Did you know… today is Frankenstein Friday! The unofficial holiday has been celebrated each year on the last Friday of October since 1997. Its creator, Ron MacCloskey of Westfield, New Jersey, dreamed it up as a way to keep the legacy of Frankenstein alive and pay homage to the “mother” and “father” of one of the greatest horror stories ever told – Mary Shelley, who started writing her legendary novel in 1816 at the age of 19, and Boris Karloff, who played Shelley’s monster in the 1931 film adaptation.
Aside from achieving literary greatness at such a young age, Mary Shelley comes from good WYSKy stock… her mother Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) was a British writer, philosopher, and pioneering advocate of women’s rights (i.e. in her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), she argued that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education).
“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”
But let’s get back to Mary Shelley. Interestingly, her creation of Frankenstein was a bit circumstantial, the result of a friendly dare. As the history goes, she was among a group of guests staying at the villa of the famous poet Lord Byron (father of Ada Lovelace) on Lake Geneva in Switzerland during the summer of 1816. Stormy weather kept the party indoors, so they entertained themselves by reading ghost stories. One evening, Byron challenged each of his guests to write a short ghost story of their own. Mary not only rose to the challenge, she crushed it. Apparently her story frightened Byron so much that he ran shrieking from the room upon hearing it.
Over the next year, Mary developed her fright inducing short story into a full length novel about a young scientist named Victor Frankenstein who discovers how to give life to inanimate bodies. Using parts from various, exhumed human cadavers, he creates a living, breathing creature that soon turns into a revenge seeking monster, after being rejected by its own creator and humankind. With that, Frankenstein – the book and monster – was born.
Frankenstein was finally published in 1818, when Mary was 21. According to one biography, the first edition of her book had a preface by Mary’s husband, Percy Shelley, a famed Romantic poet. As a result, many assumed it was Percy’s book as it was hard for the folks of the early 1800’s to believe that a 19-year-old woman could write such a “hideous story”. Well, young Mary most certainly did and today her work is considered one of the greatest gothic novels and earliest examples of science fiction.
Editor’s Note: We have it on very good, scholarly authority that “the best version of how this book was written is told by Shelley herself in the 1831 introduction to the second edition.”
So what can you do to celebrate this VERY unofficial holiday? Easy… read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or watch one of the movies that sprang to life from her original creation.