Another Reading Challenge!? Introducing “The Frankenslam!” – a 2018 Frankenstein Bicentennial Reading Challenge

2018 is the Bicentennial of the publication of Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. In honor of this occasion, I created for myself a reading challenge and – upon further reflection – decided to “make it public,” so here goes.

Just what is a “Frankenslam?” Well, when I first read Shelley’s novel – maybe 25 years ago – I remember being struck by how articulate and literate the “monster” was. Do you know how this came to be? If you haven’t read the book you won’t know, but even if you have you may have since forgotten. At a certain point in the novel, the monster is heading back to his “hovel” in the woods and stumbles upon someone’s lost “leathern portmanteau” which contains three books – a volume of Plutarch’s Lives (he doesn’t say specifically other than it contained the lives of the first leaders of the ancient republics,  so maybe that can be intuited(?) – extra credit available there!)  The second is Goethe’s The Sufferings of Young Werther (a.k.a. “The Sorrows of Young Werther”) and the third is John Milton’s Paradise Lost. My challenge to myself is to read all three of these in 2018, thus acquiring a similar ‘base knowledge’ to that of Frankenstein’s monster.  Who’s with me??

To complete a Frankenslam, participants will need to accumulate One Billion (say these last two words like Dr. Evil if you want) Volts (according to nationalgeographic.com each bolt of lightning can contain up to a billion votes – get it?). How do you accumulate volts? By reading the three books, each having a value in volts:

Paradise Lost 375 million volts; Plutarch’s Lives – 350 million volts; The Sufferings of Young Werther – 275 million volts.  If you can finish those three then, congratulations, you have completed a Frankenslam! Ideally, I and other Frankenslammers would also love to read a blog post describing your reaction to these three books (50 million volts) and how they helped shape the “monster,” but the most important thing is to READ them all.

Maybe you are more ambitious than that, though.  If so, there’s also a ‘double secret’ level, the Frankenslam Dunk!  Which you can earn if you also read the original Frankenstein novel itself (200 million volts) and watch the iconic 1931 film version (100 million volts) for a total of 1.3 Billion volts.

If you’re less ambitious, you can try The Frankenlay-up. Reading just one or two of the three books from the leathern portmanteau.

Universal Frankenstein - angry mob

If you don’t have time to do so much reading, do a light-hearted Villagers with Pitchforks and Torches level and maybe just read the Classics Illustrated Comic Book 51wPPHD6o+L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_version of the novel (50 million volts), eat a bowl of Frankenberry cereal (10 million volts – I hope this is still around(?)), watch Young Frankenstein (25 million volts), watch The Bride of Frankenstein (25 million volts) and maybe a few episodes of The Munsters (5 million volts each). Watch an episode or two of the animated Milton the Monster series (for 4 million volts each).

Other ways to accumulate points, er volts:

Convince your book club to read Frankenstein (100 million volts); Go to Geneva Switzerland, the “birthplace” of the novel (100 million volts). Discuss the novel with a reading friend who has read it (25 million volts; limit 4 friends). Buy a leathern portmanteau yourself to proudly carry evidence of your completing a Frankenslam.

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So, have I got everyone “charged up” about this challenge?! You can follow your progress with the convenient scorecard below:

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Okay, so yes, this really is kind of a tongue in cheek challenge, but seriously, wouldn’t it be worthy to have these three famous books under your belt?  Do you know any readers in your circle who have read all three? I’d bet the number of people out there who have is a relatively small number.  I suppose that Mary Shelley herself had read them so as to be able to include them effectively in her novel, but who else?? The only one I’ve read completely is The Sufferings of Young Werther. I’ve tried Paradise Lost before but without success. I’ve read a few individual lives of Plutarch but not a “volume” so I have a lot of reading to do.

Won’t you join me in this unique challenge for 2018? Leave a comment below and I’ll link to you on my sidebar. I’ll also post a “quarterly report” with my progress and updated scorecard.

 

From Chapter 15 of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:

“One night, during my accustomed visit to the neighbouring wood, where I collected my own food, and brought home firing for my protectors, I found on the ground a leathern portmanteau, containing several articles of dress and some books. I eagerly seized the prize, and returned with it to my hovel. Fortunately the books were written in the language the elements of which I had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter. The possession of these treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually studied and exercised my mind upon these histories, whilst my friends were employed in their ordinary occupations.

“I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me an infinity of new images and feelings that sometimes raised me to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection. In the Sorrows of Werter, besides the interest of its simple and affecting story, so many opinions are canvassed, and so many lights thrown upon what had hitherto been to me obscure subjects, that I found in it a never-ending source of speculation and astonishment. The gentle and domestic manners it described, combined with lofty sentiments and feelings, which had for their object something out of self, accorded well with my experience among my protectors, and with the wants which were for ever alive in my own bosom. But I thought Werter himself a more divine being than I had ever beheld or imagined; his character contained no pretension, but it sunk deep. The disquisitions upon death and suicide were calculated to fill me with wonder. I did not pretend to enter into the merits of the case, yet I inclined towards the opinions of the hero, whose extinction I wept, without precisely understanding it.

“As I read, however, I applied much personally to my own feelings and condition. I found myself similar, yet at the same time strangely unlike to the beings concerning whom I read, and to whose conversation I was a listener. I sympathised with, and partly understood them, but I was unformed in mind; I was dependent on none and related to none. ‘The path of my departure was free’; and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.

“The volume of Plutarch’s Lives, which I possessed, contained the histories of the first founders of the ancient republics. This book had a far different effect upon me from the Sorrows of Werter. I learned from Werter’s imaginations despondency and gloom: but Plutarch taught me high thoughts; he elevated me above the wretched sphere of my own reflections to admire and love the heroes of past ages. Many things I read surpassed my understanding and experience. I had a very confused knowledge of kingdoms, wide extents of country, mighty rivers, and boundless seas. But I was perfectly unacquainted with towns, and large assemblages of men. The cottage of my protectors had been the only school in which I had studied human nature; but this book developed new and mightier scenes of action. I read of men concerned in public affairs, governing or massacring their species. I felt the greatest ardour for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice, as far as I understood the signification of those terms, relative as they were, as I applied them, to pleasure and pain alone. Induced by these feelings, I was of course led to admire peaceable lawgivers, Numa, Solon, and Lycurgus, in preference to Romulus and Theseus. The patriarchal lives of my protectors caused these impressions to take a firm hold on my mind; perhaps, if my first introduction to humanity had been made by a young soldier, burning for glory and slaughter, I should have been imbued with different sensations.

“But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it, as I had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting. I often referred the several situations, as their similarity struck me, to my own. Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with, and acquire knowledge from, beings of a superior nature: but I was wretched, helpless, and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me.

 

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Happy Book Lover’s Day!

Did you know that today was National Book Lover’s Day? Neither did I, but I heard on the radio this morning that it was so I googled it and – sure enough there is such a thing. How will you be celebrating? I will probably start by working from 8 to 5, but after that I think I will get started with reading Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being.” What will you be reading?

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Oh, and I have a another tidbit to share:

My first literary neologism: The “Frankenslam!”

(below: Mary Shelley, author of “Frankenstein”)

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I recently learned on Twitter about a book that deals with the lives of Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and the romantics. It’s Lynn Shephard’s “A Treacherous Likeness.”  It sounds very interesting, but I’m not sure if it would be my up of tea or not. It did get me thinking about Mary Shelley again, and her wonderful “monster.” I remember, the first time I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, marveling and how articulate and literate her “Modern Prometheus” was. Although I knew enough not to expect some grunting, lurch-ing Lon Chaney (Boris Karloff?) version of the monster, I was still surprised at his intellect.

How did come by it? Well, during the novel, he finds a portmanteau containing three books which help him educate himself. It is in chapter fifteen when the “monster” describes how he came by part of his education:

“One night during my accustomed visit to the neighboring wood where I collected my own wood and brought home firing for my protectors, I found on the ground a leathern portmanteau containing several articles of dress and some books. I eagerly seized the prize and returned with it to my hovel. Fortunately the books were written in the language, the elements of which I had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sufferings of Young Werther. The possession of these new treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually exercised my mind on these histories…”

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(above: John Milton, author of “Paradise Lost”)

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(below: Plutarch’s Lives)

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It is primarily from these three books that the monster slowly constructs his mighty intellect. How fortuitous that ‘divine providence’ saw fit to not only provide the poor wretch with some books, but some classics! (Perhaps this was the same providence which caused a watertight sea chest to wash ashore “with everything he needed” on Robinson Crusoe’s island?) Anyway, it set me pondering about these three books. I wonder how many of us (besides the monster) have read them all? I assume Mary Shelley did, but at this point, she’s the only person I know of who has completed the relatively rare “Frankenslam!”

I’m on my way, though, as I actually own copies of all three, and have read Geothe’s “The Sufferings of Young Werther” and much of Plutarch’s Lives (and the monster notes that the portmanteau contained “a volume” of Plutarch’s Lives, not all*). I’ve attempted Milton a couple times without success, but maybe trying again should be how I celebrate National Book Lover’s Day? (And I wonder, perhaps it was on August 9th that the monster found the books… )

What about you? How far along are you with the Frankenslam? Have you started? Finished? Will you be joining the small club of those who have managed it?

*re-reading further, he relates that it is the volume that contains the lives of the founders of the ancient republics. I may have to do some research to determine exactly which volume it translates to.

(below: my personal library’s raw materials for a Frankenslam. Note the “used” sticker on the spine of Paradise Lost & Paradise Regained – must’ve bought that at the Wabash College Bookstore way back in the day… Perhaps I should purchase “a leathern portmanteau” in which to keep them?)

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“And now, with the world before me, whither should I bend my steps?” Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

I am completing my third life-to-date reading of this classic, and am once again struck with the utter tragedy of the character of Frankenstein’s Monster. For me, the best – and most heartbreaking – portion of this book is the middle, where – after encountering his creation high in the Swiss mountains – Victor Frankenstein hears the story from the creature’s mouth of how he has spent the year since his creation.  Here we see, finally, some inkling from Victor that he bears some responsibility in the matter of the creation of “the monster” and its consequences. “For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were.” Of course, by this point, Victor may be poisoned beyond repair against the creature, as the latter has already committed the (at least to some degree accidental – “I grasped his throat to silence him, and in a moment he lay dead at my feet”)  murder of his younger brother.

But the saddest part is the story of the time he spent near the cottage of an old blind man and his son and daughter – and later his son’s lover.  It is by observing this family that the creature seems to be on the track to becoming human.  He even helps the family (“they suffered that evil (poverty) in a very distressing degree”) by resupplying their firewood on a nightly basis.  Upon the return of the son’s love – a beautiful “Arabian” – when the family begins teaching her the french language, the creature via his clandestine observations of the goings-on at the cottage is able to learn language right along with her.  He also has the convenient good fortune to find a bag containing three books (The Sufferings of Young Werther, Paradise Lost, and Plutarch’s lives).  He is able to learn from these books, and begins to form a plan to “introduce himself” to these people in hopes of winning their good will and “protection” from the wrath he has already found from other people he has encountered that have flown from him in horror.  He decides to approach the old blind man at the next opportunity, as he knows it is his physical appearance that sends humans into paroxysms of terror and fear.

At this point, I cannot imagine a reader not “rooting for” the creature, but yet every reader must also know this plan is doomed to failure.  When with the old blind man is by himself, the creature knocks on the door and upon admittance begins to tell him at least a toned down version of his pitiable existence and need for human succor, and is seemingly winning him over – until the younger, sighted members of the family return:

“Who can describe their horror and consternation on beholding me?  Agatha fainted, and Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the cottage.  Felix darted forward, and with supernatural force tore me from his father, to whose knees I clung, in a transport of fury, he dashed me to the ground and struck me violently with a stick.  I could have torn him limb from limb, as the lion rends the antelope. But my heart sank within me as with bitter sickness,and I refrained.  I saw him on the point of repeating his blow, when, overcome by pain and anguish, I quitted the cottage, and in the general tumult escaped unperceived to my hovel.”

Even at this point, however, the creature still hopes there is a chance – and so does the reader.  Surely, the old man will tell his son and family  (“It was apparent that my conversation had interested the father in my behalf…”).  However, upon returning to the cottage, the creature learns that the family is going to flee the area permanently. (“‘It is utterly useless,’ relied Felix; ‘we can never again inhabit your cottage.  The life of my father is in the greatest danger, owing to the dreadful circumstance that I have related.'”)  The creature’s fate is sealed… “For the first time the feelings of revenge and hatred filled my bosom.” It is at this point that the creature ponders the quotation that is the title of this post. The rest of the story is well known.

Reading this book has reminded me that I picked up an “unknown” (to me, anyway!) Shelley novel, The Last Man, at a used book sale about a year ago.  I am once again motivated to give that book a try as well.

What about you?  Have you read Frankenstein?  Were you as “surprised” as I initially was by the type of book it was (NOT a “monster story”)?  Can you believe Shelley began writing  this book at the tender age of nineteen?

Above: Boris Karloff’s interpretation of “the monster.” (Debuting the “sports jacket over t-shirt” fashion trend later popularized by Don Johnson on Miami Vice…)

So, What’s on My Reading Schedule for September?

It seems my reading for the next month has already been determined by all my “book club” commitments. This is what’s on the agenda:

1.) There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth (by William E. Bartelt)

This is the September book for the “Bookmama’s” bookstore’s discussion group. I have been to a couple of their previous discussions earlier this year (Fahrenheit 451 & Some Buried Caesar) but haven’t made it back lately due to scheduling conflicts. I spoke to Kathleen, the owner of the store, yesterday and she said that the author of this book will also be there, so I hate to miss an opportunity to discuss a book with the author present. This meeting will take place on Monday, September 13th, so I don’t have much time, but there is a three-day weekend between now and then… Also, I don’t even have a copy of the book yet, but I ordered it yesterday and Kathleen said I could pick it up next weekend. This book also fits into my Project: Civil War reading.

2.) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

This is my book club’s September book a and is actually one that I picked for us to read. (we take turns picking from a list of suggested titles by members of the club, but one cannot pick his own suggested book). Is is one of those books that, throughout my life, friends have suggested I read, saying “knowing you, I bet you’d really like this book,” etc. I’m skeptical but we’ll see. Someone said it sounds a lot like another book my club read (Illusions by Richard Bach) which I did not like AT ALL, so I am a bit concerned… I’ve downloaded this book already from Barnes & Noble and it’s not too long, so we’ll see.

3.) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This will be a re-read for me (third time). My original book club back in the 90’s read it on my recommendation, and I read it myself for the first time in the late 80’s and was very pleasantly surprised, not knowing it wasn’t just a ‘monster book.” This book is the featured reading of a “Great Books” reading group on the north side of Indianapolis, a couple members of which I’ve met on my visits to the local chapter of the CFI (Center for Inquiry), an organization that promotes science and critical thinking. They have a weekly Sunday morning “coffee & conversation” at their location downtown on the canal, which usually features a lot of intimidatingly smart people. For the most part I just keep quiet and nod my head occasionally…

4.) Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut

One of my favorite “discoveries” this year is the soon-to-open Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in downtown Indianapolis. They actually have an all-Vonnegut book club that meets the last Thursday of the month (September 30th in this case). I visited them last week for their meeting on Slapstick (more on that later) and it’s a nice group of people, one of whom was a personal friend of Vonnegut(!) and another of whom knows mNy of the Vonnegut family through her work in establishing the memorial library.

That seems like a lot of reading (“required” reading, anyway) for one month, but I think I’ll be able to handle it, and it’s not any more than I’ve been averaging this year.

Well, that’s what’s on tab for Jay this month. What are you reading? Have you read any of these four? Anything I “need to know”…?

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