henry Cowell, and Dock Ellis; the kindly creatures Shemp Howard and Dorothy Gish; the wretched and villainous schemers Rupert Murdoch and Antonin Scalia; and the chaotic neutral Johnny Knoxville.