I am not going to write about all of the disturbing events of the past weeks. I am not writing about the little ghosts, witches, zombies, Stormtroopers and werewolves who knocked on our door trying to scare us on Halloween.
While all of the above are scary; my thoughts today are of the first time I can remember being truly afraid.
It was very late. My bedroom was pitch-dark. Though four windows flanked the two exterior corners of the room, nary a sliver of moonlight or starlight was to be seen. I couldn’t sleep; couldn’t move; could barely breathe.
I was very young. I can’t remember my exact age, but I do remember watching the movie Frankenstein on TV that evening with my brothers and cousin. I heard a noise downstairs. I curled into a ball. Was it my parents returning from their night out? Or was it the monster of the movie, huge and ugly – and scary? I also remember having the viewing of that classic horror film alter my nightly routine of restful sleep for weeks to come.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s classic novel of terror, "Frankenstein."
One has to marvel at an imagination capable of conjuring up the mad scientist, the collage of human body parts stitched together to create a semi-sympathetic monster, the fear-crazed community.
How in the world did an 18-year-old girl come up with this stuff?
Could there have been some creepy, dark event or person in Ms. Shelley’s past which prompted her telling of a story that after 200 years is still scaring new audiences around the world?
Celebrated, radical writer Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary’s mother, died when she was quite young. An evil step-mother entered the picture and convinced her father, William Godwin (a noted English journalist, political philosopher and novelist) that Mary needn’t be formally educated.
Squirreled off in self-imposed isolation, young Mary educated herself, taking full advantage of the family’s extensive library. She helped entertain a constant stream of her father’s distinguished friends, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, and never failed to be within earshot of what was being discussed.
At just 17, Mary began a relationship with a devoted student of her father’s, destined to be noted poet, Percy Shelley, and absconded to Europe with him.
A year later, the Shelleys were among the guests at the villa of Lord Byron in Switzerland. The group entertained themselves one rainy day by reading a book of ghost stories. Lord Byron suggested they all should try their hand at writing their own horror story.
Johnathon Jones writing for the Guardian described it this way:
“One stormy night in 1816, while staying at Lord Byron’s villa near Lake Geneva, an 18-year-old woman tossed and turned in the thunder-filled darkness. Her name was Mary Shelley, and she was having a nightmare about a monster made from scraps of humans.”
Monsters, evil step-moms, vivid imaginations … I wonder, if like me, you feel that these are so much better to think about than the truly scary things happening in the real world around us.