Adventures in Reading

Frankenstein: A Cultural History by Susan Tyler Hitchcock

“‘He would have an enormous schwanzstucker!’”

While I do enjoy non-fiction, I have never been an avid reader and much of my blog will testify to my preference for fiction. However, trying to break my recent reading slump I turned to non-fiction and borrowed a copy of Frankenstein: A Cultural History by Susan Tyler Hitchcock. I have read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein only once in high school and found it dreadful though I am fascinated by early horror movies portraying Frankenstein’s monster. Hitchcock’s book is an illuminating history from page to screen to iconic archetype that will please any Frankenstein fan.

Hitchcock begins with the birth of Frankenstein by exploring the relationship of Mary and Percy Shelley as well as Lord Byron. These three people’s biographies are extraordinarily fascinating and outrageous. This was also my first opportunity to realize that the commonly sold Frankenstein is actually a revised version and I am now on a mission to borrow a version of the original 1818 story. I had given up on the idea of ever returning to Shelley’s work but the first third of this book has given me a great deal of motivation.

In the coming of age section, Hitchcock primarily focuses on the many, many film adaptations and spin-offs based on (some only in name) Shelley’s book. It goes a long way in explaining why Frankenstein is relatively such common nomenclature but so few people really have a grasp on the literary aspect of it. The movies (and censors) continued to reinvent Vincent and the monster for the modern audience.

The third part of the book, our monster, takes a particular look at the Frankenstein mania of the 70s ranging from Rocky Horror to Young Frankenstein to Dean Koontz’s recent Frankenstein series (the third book in this trilogy still with an unknown release date). If nothing else, Hitchcock’s wealth of information substantiates that the Frankenstein myth remains strong.

Hitchcock, a thorough writer and researcher, has provided an enticing portrayal of the evolution of Frankenstein. Frankenstein: A Cultural History that looks at the multiple interpretations that plagued Shelley’s creation over the years. A tale of moral ambiguity used to represent Hitler to comic book appearances has become an icon almost any small child within America can describe. My only warning: Hitchcock’s Frankenstein is not exactly light reading and has an academic taste to it, but excepting this word of caution it was an enjoyable read that has got my finger’s itching to try Mary Shelley’s prodigy once more.


Nonfiction: The Magic Lantern: An Autobiography, 2007

A magic lantern according to Wikipedia is “the ancestor of the modern slide projector … With an oil lamp and a lens, images painted on glass plates could be projected on to a suitable screen.” The flickering images from this instrument blossomed into Bergman’s life as a director, etc. and also served as a neat metaphor for the book as his stream of conscious musings tremble from one scene to the next. Yesterday afternoon I finished Ingmar Bergman’s autobiography The Magic Lantern and the conclusion of the book gave me the best advise (possibly ever) on friendships as well as a warm glimpse (unlike previous commentary) into the lives of his intriguing parents.

I first fell in love with Bergman after renting Wild Strawberries and recall upon my first viewing of the movie that I sat attentively near the screen amazed at what unfolded. In his autobiography Bergman spends a good deal of time discussing how any film that isn’t a documentary is a representation of a dream. This perhaps best explains a certain quality that exists to various degrees in all of his films.

According to the autobiography the reader may assume that Bergman had a bit of a wretched childhood, which then blossomed into relationship problems and alienation in his adult life. The sheer amount of autobiographical information that shows up in his movie astounds me. I would have to say my two favorite moments from the book are: one, when his brother told him he could jump out of the second floor window with their grandmother’s umbrella and Ingmar would safely float to the ground. He was stopped but recalled crying not because of the danger or getting into trouble but realizing that indeed he couldn’t fly with the umbrella. And two, a memory of swimming when he attempted to come to the surface but found himself under a raft. He recollects not being scared but opening his eyes to look at the world around him.

I was absolutely thrilled with the autobiography but I also feel safe in saying if you are not acquainted with his films a good portion of the book may be a lost on you. Otherwise splendid and I was thrilled to finish it just in time to watch the Passion of Anna.

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