Perhaps I have an even earlier memory …
After all, I was begging my father to watch the movie. So I already knew something about Frankenstein. And why not? The creature’s image was so ubiquitous, especially at Halloween, that I’m certain every Enid kid in 1954 recognized it—far more of us than would have recognized a photograph of Johnston Murray, Oklahoma’s governor at the time.
So I try to remember the first time I learned of the story. And I am suddenly positive that it was from the game of Authors. Mary Shelley, I recall, was the only woman represented in the old deck of Authors cards we played with as children in Amarillo, Texas, where we moved in 1951 during the Korean War. My father—who’d been a chaplain in World War II—was called back into active service and, he once told me, was slated for overseas duty when the Air Force decided to send him to Amarillo Air Force Base, which was re-opening in March 1951. They needed a chaplain. So off we went, the five of us, to 4242 West 13th Street, a little brick house on a tree-lined street, and I entered the second grade at Avondale School and learned to play Authors.
I don’t remember much about the game. It involved authors (duh)—that I knew. And it involved, I think, trying to get rid of all of your cards. I remember only a few of the authors: Poe, Cooper, Dickens. And I am positive that there was only one woman writer. And I am positive it is Mary Shelley.
And so I check. And learn that I am wrong. It was Louisa May Alcott. Joining her in the pack were the men I’ve already mentioned as well as Twain, Shakespeare, Thackeray, Irving, Hawthorne, Stevenson, Longfellow, Scott, and Tennyson.
I learn a little about the history of the game on the Internet (how much is reliable?). Dating back to the early 1860s, Authors was invented by a Massachusetts woman, Ann Abbott, a preacher’s daughter (like my mother). Eventually, Parker Brothers bought and mass-produced and distributed the game. I’m guessing it’s not so popular in this Xbox, Wii age. On 31 July 2011, I looked on eBay. The most expensive Authors set I could find—dating back to the 1930s—was going for about $50.
As I look at Authors now, I realize that I have taught works by most of them in my career, Scott and Thackeray and Alcott and Cooper excepted. I have memorized poems by Poe (“The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” “Eldorado,” “To Helen,” “Alone”) and Longfellow (“My Lost Youth,” “The Cross of Snow,” “The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls,” “The Arrow and the Song”) and Tennyson (“The Charge of the Light Brigade”). I have read works by all of them. I have read the complete works of Twain, Shakespeare, Thackeray, Hawthorne, Dickens, and Poe. (Was Authors a factor in my reading? Is it a coincidence that I’ve read the complete works of half the writers in that deck from Amarillo?)
Why did I think Mary Shelley was among those in the Authors deck? Was my frail memory feebly suggesting her because I didn’t know many women authors when I was young? (One excuse: Women writers rarely appeared in the school curriculum. A pinch of Browning, a dash of Millay.) But at some point I do remember learning that a woman had written Frankenstein. A teenager, too—and a girl, for Christ’s sake! Maybe I learned it in one of those old classroom periodicals—like The Weekly Reader? Maybe I was born knowing it.
In July 2011, I order an Authors pack from Amazon ($6.14). Doing so, I see that there are now spin-off games in the series—Scientists, Explorers, Composers, American Authors, Inventors, and … American Women Authors (Stowe, Wheatley, Moore, Parker, Bradstreet, Jewett, Hurston, Hellman, Buck, Wharton, McCullers, Millay, Dickinson). I check Amazon.uk. Maybe the Brits have an Authors game? With Mary Shelley.