Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at 200 – A Look at its cultural Impact & Legacy

Just like The Monster with its in-human size and elongated shadow, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein/ The Modern Prometheus, has had a massive impact on culture which has spanned the past two centuries.

To start Frankenstein is deemed by many to have been the first ever science fiction novel, with notable author Brian Aldiss stating that Frankenstein is "the first seminal work to which the label SF can be logically attached." This is partly due to Shelley’s book being the first to have a protagonist actively and intentionally choosing to peruse science. This is in my mind is a crowning achievement, as Science Fiction is most commonly associated to me a male dominated genre, the fact that the book that birthed the genre was written by a woman, and a teenager at that it astonishing.

Of course like all great writers there are people who will contest Mary Shelley’s authenticity, with many people over the years alleging that the teenage Mary was too immature to have written the manuscript and that her then lover and future husband Percy Shelley actually wrote it but due to being essentially blacklisted by publisher had her submit on his behalf. Having said this, if Percy was going to have someone publish it surely he’s have picked a male pen-name not have Mary publish it anonymously? It is the anonymous author of the 1818 edition which has sparked the debate on the penmanship, but then the time woman writers, generally could not publish under their own name, as with the Bronte Sisters. When it comes to maturity, it is worth remembering that Mary had a far from ordinary up bringing, surrounded by some of the greatest thinkers of the time who visited the family home to see her father journalist William Godwin. Although her mother died shortly after she was born Mary was fascinated and influenced by her writings, her mother being the philosopher, educator, and writer Mary Wollstonecraft who published some of the first ever feminist texts.

Controversy aside, Frankenstein has had a huge cultural impact, it was have spawned the Sci-Fi Genre, but it is most associated with Horror. This is strangely appropriate, as the story was written as a result of a challenge set my Lord Bryon (yes that one) to the party staying at Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva to all write a horror story.

Since its publication Frankenstein has continued to be one of the cornerstones of horror, the famed Boris Karloff green faced high browed monster from the Universal Dark Universe of the 1930 is synonymous with Frankenstein today, and its influence has reverberated through the twentieth century and into the twenty first. The association with horror was further cemented with Hammer Horror films of the mid-20th Century, and many other adaptions, to varying quality, Kenneth Branagh good, the Daniel Radcliffe fronted Victor Frankenstein from 2015 not so good. And now the Universal Dark Universe reboot (if it ever gets off the ground) with Javier Bardem due to take on the role of The Monster.

One thing is clear Frankenstein translates well to the screen, with many directors inspired by the tale of man and monster, but none so much as Tim Burton, who has reimagined the tales on many occasions. Starting with, Frankenweenie, about a boy who brings his deceased pet dog back to life, which the director has made not once but twice! First as a live action black and white short in 1984, then as a full length animated feature in 2012. Then his character Sally from Nightmare before Christmas graphic novel and animated film, is also a Frankenstein type creation. Burton's 1990 movie Edward scissor hands about a boy created by a scientist who died leaving him with scissors for hands is also a homage to Shelley's tale.

The influences stack up, from Herman in the Munster’s, to Frank in Hotel Transylvania, Guy Bass’s Stitch Head to one of SOTB favourites Frankie in My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O’Hara, and the very newly published Shell by Paula Rawsthorne. The Stage is no stranger to Frankenstein either with the Philliph Pullman's script or the highly praised National Theatre's Danny Boyle directed play starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. To more modern takes utilising more modern sciences, like Ghost in a Shell and Blade Runner.

No matter what controversy and debate may continue over Mary’s penmanship, her book has had a huge impact and is still being used as a source of inspiration today. This year to mark the bicentenary of its publication, a movie about Mary herself and her writing Frankenstein will hit cinemas in the summer, fronted in the titular role by Elle Fanning called simply; Mary Shelley!

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