30 November 1995
It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils.
That’s how Chapter 5 begins in Frankenstein. It’s the night that Victor Frankenstein brings to life the creature he has created from assorted parts of dead human beings.
Do you remember why Victor is doing this?
He’s been reading books about science. And getting curious. Then—when he’s seventeen and about to go off to the university at Ingolstadt (Germany), his beloved mother dies. And his passion for discovering the secret of life—first ignited by his reading—now flares into a bonfire with this horrible loss. He throws himself into his scientific studies.
And then in Chapter 4, he writes this: After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.
In other words, he figured out what life is—and how to bring dead things to life. (I’d figured out by this time that some of our seventh-grade teachers could have used a few treatments by Victor Frankenstein!)
Anyway, you probably know the rest … Victor’s creature roaming the countryside, people dying, nothing really working out too well for anyone.
Anyway, I was amused at the coincidence that our Science Fair also occurred “on a dreary night in November”—cold rain, the early dark of late fall. Depressing. But still, the streets of Franconia glimmered with the headlights of all the cars heading to the school. You would have thought there was a football game or something.
When we arrived at school that night, we found that there were so many cars in the parking lot that Father could not find a space and had to drop me in front of the school and then head off in search for a spot out on a side street somewhere.
Inside was an enormous crowd. Not all that surprising, really—the more kids are involved in something, the more people show up to see it. And since everyone in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades had been forced to produce a science fair project, a crowd was guaranteed. Parents (sometimes, in the case of divorces, more than one set per kid), grandparents (ditto), aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters. They all shared two things: they had a relative with a project in the science fair; they couldn’t wait to get out of there.
The judging had already been done that afternoon—but no one knew the results yet. All afternoon we had stood by our projects while the judges (science teachers from other schools) came by our tables, looked over our work, asked us questions (to make sure the project hadn’t been done by Daddy or Mommy or Albert Einstein or the Encyclopedia Britannica), and then filled out rating sheets.
The winners would be announced in the evening. After giving the families and friends an hour to look over all the projects, there would be an assembly in the auditorium. And Mr. Gisborne would read the names of those who had earned Superior ratings—the names of those who would be going to Niagara Falls.
Everyone was nervous, for as the date of the fair approached, just about everyone began to realize that going to Niagara Falls sounded like a good idea … a very good idea. The thought of being in school and having to sit there and watch a tour bus pull away, cruise out of the school driveway—without you—and head for New York … well, that was a thought that more and more kids just didn’t want to consider. And so I witnessed something I thought I would never see in the Franconia school: Kids working hard on a school project.