This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s classic science fiction work, Frankenstein.
The elements of this surprisingly rich novel have been sadly thinned and convoluted in pop culture. Even the name of the scientist, Victor Frankenstein, is mistakenly assigned to the monster itself. Sigh.
Even so, it is remarkable that the writings, in 1818, of a young girl named Mary Shelley were and have remained so consequential. Halloween seems the perfect time to discover a little more about how she came up with this grim, sobering tale. Here are two fabulous books to introduce you to her.
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, written by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Júlia Sardà
published in 2018 by Tundra Books
Júlia Sardà’s brilliant, eerie, atmospheric illustrations dominate every page of this handsomely-spooky book. With one sweeping, cold, grey sky shrouding the landscape, dwarfing young Mary, the stage is set for this unsettling tale.
Bailey briefly fills us in on the sorrow and tumult of Mary’s childhood before whisking her off with Percy Bysshe Shelley to the looming Swiss castle where, as part of a ghost story writing contest, Mary’s mind is set to spinning.
The disparate, gruesome elements which wove themselves together in Mary’s dreams are described, and we readers discover how it was that this 18 year old girl arrived at such a terrifying plot.
Superb artwork, a pithy, exciting text, and high level production quality combine perfectly here to create a sumptuous story for ages 9 and up. A lengthy Author’s Note fills in many more details about Mary Shelley’s life.
She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, written by Lynn Fulton, illustrated by Felicita Sala
published in 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf
The artwork in this book is exceptional as well. It’s intriguing when comparing the two books side by side to see how the illustrators chose such similar palettes and lines, and arrived at such brilliantly atmospheric moods.
In this slightly shorter account, Fulton sweeps us immediately into the stormy night at the house on Lake Geneva, relating the details of the writing contest and the multiple ingredients that fed Mary Shelley’s imagination and nightmarish dreams, resulting in her incredible story.
She pauses to inform us briefly about Mary’s famous mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, but gives no other details about Mary’s life. Both of these books accent the writing of Frankenstein, rather than being more general biographies of Mary Shelley herself.
An Author’s Note tells about the public’s original reaction to Frankenstein as well as the current misconceptions and significance of this novel. I appreciate that Fulton mentions some aspects of Frankenstein often overlooked by those who see it as only a horror story. Excellent background for reading the novel, meeting Mary Shelley, or simply getting the lowdown on that green, scarred monster at all the Halloween parties. Ages 8 and up.