Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Victoria Frankenstein Awaits You--Again!




Yesterday afternoon, I posted to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) the promised revision of The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein, Packet Two: Her Homework Ate My Dog (1995-1996). I had serialized this sequel here (M-W-F) from October 4, 2013, to April 25, 2014. Before I started the serialization, I had written only about ninety pages (I'd begun on March 10, 1998, then stopped for a reason I can't recall), and the final typescript ended up at 235 pages--so I added a lot during those months.

By the time I'd finished it, however, I already knew there were errors and inconsistencies--things set up and not done, things not set up and done anyway, etc.--and, afterwards, as I read through it, I noticed a lot of other problems, too, small and large. A little example: sometimes I called Vickie's school a "middle school," sometimes a "junior high school." Dotage? Anyway, I spent most of May clearing up all (I hope) of those problems (and probably creating some new ones). And yesterday I felt it was ready to publish.

And speaking of publishing ...  Victoria 2 is my fifteenth title on KDP. A couple of years ago (February 19, 2012) I wrote a post here about why I had decided to go to KDP instead of negotiating with traditional publishers, with whom I've had mixed luck: some great experiences, some horrendous ones.  Here's a link to that original post. Basically, I said that "time's wingéd chariot is hurrying near" for me; I don't have the youthful luxury of months--even years--to dicker with publishers. So I went to KDP and have been happy about it. I get a nice little check each month--but even better? The knowledge that my work--such as it is--is "out there," not on my floor and/or on my shelves.

I thought you'd like to see the dedication to Victoria 2--so here it is ...

For all my former students,
Fall 1966–Spring 2011

Aurora Middle School
Lake Forest College
Western Reserve Academy
Kent State University
Harmon Middle School

Hiram College

I am taking notes for a third and concluding volume to Vickie's story and will start serializing it as soon as I finish with Frankenstein Sundae, which I commenced a few weeks ago--a memoir about my ten-year chase of Mary Shelley.

And by the way ... you don't need to own a Kindle to read Kindle books. A Kindle app for smart phones and tablets is free; all you have to do is buy the title on Amazon, then download it to your device. And this new book I've uploaded is only $2.99!

Here's a link to the book on the Amazon site--and another link to my Amazon Author Page.

In the next day or do, another title will go up--Daily Doggerel, Vol. 5. I'll let you know when it happens.

Now ... enough self-promotion, so odious, so necessary.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 15

Jack London Park
Glen Ellen, Calif.

As my Shelley garden effloresced, another once-expansive one—my Jack London garden—was returning to weed and waste. I’d just finished about ten years with London. It began in 1982. That year, I’d returned to Aurora (after an absence of four years) and discovered that the school had adopted a new literature anthology for eighth graders—Interpreting Literature. The final selection in the book was the full text of London’s The Call of the Wild, a novella I’d never read except in its Classics Illustrated version when I was a kid. I soon was ensnared by it all (dogs, the Yukon, the Gold Rush, and all), and before my London garden declined, I’d read all of his fifty books (he wrote them in only fifteen years), taken a six-week summer seminar in London under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities, explored California’s Santa Clara County (where the story begins), hiked thirty miles over the Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, Alaska, to Lake Bennett in the Canadian Yukon (a trail that figures prominently in The Call of the Wild), visited—several times—the Jack London State Historical Park in California (site of his former ranch),[1] read every biography of him, met and corresponded with scholars, researched and published  an annotated edition of Wild (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995) and a biography of Jack London  (Scholastic Press, 1997).
Simultaneously, I’d been pursuing another passion—for Anne Frank. In 1991, the school replaced Interpreting Literature with Explorations in Literature, an anthology that contained The Call of the Wild (yes!) but also Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s stage adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank. And before all was over, I’d read widely about the Holocaust, the camps; I’d spent a week in the Netherlands and Germany visiting sites related to Anne and her family (including Bergen-Belsen, the camp where she died in 1945); I’d published a major feature piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Sunday magazine—“Anne Frank: Revisiting the Horror,” 25 October 1992.

And now, as Jack London and Anne Frank were packing up and moving out of my imagination, Mary Shelley was moving in. She would stay for nearly another decade until others eventually eased her out. She would send me out into the world, into libraries and archives, sad hotels, to bookshops and book sales, to a half-dozen European countries, and, of course, to Burg Frankenstein and one spectacular sundae. (Okay, two spectacular sundaes.)

Castle Frankenstein
Darmstadt, Germany





[1] On 13 May 2011, the state of California announced its plans to close the Jack London State Historic Park (state budget woes); it had opened in 1959. However, it was promptly taken over by the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association—and it remains open.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Gigi



On Tuesday evening Joyce and I were driving home from the Aurora Starbucks (evening fix) when I saw a license plate ahead of me, a plate that featured the word "GIGI." And--cliche warning!--I had a madeleine moment. I suddenly remembered that song, a song I'd not thought of for decades, a song that was part of a musical film from 1958--written by Alan J. Lerner (from a novel by Colette, a play by Anita Loos that was on Broadway for 219 performances in 1951-52),  by Vincente Minnelli (Liza's father), music by Lerner and Lowe, conductor Andre Previn, starring roles by Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jordan, Leslie Caron.

Here's a link to the film's trailer on YouTube.

I saw the film at the Hiram College Theater one Sunday night when I was about 14. And the title song ("Gigi") grabbed hold of me and whispered in my ear, Love is awesome! It won an Oscar for best song in 1959--and the film took home 8 other Oscars, as well.

Singer Vic Damone had a minor hit in 1958 with that song (it was #88 for the year on one list), and here's another YouTube link to Damone performing the song. And here's yet another link to the lyrics. That year, the top song was "Volare," and Perry Como's "Catch a Falling Star" was also in the top ten. Times have changed--as if you haven't noticed.

As we were driving home, Joyce and I talked about "Gigi" a little bit, and I even managed to jerk into the present some of the lyrics that I hadn't thought about for decades. ... am I standing much too close or back too far? ... when did your warmth turn to fire? your passion to desire? ...  But I couldn't dredge up any more than this until I got home.

But what I most remembered was how that song made me feel. It was, in a way, the soundtrack to my adolescent yearning, only recently awakened ... or maybe ignited is a better word. I had a girlfriend in 8th grade--it had sort of started in 7th grade--and I had no clue about how to behave, and I behaved badly throughout the period of our multiple break-ups and make-ups through junior high and high school. I guess I knew how I felt; I just didn't know how to act.

In fact, I realize now, of course, that I didn't know a thing about love, about its demands and responsibilities and joys and sorrows and ecstasies--not until the summer of 1969 when I met a young woman in a grad school class at Kent State, a young woman who would show me, teach me, love me for nearly forty-five years now. And that, my friends, deserves another Lerner & Loewe love song. I could give them some lyrics ...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 14



October 1994. Harmon Middle School. Aurora, Ohio.

I’d always done Halloween sorts of things in my classroom in October. Early in my career, my students and I would read aloud an old radio play version of  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”—Margaret Burns’ adaptation of Washington Irving’s story that appeared in a bruised set of brown readers that lived in my room. The script featured dialogue like the following:

ICHABOD. Ah, Mynheer Van Tassel (Nasally), this is indeed a salubrious occasion!
VAN TASSEL. Evenin’, Ichabod, evenin’!  Fall to and help yourself to the vittles!

Some years, we used the school’s P. A. system to broadcast the show into other classrooms—along with taped sound effects of winds howling, horses galloping, people screaming. No one on earth can scream like a seventh grade girl—or a boy who’s still a soprano.
But in the summer of 1994—as I see on my syllabus from that year—my plans for the first quarter’s work included some activities in late October about Frankenstein. It’s likely I decided to do so because entertainment and news magazines that fall were running stories about Kenneth Branagh’s new film, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to be released on 4 November. I’d already taken some students to see Branagh’s 1989 Henry V and was regularly teaching his 1993 Much Ado About Nothing, a hit with my eighth graders.
So away I went, hand in hand with Mary Shelley, my vast ignorance about her no deterrent, my fading memories of the novel, which I’d not read since 1985, no impediment. I started checking reference books, learning from them enough to convince thirteen-year-olds that I was an authority. I quickly rounded up some video from The Munsters (YouTube link), bought a VHS tape of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) (YouTube link), found a recording of “Monster Mash” (1962, the year I graduated from high school) (YouTube link to a cartoon based on the song), bought a box of Franken Berry cereal, and began assembling other monster-related items that appeared on retail shelves around Halloween—including a Snickers wrapper bearing the creature’s face. See, class, I tell them, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is everywhere!


I even bought a rubber monster mask, which I used for several years. I would pretend I had an errand out of the room, don the mask in the hall, then leap back into class with a howl. Screams invariably ensued. Satisfying screams. (Not so funny in these current days of very real classroom terrors.)
And after I’d read them passages from the novel, after I’d showed them scenes from the old Karloff film, played the music, and after they’d watched some Abbott and Costello, tasted the Franken Berry, and had seen me in a mask and screamed, I ended our few Frankenstein weeks with the following writing assignment:

INTRODUCTION: You are serving an in-school suspension. After a few hours of staring at the wall, you become bored. Frustrated. In your high emotional state, you decide to punch the wall. (Dumb: The wall is made of concrete block. But you are beyond the stage of being reasonable or rational.)  As you work your way around the room, punching concrete blocks (barely noticing the pain in your hands), you punch one that does not feel like the others. It moves. You stop. Look at it. And then you decide to push it. When you do, the entire wall swings open like a door. And that’s because it IS a door. As you peek inside, you see a set of stairs leading down into darkness. Should you go? Why not? It’s better than being stuck in that room all day. And so you step through the new doorway. The moment you do, a sort of dull glow accompanies you. You can see. Sort of. As you descend into the bowels of Harmon School, the ghostly glow continues. At the bottom of the stairs you see another door to your right. You open it, the glow following you. You have found the long-lost crypt of Harmon! In the center of this room, lying on a table, is something covered with a sheet. It looks humanoid. But too big to be a person. (Gee, I wonder what it is?!?)  You pull the sheet aside and see—what else?—Frankenstein’s creature.
ASSIGNMENT: Write a narrative involving the Frankenstein creature and you. Begin the story at the moment you discover him. …
My students loved this assignment—produced some of their best papers of the year. Some wrote comedies and parodies; others, PG-rated horror stories; others, bizarre mixed-genre pieces (Martians arrive on the scene; cowboys, rock stars, and other celebs join the fray); I appeared in some of the tales, often quickly dispatched in sprays of red. The day we set aside to read these stories aloud in class was riotous—the shrieks of pubescents’ laughter rivaling their screams in the pure ability to pierce steel, shatter glass bricks.
For three more years—the years immediately preceding my public school retirement—I continued refining and repeating this assignment, spending more and more time each summer studying Mary Shelley, her novel, her milieu. My obsession germinated, sprouted, grew, flowered, mutated, and multiplied.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Newspapers--and Critics?--R.I.P.?

Speed Bump comic, 2 January 2009

The other day I read a depressing/distressing op-ed piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Columnist Ted Diadiun wrote about his experience working with a journalism class in Kent State's grad school of journalism. He found the students "smart, literate, engaged, and serious about their educations. They came to class well-prepared, turned in their work on time, and took our conversations about the broad range of ethical issues they would face in the communications world seriously."

So ... the problem? "Almost none of the students," says Diadiun, "cared a whit about newspapers." (Here's a link to article.)

We all know--on some level--that this is true. I can look up and down our suburban street in the morning and see that fewer people are having papers delivered. And I have to say that during all my countless hours sitting and reading in coffee shops I've rarely seen a young person reading a newspaper. (One regular exception:  a local soccer coach and his son sharing the sports pages.)

Technology, of course, is Darth Vadar in many accounts of this change in cultural habits. But newspapers are at fault, too. They underestimated the power of the Web--and, by the time they caught on, it was too late. Newspapers have folded (unintentional pun) and shrunk all over the country in recent years, and the trend is certain to accelerate. The once mighty Plain Dealer no longer publishes every day (several days it's Web-only), and its heft and staff have shrunk considerably since I first began reading the paper nearly 60 years ago.

And the Internet is just much better for many things. One obvious example: We used to have to wait till the morning paper arrived to find out who won last night's game (and often the game ended after deadline, so we had to find out on the radio). So--for instant information about unfolding events, newspapers are just vastly inferior. They all have websites now, but I'm guessing not too many young folks have them bookmarked. News stories come in other ways--via links on their home page, Yahoo or Google or whatever.

I think newspapers can do a better job than the Web with features and op-ed and reviews and the like, and I've sometimes wondered what would happen if, say, the Plain Dealer would confine its news coverage to the Internet and focus its paper production on local features and analyses and opinion and reviews and ...

Newspapers have also had a hard time figuring out how to keep their content secure (and salable) while still making it readily available. You used to have to buy a paper--or pick one up that someone else had bought. Now, links and stories fly (for free) around the globe at the speed of light (or Internet), and the only ones making much money are the ISPs.

Joyce and I remain newspaper-types. We subscribe (home delivery) to three papers--Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon-Journal, New York Times--and we also get semi-weekly deliveries of the local Hudson Hub-Times. I don't always read the Times in paper form, though; often I read it on my Kindle at the coffee shop in the morning. And I like to read the PD electronically, too.

I also remain an inveterate clipper of stories, a habit I had as a schoolteacher, a habit I cannot seem to break now that I'm retired. Every day I cut out things to show my (non-existent) students, and I dutifully file the stories in our bulging cabinets. (Son Steve is going to have a ball going through all of that one day!) It's crazy, I know: Not only do I have no students, but I could also find the article on the Internet in a heartbeat--no need to dig through musty and dusty file folders ...  Still ...

But I have another worry about all of this--one that hits a little more closely to home: The decline of newspapers has also meant the decline of professional criticism (music, art, architecture, books). Yes, much of this is available on the Internet, but that's what I want to write about next time. Now--because of Amazon.com and goodreads.com and the like--everyone can be a critic. Do I have a problem with that?

TO BE CONTINUED ...


Monday, May 26, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 13

my copy of the book I read
in 1985

School Year 1984–1985. Harmon Middle School. Aurora, Ohio.

I am nearing my twentieth year of teaching. Among my assignments that year—an elective class for seventh and eighth graders interested in reading. We read silently during the class. We read aloud. We read things together. We talk about what we were reading. Write about it. But I like to start each period with ten minutes of silent reading—any book you want (well, anything within reason). I do it too. And I am reading Frankenstein. For the first time.
It is the 1980 Watermill Classic edition, one of a series of inexpensive paperback reprintings of classic works—the sort of publication that the internet has killed. (Why pay for a book when you can read it for free online?)  I have other titles in the series, too. Tom Brown’s Schooldays, The Sea-Wolf, White Fang, Moby-Dick, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and Dracula are a few I can remember.
I recently looked again at that copy of Frankenstein I’d read in 1985. The cover shows the face of the Boris Karloff version of the creature (electrodes-in-neck); electricity dances in the air around his head—as if he’s either emitting or attracting lightning. His face has a greenish-yellowish glow. His eyes are in shadow, but he’s looking right at us.
The book has stood, untouched, among my many Shelley-Frankenstein titles for more than a quarter-century. As I open it, I notice, as was (and is) my custom, that I wrote the date I read it (January 1985). And I also see that the book still has some bookmarks—little pieces of torn paper I put between pages to help me find quickly some things I wanted to read aloud to the kids (in order): on the glacier in Switzerland, the creature tells his story to Victor Frankenstein; the creature kills little William Frankenstein; Victor agrees to create a mate for the creature; Victor destroys the mate; the creature vows revenge—promises he will be with Victor on his wedding night; the death of friend Clerval; the death of lover Elizabeth; the death of Victor’s father; Walton’s conversation with the creature; the ending on the ice.
I wrote only two notes in the book. On the first inside page: “tales within tales within tales”—a reference to Mary Shelley’s decision to tell the story with a mixture of narrative and letters. And on page 136 I’ve written “dumb” next to the creature’s reaction to an outburst from Victor, who’s just called the creature “devil” and “vile insect.” The creature replies: “I expected this reception.” I’m not sure why I wrote “dumb” there. Was it a comment on the narrative? On Mary Shelley? On her diction? The creature?
I did a bit of underlining in the text—nothing extensive. Just some lines I thought important. “It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn” (37). “A flash of lightning illuminated the object and discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity” (99). “I feared the effects of the demon’s disappointment” (236). That sort of thing.

So I first read the novel in 1985, but did nothing more with Frankenstein for five or six years. And then—for a reason I can no longer recall—I gave the students an assignment that changed my life.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Sundries, 1



A bit of this and that from the past week ...

  • I can't remember the last time I slept all night ... twenty years ago? Longer?  Older men. Prostate problems. (We in the club know the drill.) I'm up three-four times a night. The only thing I hate: having to get up less than an hour before I'd planned to. Existential angst: Should I go back to bed for forty minutes? Stay up? (Guess which I do more often.)
  • The story of the discovery of the bones of King Richard III under a parking lot in Leicester was an amazing story (there's a very good documentary about it on Netflix)--a virtually impossible occurrence. This week an English court ruled the bones will stay in Leicester, not go back to York, his home. There's been some outcry against that decision--some understandable outcry. Let's say you were killed in an auto accident on a country road in Nebraska. Should your grave be in the nearest cemetery? Or with your family? (Duh.) Not that Richard III was the best of "family men."

  • Last Christmas (2013) our son gave us two universal remotes, one for the upstairs TV, another for the down. They have lain, unopened (in their impossible plastic packaging) since the Holidays, on our "junk table"--I bet your house has one, too--a surface where you put things you don't know what to do with? But this week I decided to get them going--and, a few hours later, they were. It wasn't all that simple. I had to get the model numbers from all our "devices" (DVR, cable box, TV, etc.), then hook each remote up to the computer, upload the information, sync the device, try it out ...  Visitors to our household would have heard some ... colorful ... language during the process.

  • Why don't they make movies for adults anymore? It seems the theaters are full of cartoons, horror and superhero films, pale and superficial and forgettable romantic comedies. Yes, we can drive to the Cedar-Lee to see something else--but it's about 50 minutes each way ... worth it, yes, but by week's end we're often lacking the energy to head out to Cleveland Heights. It's a dark time in Movieland.
  • And, finally, I've written here before about my many habits ... Creature of Habit is a phrase invented for me. This morning, driving to Panera (one of our Sunday habits), I asked Joyce a question: "How would you rank me on the Boredom Scale? One = so boring that one more syllable from me would kill you. Ten = never boring." She paused a bit too long, then said, "Well, you're neither one nor the other. You're kind of both." I laughed bitterly. Then she said, "I'm sure I have my flaws, too ..." Okay. Here's what I think about that. Someone who says "I'm sure I have my flaws, too," means, of course, that he or she has no flaws. And if I were so unwise as to mention one or two, there would be a Consequence whose dimensions I don't wish to imagine. So ... the best policy in such situations? Silence. (But, actually, we both laughed a lot about it. The truth often is very funny.)



Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Room of One's Own



Joyce did her master's thesis on Virginia Woolf back in the early 1970s, so that's when I became acquainted with Woolf's works (though I'd read Mrs. Dalloway in college). To be able to talk with her, I read some of them (read others later on), and I remember seeing around our apartment Joyce's copy of Woolf's 1929 A Room of One's Own. (Link to electronic text of the little book.)

Early in the volume, Woolf writes this: a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. Or ... to do much else, for that matter. The space to be who you are. To do what you are meant to do. Simple requirements--and very complex ones, too, given our nasty cultural and gender history.

Anyway, I don't know why I got to thinking about this the other day--about having a room of my own. Until I was about twelve, I shared a bedroom with a brother. My older brother, Richard, terrified me when I was little by telling me there was a Man in the Closet. So ... I had to make sure that closet door was shut and fastened before I could fall into a tentative, timorous sleep.

Later, a second and third grader in Amarillo, I shared a room with my younger brother, Davi (rhymes with Davy). Our house was a little brick ranch house, and our room was in the back. Advantage? When we were there for our required nap time, we could coax to the window--then pull inside--our dog Sooner, who always seemed far more nervous about being in the house than I thought he ought to be. Anyway, we would return him to the yard as the end of "nap time" drew nigh. (I wonder if we fooled our parents at all? Probably not.)

I did not have a room of my own until I was in ninth grade, and we were living in Hiram, Ohio, in a century home that looked (and smelled) every second of it. My room was upstairs, in the front, a tiny room with a dormer window, a closet, a little bookshelf, a desk, a bed, and a foul adolescent who wanted nothing more than to sleep, play baseball, and ... you know. The room had one problem, though (beyond its odious occupant): It had no heating vent. So if I wanted warmth in the winter (who doesn't?), I had to keep my door open (what's the point of a room!) and rely on the largesse of Richard (hah!), whose room lay right next door and had a very fine vent, thank you. When he kept his door open, I was somewhat comfortable; when he kept it closed, I froze.

Little brother Davi's room was the biggest one upstairs. (No comment.) Lots of heat and light and space. (No comment.) We also shared a bathroom (no shower--just a tub), and I offer you this rhetorical question: Is there anything more foul than a bathroom shared by three adolescent boys? (Not in my experience.)

Once I was off on my own (I began teaching in the fall of 1966), I had rooms of my own. Lonely rooms, if you want the truth. I had few dates, no lovers, and lots of homework to grade. Depression was my most frequent guest.

When Joyce and I married (Dec. 1969), our first little apartment had a living room, dining room, bedroom, kitchen, bath--all dollhouse tiny. We both had little desks in the dining room, though Joyce would often write her papers sitting on the bed, surrounded by her reference books and other resources. (Actually, I thought it was kind of sexy.)

Once Steve was born, though (July 16, 1972), we put his crib in the dining room, so we knew it was time to find a larger place. Which we soon did, over on S. Willow St. in Kent, Ohio--a house that has since been razed to accommodate the new "Esplanade." Sad loss of a landmark! Anyway, in that house Joyce and I both had a room of one's own--and so it has gone in our every subsequent house. Joyce likes an upstairs room with a nice view (currently, she looks out over the funeral home next door), and I like downstairs with a street view. Joyce is much neater than I, though when she is really cooking on a project, her space quickly grows to resemble mine, which doesn't look much different from, oh, my 1959 space--except there are a lot more books. I would post a picture here, but I'm too ashamed. Okay, I'll share it--just part of my room, mind you (on the screen of my laptop is this very blog in the process of composition!). You can imagine the clutter behind me ... I'll admit it's even worse than what you see. But that's my room; it's my own. And I feel profoundly lucky to have it--and to realize that, just upstairs, sits Joyce in her room, weaving magical words.

May 24, 2014, 9:53 a.m.




Friday, May 23, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 12



Spring 1975. Kent, Ohio.

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, released in December 1974, finally arrived in Kent on 4 April 1975. It ran for nine weeks at the Kent Cinema I, the old downtown theater that had  only recently divided into two auditoriums, then for another week at the Midway Drive-In, halfway—midway—between Kent and Ravenna, the county seat just six miles east.
We had been living in Kent since the fall of 1969 (we were married that December) and had just recently bought our first house, 114 North Forest Drive, a small wood-frame place less than a mile west of the Kent Cinema. In April 1975, our son, Steve, was nearing his third birthday (in July).
When Joyce and I saw Young Frankenstein that spring, neither of us had read Mary Shelley’s novel; I don’t know that either of us had yet seen the 1931 James Whale film, either. We were both working furiously to complete our doctorates at Kent State University (we both finished in 1977). I was still teaching full-time in Aurora. My salary for the 1974–1975 school year was $13,014.34. Although Joyce made a few thousand as a grad assistant at KSU, money was tight.
But we occasionally went to movies—often with Steve. But we would not have taken him to Young Frankenstein (too scary), and there were a couple of girls in the neighborhood who babysat for us now and then for a dollar an hour. Sometimes, we dropped Steve for a few hours with Joyce’s parents, who lived in Akron, only about fifteen miles away.
I can’t recall exactly when we saw Young Frankenstein, only that it was at the Kent Cinema that spring. I remember laughing a lot, I remember Victor Frankenstein’s grandson (Gene Wilder) screaming that he wants his name pronounced “Frankensteen!”  And I remember wacky Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman (as Igor, the bug-eyed gnomish character who does not appear in Mary Shelley’s novel) and Peter Boyle as the creature—Peter Boyle, whom I’d previously seen only in that odd and sanguinary film Joe back in 1969.
Now, I can see an image of a scene from Young Frankenstein: Kahn and the creature. in their post-coital bed. Smoking a post-coital cigarette. Few other memories remain. When the film comes on television, I don’t watch it. I don’t know why. I did not watch Young Frankenstein again even when I was going through a phrase of trying to see every Frankenstein film (the Internet Movie Database lists well over 100 films with Frankenstein somewhere in the title)—from Tim Burton’s early short Frankenweenie, about a dog, to the outrageous Frankenhooker. So why not Young Frankenstein again? Perhaps because I’d seen it already. But I realize, too, that the film would now be much funnier to me because I know so much about the story. Maybe next time it’s on …  Or maybe Netflix …

At the KSU Library, in August 2011, I found on local newspaper microfilm the dates that Young Frankenstein appeared in Kent. As I checked all theater times from the date of its December 1974 release to its April 1975 Kent opening, I came across some oddities. Andy Warhol’s Dracula was in town on January 10. That same week—at another nearby drive-in (the East, in Tallmadge)—Frankenstein Created Woman appeared for a week. Peter Cushing plays “Baron Frankenstein.” And those other great and/or popular 1970s films—Buster and Billie, Walking Tall, The Longest Yard, American Graffiti, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Towering Inferno, Murder on the Orient Express, Harry and Tonto, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Lenny, The Stepford Wives, Shampoo—all were in Kent in the winter of 1974–1975. Joyce and I saw most of them, money be damned.

EXTRA! YouTube link to trailer for Frankenhooker!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

IVANHOE, 2




Last night--May 21--I finished (finally!) Sir Walter Scott's 1820 novel Ivanhoe, a book I'd never read before--though I had seen the film (released in midsummer, 1952) with Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor (not related), and Joan Fontaine; I was just about to turn eight years old at the time. I recently saw the film again (Netflix) and wrote about it last October in this space (link to that post).



Anyway, I acquired the book on Kindle and gradually (very gradually, obviously) began reading it--along with the six or seven other books I keep going simultaneously in the evening. I think I wrote about the book another time (too lazy to look--TLTL), and I think I remember saying at the time that I could not believe that that book had, for a while, been fairly standard in the junior high school curriculum. I use italics because I taught in a middle school for about thirty years, and I cannot imagine selecting and using that title with my students.

My mother taught it, though, at (Ralph Waldo) Emerson Junior High School in Enid, Oklahoma, in the early 1950s. I'm sure it was a tie-in with the popular film--what better way to get kids to read a hard book, eh?  And it is a hard book to read: difficult, unfamiliar vocabulary; long sentences; stiff dialogue; unfamiliar topics--like jousting, Saxon v. Norman, Christian v. Jew (okay, that's not so unfamiliar); castles and horses and medieval weaponry; English history (the Crusades, Prince John and Richard the Lionheart); and on and on.

Here's a fairly typical passage ...

But, moreover, it could not escape even Cedric's reluctant observation, that his project for an absolute union among the Saxons, by the marriage of Rowena and Athelstane, was now completely at an end, by the mutual dissent of both parties concerned. This was, indeed, an event which, in his ardour for the Saxon cause, he could not have anticipated, and even when the disinclination of both was broadly and plainly manifested, he could scarce bring himself to believe that two Saxons of royal descent should scruple, on personal grounds, at an alliance so necessary for the public weal of the nation. But it was not the less certain: Rowena had always expressed her repugnance to Athelstane, and now Athelstane was no less plain and positive in proclaiming his resolution never to pursue his addresses to the Lady Rowena. Even the natural obstinacy of Cedric sunk beneath these obstacles, where he, remaining on the point of junction, had the task of dragging a reluctant pair up to it, one with each hand. He made, however, a last vigorous attack on Athelstane, and he found that resuscitated sprout of Saxon royalty engaged, like country squires of our own day, in a furious war with the clergy.

And this, my friends, is from the final chapter--when things are supposed to be getting exciting!

And yet ... and yet ...  I'm glad I read Ivanhoe, for all kinds of reasons, from the silly and self-centered to the less so. I can now truthfully say that I've read Ivanhoe (I've been lying for about a half-century). I like knowing the changes the filmmakers made in the story. (In the film, Robin Hood and his men communicate by a sequence of arrows fired through the woods--but not in the novel.) The attraction between Rebecca and Ivanhoe is very subdued in the novel--more patent in the film.

But most of all? I like understanding what my mother had to deal with in 1953 in a broiling junior high school classroom in north-central Oklahoma. Imagine yourself at 13, reading that red paragraph above when it's 103 outside and 104 inside ... and imagine a teacher like my mother, a bright, determined teacher who could help you understand it, maybe even like it. That's magic--a magic far more meaningful than Merlin's.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 11



We returned to Enid after the Korean War, in the middle of the 1952–1953 school year; I was in third grade. We stayed until I finished the sixth, and then, in a change that broke my heart, we moved to tiny Hiram, Ohio, where Dad joined the faculty of tiny Hiram College. During those Enid and Hiram years, kids I knew sometimes dressed as Frankenstein’s creature for Halloween. I never did. Because money was always an issue in our house, our costumes tended to be homemade—or “found” (stuff we already had that we adapted for a character). So we were usually ghosts (bed sheets) or hoboes or cowboys (we all owned cowboy hats, vests, blue jeans, cap guns, holsters, boots) or other low-budget characters. No store-bought masks and costumes and make-up for us. But there were parents who invested in masks or green greasepaint and figured out how to fasten electrodes (bolts!) to their kids’ necks. I envied them. I wanted to be more scary, the first step, I now realize, toward sexy.
Throughout my school years and college I neither read nor was assigned to read Mary Shelley’s novel—though I did own (and repeatedly read) the 1945 Classics Illustrated comic-book version, a publication I bought again, years later, on eBay, when the price was many multiples of the original fifteen cents. The cover of that comic shows the creature (no electrodes on neck) in the foreground; he’s climbing an icy hill. Coming toward us. He is looking back over his right shoulder a bit to see what’s behind him. In the distance, is a man pointing at him. This man, dressed in a parka, is driving a dogsled. Surrounding all is a frozen wasteland. Initially, I must have been puzzled by that. What is this?  Frankenstein Meets Sergeant Preston of the Yukon?
Frankenstein was number twenty-six in the Classics Illustrated sequence, nestled between Two Years Before the Mast (#25) and The Adventures of Marco Polo (#27). Prior publications in the series included Rip Van Winkle and Huckleberry Finn; yet to come—Hamlet and The Call of the Wild. All of which I taught many times.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I Was the Cheese, 2



I wrote a bit last week about find this book--I Am the Cheese, by Robert Cormier--when I was shelf-surfing through the C's looking for some Stephen Crane titles. As I said last week, the Cranes had sort of elbowed Cormier back behind them. An annoying little brother? But when I found Cheese, I took a quick Memory Journey back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when I used that book with my students--and recommended it to young readers all the time.

My own copy is heavily underlined, lightly annotated, beginning with the recto page inside the front cover where I've drawn a circle around this: So begins the odyssey of a boy on a quest ....  I've drawn a second circle around odyssey--I had taught that Homeric classic to English I students at Western Reserve Academy for a couple of years (1979-1981).

As I look at my markings in the book, I see that I have a set of informal levels of importance, ranging from a squiggly line down the margin (sort of important), to an underlining (important), to underlining cum asterisk(s) (very important), to circling or boxing a sentence or passage (mega-important).

And I've written a few things. On p. 14, for example, our narrator (a troubled young teen) mentions a girl he loves--Amy Hertz. And I (clever, clever I!) have written Hertz = heart (in German). At the top of p. 37 I have written: Almost a Skylla-Kharybdis episode. On p. 50, next to the narrator's I have lost all track of time, I have written irony.

And here's a weird one. The narrator is describing a group of teenagers in a little restaurant. In the margin, I have written cf Travis McGee. This, I realize after a moment's puzzlement, is an allusion to a writing assignment I used to give my frosh. I gave them a snotty passage from a Travis McGee novel (Bright Orange for the Shroud by John D. MacDonald), a negative passage about teenagers, and had them write a reaction. (See image for the passage.)



My copy of Cheese has other Odyssey allusions marked--and all kinds of other things. As I look over the book, I am reminded how seriously I took every text I taught--how very much I wanted my students to see connections among the things they read. Not a bad goal, really.

Robert Cormier died 2 November 2000 (Link to New York Times obituary). I just looked at my journal entry for that day ...  I drove to Chicago that day. I went to Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, where I was looking for the grave of William H. Chaney, the man who scholars believe was the father of Jack London. There had been some talk about exhuming the body, doing a DNA test ... but when I got there, I discovered his grave was long gone (he'd been destitute and his friends paid only for a temporary burial--later, his body was moved to an unmarked site). On November 2, 2000, I also had a meal with former Harmon Middle School students Janet Nabring and Cathy Nasato, both living in Chicago; both had acted in plays I'd directed, too. And now, of course, I wonder: Did they read I Am the Cheese?

**

BTW--Here's a link to a little piece I wrote about Chaney and his burial.





Monday, May 19, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 10



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.
Nope.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Weekly Doggerel: May 15-17



When I was on Facebook (I recently departed a few days, then returned), I liked to post what I called "Daily Doggerel"--silly poems about quotidian events in my life. I also posted lines about the word-of-the-day (from my tear-off calendar) and yet another couplet about the plays of Shakespeare. I was working my way through them all, writing a daily couplet about events in the scenes and acts; it took me as many as fifty days to get through a single play. I was nearing the end of Romeo & Juliet when I closed my FB account (which I reopened last night--Saturday).

But even while I was "off" FB, I found I was still writing the dumb things, so I thought I'd just save them all up till Sundays and post them as "Weekly Doggerel." This first week has only Thursday-Saturday, so that is how we'll start. And end. I'm back to the Old Daily Way ...

Daily Doggerel

Thursday, May 15


Jaws

My jaw’s in pain—can’t open wide—
It’s too much of a feat—
And mealtimes I am dreading, for
It hurts too much to eat.

I cut my food in mouse-sized bites
And chew so tenderly.
Oh, friends and foes, the time has come

To pity Poor Old Me.


Friday, May 16

Jaws 2

A muscle pulled, the dentist said—
Back there along my jaw.
And so it is that I now have
An unimpressive maw.

I'll lose respect of animals—
Mosquito to giraffe—
And if he saw me swimming near,
Old Jaws would surely laugh.

Of course, he'd laugh for just a bit,
And then—a shark attack.
And I would flail (to no avail)
While Jaws enjoyed his snack.


Saturday, May 17


Jaws 3

The Ibuprofen fails to bring
The pain relief I crave,
And so I start to think about
A dive into a wave.

An ocean splash could soothe my jaw—
Or so I think (in pain).
But sharks just love the splashing sound—
And Jaws will feed again.



Vocab Doggerel

Thursday, May 15

You know we really can’t condone
Your leaving babies home alone.
Before you leave, it’s requisite
To find someone to babysit.


Friday, May 16

I know it’s pointless—even dumb.
But there are times I just succumb.


Saturday, May 17


1. Dumb …

All the meal was so delicious—
But the server? Too officious.

2. … and Dumber

At the ocean, fishing daily.
Salmon so delicious.
But the tuna, oh, so jealous,
Cried aloud: “Oh, fish us!”



Shakespeare Couplets

Thursday, May 15

The Friar rushes off to Juliet
While fearing all his plots will soon beget. (5.2)


Friday, May 16

Now Romeo arrives—his lover’s tomb.
And over all—the ambiance of doom. (5.3)


Saturday, May 17


So Paris, strewing flowers, does not see
That’s Romeo’s arrived—in misery. (5.3)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday Snippets

Now that I'm no longer on Facebook (how long? who can tell?), I'm going to use this blog on Saturdays to post a few things I might otherwise have put up on FB. We'll see how long I can keep this up.



1. Last night Joyce and I watched (via Netflix) the 2005 film Thumbsucker, based on the early novel (same title) by Walter Kirn, whose new memoir--Blood Will Out--I'd recently reviewed for the Cleveland Plain Dealer (link to my review). (I'd read the novel while preparing for the review.) We both enjoyed the film a lot more than we'd expected to. For one, there was an excellent cast, with some small (but solid) appearances by Keanu Reeves (as a weird dentist), Vince Vaughn (as a high school debate coach--about the most understated of all his performances), Tilda Swinton (the protagonist's mother--what a wonder of an actress), Vincent D'Onofrio (the father). It's a coming-of-age story--a messed up high school kid (Lou Taylor Pucci) who's learning lessons about the opposite sex, honesty, "life"; he's trying to discover what his gifts are--and what he feels about them. He has a lingering habit from infancy (guess what it is?) that annoys his father considerably (and animates his dentist). At the end, he heads off to NYU to begin college, and we see him romping happily through Times Square, and you can almost hear him singing "Free at Last!"  Of course, here's what we Older Folks know: When he goes back to his dorm room and unpacks his bag, he's going to find a little wrapped package. And when he unwraps it, opens it, he will find ... himself--the one thing you can never really run away from.

Here's a link to the YouTube trailer for the film.

Roth--NYT photo
2. Philip Roth was back in the news this week. For a guy who says he's "done," he's apparently not quite done. The New York Times had a little story about his showing up to receive a Yaddo Artist Medal.  Link to the Times story.

3. There was also a small story this week, too, about a new Broadway production of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance that will start Glenn Close and John Lithgow--not a bad duo!  Link to story about the production.

I've been thinking ... maybe I'll move this "feature" next week to Sunday--and call it "Sunday Sundries" ... a title that straddles the border between Clever and Annoying.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae: 9

Danny Meets Frankenstein

My earliest memory of the monster …

I was born in 1944 in Enid, Oklahoma, where my parents had met as students at Phillips University (now defunct) and married in 1939. I cannot remember the exact year—or even season—when the 1931 movie Frankenstein, the classic one directed by James Whale and featuring Boris Karloff, appeared on television. Our roof antenna brought in the only three stations it could—one from Enid (KGEO), the others from Oklahoma City (WKY, KWTV). But it must have been on a Saturday, or in the summer, because my two brothers—one older, one younger—and I could not watch television on school days, certainly not on Sunday, a day devoted to Sunday school and church (Disciples of Christ) and a huge dinner (usually pot roast with carrots and peeled potatoes that lay heating and hardening in the oven while we sang hymns and endured long sermons in a hot sanctuary a few blocks away) and reading the Enid Morning News and snoozing before a supper of leftovers and, sometimes, a return to church for vespers.
But I do remember this: Dad would not let us watch Frankenstein. My older brother and I pressed for a reason—respectfully, respectfully. In the 1950s in our house there were no overt challenges to parental authority. None. It was inconceivable. And even if we had thought about it, we would have concluded with quick certainty that open defiance was suicidal. Not that my father was abusive. He wasn’t. But he was a large man—a former high school and college football star—and when he spanked us (brisk swats on our bottoms with the back of a hairbrush, rare but always well earned), we knew we’d been spanked.
But about the movie, Dad told us that he’d seen it when it was released back in 1931 (he was eighteen then), and he said there was a really horrible scene in it. Tell us! my brother and I cried, eager for horror. There’s a scene, Dad said, when Frankenstein [yes, he mixed up the monster and the creator, as people still do] comes across a little girl playing by the water. Dad stopped, perhaps considering the effects of what he was about to tell us. Daddy! What happens?  He looked at us, made his decision. And she’s pulling up flowers and tossing them in the lake. He looked at us again. And then the monster grabs her and …
I don’t remember if he actually told us that the creature dismembers the little girl, but he didn’t really have to. I saw the image. I see it right now. Frankenstein’s monster plucking off the arms and legs of a screaming little girl. Flinging the gory things in the lake. The creature perhaps a little puzzled about the screams. The pretty flower didn’t make noise, he reasons. Why is this pretty creature making noises? Something along those lines.
So … we saw no Frankenstein that day. Nor did we see any other versions of the story that appeared on TV or at the local movie houses of our boyhoods—the Cherokee, Chief, Esquire, and Sooner. The only exception—Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). When I saw that comedy years later, I realized I’d seen it before … but when?
And, of course, I later saw that 1931 film, too. And when the creature finds the little girl alongside the water, I knew what was going to happen. I steeled myself.
But, of course, it doesn’t happen.
Here’s what we see instead—check it on YouTube. The creature—who’s already killed two people—is charmed by the floating flowers, the daisies the little girl (Maria) has uprooted and tossed into the lake. He smiles. Tosses some that she has given him. Then he runs out of blossoms. Pauses. Then picks up little Maria (cradling her, holding her like a parent). He throws her in the water, where she flails around. Then we see bubbles. And a confused creature leaving the scene. And, later, a grieving father carrying the wet body of his dead daughter. (She’s missing no limbs.) Later, I read that Whale had actually filmed the creature hurling her violently in—but censors (and Karloff himself) didn’t like that, so out it went. Some local censors cut the entire scene.
But there never was any dismemberment.
Did my father misremember?
            Or was he just trying to shock his two little boys (we were probably, oh, 8 and 11) into dropping their suit to see the film? If so, his tactic had the opposite effect.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I Was the Cheese, 1


I was looking for a Stephen Crane book the other day when I found Robert Cormier's I Am the Cheese, which had, over the years, been sliding behind the Crane books on my shelf, as if hiding in modesty--as if to say, "I am not Prince Crane nor was I meant to be."

And when I saw it--cliche warning--memories flooded over me, memories from the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was first teaching at Western Reserve Academy (1979-81) and then, in 1982, returning to teach 8th graders and to end my public school career in Aurora, Ohio (1982-1997).

In those years I was reading lots of what's now called "YA fiction" (we called it just "adolescent fiction" in those days). I wanted to know what my students were reading; I wanted to be able to recommend titles to them when they asked. And so I read Judy Blume and Paul Zindel and Lloyd Alexander and on and on.

And Robert Cormier. His books were hot at the time. His novel The Chocolate War (1974) seemed to be in every middle school classroom (and every middle-schooler's hand). And then I Am the Cheese (1977) followed quickly afterwards--and I ate it like a chuck o' chocolate (war or no war).

In those early WRA years I taught English I, frosh, and we read some pretty weighty stuff--The Odyssey, a Shakespeare play, etc. I just checked my author files and found I still have a folder on Cormier. It holds only a couple of things--five handwritten pages of notes on the book, including a list of themes/main ideas ("a novel of the search for identity"; "a novel of love"; etc.) and some questions to ask students--mostly on the "did-you-understand-this?" level ("What does Paul find when he finally reaches the motel on his lake?").

I also found a yellow handout I'd given my WRA frosh for February-March 1980--what was then our fourth marking period (we had five a year at the time). On the back is a calendar that shows we were doing some Odyssey-related literature (e.g., Tennyson's "Ulysses"--Link to the poem--and Tennyson's "The Lotos-eaters"--Link); we were doing some grammar and usage; some vocab; some essays; and ... I Am the Cheese. As you can see from the image, I set aside several days to talk about the book--and to arrange for a test, which my folder does not contain. (Wonder if I can find it elsewhere? I hope not--it's probably awful.)

I Am the Cheese is about a boy on a journey--on his bicycle--trying to get home. Here's how the book begins, resolutely in the present tense ...

I am riding the bicycle and I am on Route 31 in Monument, Massachusetts, on my way to Rutterburg, Vermont, and I'm pedaling furiously because this is an old-fashioned bike, no speeds, no fenders, only the warmed tires and the brakes that don't always work and the handlebars with cracked rubber grips to steer with. A plain bike--the kind my father rode as a kid years ago. It's cold as I pedal along, the wind like a snake slithering up my sleeves and into my jacket and my pants legs, too. But I keep pedaling, I keep pedaling.

Next time--more about the book, about my teaching of it ...



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae: 8

Title page from 1818 edition,
published anonymously

Volume I begins with a series of letters from Robert Walton, an explorer, to his married sister. He explains his plans for polar expedition. In his fourth letter, now in the far north, Walton tells his sister about a “being” of “gigantic stature” that he glimpsed out on the ice—and then recounts the later rescue of a wretched man, whom Walton subsequently takes aboard his ice-bound ship and befriends. The wretched man is Victor Frankenstein. Greatly weakened by his ordeal in the icy wilderness, Victor tells his long story to Walton, who, later, each night in his own quarters, writes down (for us!) what he has heard.
Victor tells about his boyhood in Geneva, Switzerland. He has two younger brothers—Ernest and William. Also living with their prosperous family is his first cousin Elizabeth Lavenza. Joining the household later is Justine Moritz, an orphan girl, who becomes a servant. And we also meet Henry Clerval, Victor’s longtime friend. Victor becomes interested in science—and, specifically, in the science of life—and begins conducting primitive experiments. When Victor is seventeen, he goes to the university at Ingolstadt, Germany, where he studies chemistry. And he makes a discovery: the chemical origin of life.
In Chapter IV comes one of the most famous moments in literary history: Victor brings his creature to life. But he is horrified by what he has created. Assembled from parts of cadavers, the creature is eight feet tall. Victor leaves his rooms in a feverish disgust. His friend Clerval, who has come to Ingolstadt to visit, takes Victor in and nurses him to health. When Victor later returns to his own residence, he sees the creature has disappeared.
Time passes—more than a year and a half. And then Victor gets a horrifying letter from home: His little brother William has been murdered. A distraught Victor heads for home, and in a storm sees his creature, but before he can pursue it, it swiftly scales a mountain and disappears. When Victor arrives home, he sees that cousin Elizabeth has become a lovely young woman—and discovers, to his horror, that the authorities have charged Justine, the maid, with William’s murder. She’s innocent, of course; we know who’s done the deed. But Justine—terrified and counseled by a priest—confesses, and Volume I ends with the imminent execution of Justine.
Volume II begins with more of Victor’s depression. His father urges all to go to nearby Chamonix, a lovely alpine valley and community featuring what was (in pre-global warming days) one of Europe’s most formidable glaciers. Exploring the glacier alone one day, Victor sees his creature again, who this time approaches Victor and begs him to listen to his story. Victor consents, and the creature’s tale consumes the rest of Volume II. The creature, by the way, is extraordinarily articulate. “I ought to be thy Adam,” he says; “but I am rather the fallen angel …. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”
The creature recalls how he found ill-fitting clothing in Victor’s place and fled into the countryside, where he found a large cloak. People ran from him, drove him away. He found a hovel attached to a cottage where he concealed himself and began aiding the poor resident family (without their knowledge). Helping the situation: The old man living there was blind. Spying on these people, the creature learned languages; he learned to read (and manages all of Paradise Lost); he learned about social classes and conventions. He resolved to join the family, thinking he could first endear himself to the blind man, but when he did so, the others returned unexpectedly, were horrified, and drove him away. In a rage he burned their cottage, then decided to find Victor in Geneva. But he came across William first, who screamed; the creature, attempting to silence him, choked the little boy to death, then planted evidence on sleeping Justine to frame her. The creature tells Victor now—out on the glacier—that he wants Victor to make a mate for him. Then he will be happy and will fly the society of people. Victor reluctantly agrees.
Volume III commences in Geneva, some weeks later, and Victor has still not begun to fulfill his promise. There is talk of a marriage to his cousin Elizabeth. He agrees, happily, but knows he must first go back and create a mate for the creature. He travels with his friend Clerval into England, then, alone to the Orkney Islands (off the northern coast of Scotland). There, he begins the creation of the mate but soon has doubts: He fears they will produce a “race of devils … who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror.” And so he tears his creation to pieces.
Outside, watching, out of Victor’s sight and knowledge, his original creature, is now fully enraged with what he’s witnessed. He confronts and curses Victor, warning him: “I will be with you on your wedding-night.”  Back in England, authorities show Victor the body of Clerval, murdered by the creature. Victor’s father comes to England to journey with his grieving son back to Geneva.
The night of the wedding, Victor prowls around outside, just to make sure. He hears a scream inside. He rushes in, finds his bride lying dead, the creature grinning at the window. He rushes back to tell his father, who promptly suffers a stroke and dies a few days later. Victor vows to pursue, find, and destroy his creature. And so begins the long chase that culminates with the scene on the ice that began the book.

            In another series of letters we learn that Victor is dying. When he does so, the creature enters the ship’s cabin and talks with Robert Walton. “Am I to be thought the only criminal,” he asks, “when all human kind sinned against me?” He vows to flee civilization and destroy himself in a fire. The last we see of him he is on an ice-floe. “He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance”—these, the final words of the novel.