My New Book
The Creature: Forgotten Prometheus
After a year of living with my characters and story I’ve finally got to the editing
stage of my new book:
The Creature: Forgotten Prometheus
If all goes to plan it should be available in December, just in time for the holidays.
Let me share the story of how my new book came about.
I did not read Mary Shelley’s master work her gothic novel: “Frankenstein,
The Modern Prometheus” until last year (2013). My wife Julia had read it many years
ago and kept encouraging me to read it knowing, as she does, my taste in literature.
But you know how it is, there is so much to read and so little time to read it.
I have seen many of the motion pictures of Shelley’s wonderful book, but not one
of the 35 films made, of this stupendous story, comes close to capturing her nuances into the human condition. The only one that I have seen that really had anything to do with Shelley’s layered and intriguing world was the 1994 “Frankenstein” directed by Kenneth Branagh. It cast Branagh as Victor Frankenstein and Robert De Niro as the Creature. But even this fine movie does not capture the full power of Shelley’s master work.
This amazing peace of literature remained on my list of books to read for a long time.
Then suddenly my mind was changed when a good friend wrote me an email out of the blue.
His overwhelming passion for this great literature made me move Shelley’s master work
to the top of my reading list. After reading it I was deeply moved. I too became enamored,
just like my wife, my friend, and so many others that have enjoyed her deep and meaningful
and highly layered and complex book.
Let me share the email that my friend sent to me and of which I am eternally grateful.
“Mary Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818, during the enlightenment,
therefore just at the time when science was taking over from religious dogma as an explanation
for the natural world and our place in it. Elements were being discovered and with it modern
chemistry was born; geology was just beginning to be considered as a science and its findings
were leading to a questioning of the 4004 BCE biblical origin of the earth. Naturalists such
as Joseph Banks were starting to bring back exotic specimens from round the world to be
studied systematically rather than simply collected. Technology was improving to the extent
that Hershel was making wonderful telescopes and showing that the distances in the universe
were vast. It was also a time of great social change, Tom Payne wrote The Rights of Man and
Common Sense, and the American and French revolutions took place. Societies were changing,
and more people were travelling with increasing exchange of ideas. The rights and expectations
of people in society were argued about. Philosophers such as Kant and Voltaire were putting
forward ethical theories of how society should be organized and what society owed to its
citizens, also how people should be governed and what were the duties of those who made up society.
Important to the book were the changes in social roles and the attitudes
to and ways of bringing up children. Parental roles and duties were being questioned more
than they had been for hundreds of years. It was a time when women were just beginning to be
accepted as having independent thought and abilities. True it was a long way from the vote and
any sort of equality, but a few women were being admitted to the learned societies and taking
part in debates. The philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft was accepted by many as a leading thinker
for her work. She was Mary Shelley’s mother and was a brilliant, but maverick, philosopher
who shocked intellectuals not just with her ideas, but also her behavior. She was in France at
the time of the revolution and wrote the Vindication of the rights of man. She later wrote the
Vindication of the rights of women, which was the first published book arguing that women had
equal intellectual capacity to men and it was attitudes and education, but above all the abuse of
power by men that kept women silly and subservient.
The Royal Society was the greatest of many learned societies flourishing at
the time. Joseph Banks had made it into a powerhouse for airing, discussing and publishing ideas
about art, philosophy and science. The chemist Humphrey Davey took over from Banks as President
and his lectures and demonstrations were very popular.
Mary Shelley belonged to a social set that included writers, philosophers and
scientists. Her husband, Percy Shelley, was especial friends with Byron, Coleridge, Keats and
Wordsworth as well as many of the leading philosophers and scientists of the time. They were
interested in and attended the Royal Society. Coleridge and Byron had been close friends with
Davey and Herschel. They all believed themselves Renaissance men who could be leading thinkers
in both the arts and sciences. Mary’s mother died of puerperal sepsis ten days after
Mary’s birth, but Mary was an adored child. She was educated well and was taken, by her
father, the philosopher William Goodwin, to hear Davey at the Royal society in 1812 when aged 14.
She afterwards attended the society regularly and was inspired to read Davey’s Discourse
on Chemistry. She was therefore the child of radical philosopher parents, brought up in an
intellectual atmosphere where she was educated to think and she married into the leading
intellectual social circle of the time.
From about 1790 to the 1820s there was a great debate about
‘Vitalism’, the force of life and the role of electricity ‘Galvanism’
had in it. A proponent of one view was Dr Abernethy who felt there was a life force possibly
related to electricity, which came from some other being: ‘God’. His star pupil was a
Dr Lawrence who was elected to the Royal Society in 1816 at the young age of 33. He was an
atheist who thought of ‘Man the machine’ with no role for a vital spark from
‘God’ or that electricity was the origin of life’s force. There was no love lost
between Abernethy and Lawrence with their antagonism spilling over into public debate at the
Royal Society as well as in the journals.
Abernethy had treated Coleridge for his opium addiction and corresponded
with him about his theories. By contrast Percy Shelley was a patient of Lawrence and they also
met socially on many occasions. The poets and their social set became engrossed in the arguments
as to the origin of life. Mary eloped with Percy in 1814 to France and Switzerland, returning via
a riverboat on the Rhine. Her diaries show they were discussing notions of creating artificial
life and remarked on the appearance of huge monstrous laborers they met beneath the local schloss
known as castle Frankenstein. In 1817, at the height of this ‘Vitalism’ debate,
Lawrence advised Shelley to go to the continent for his health and he and Mary left for Italy,
stopping off on the way to meet up with other intellectuals such as the scientist and philosopher
Mary was therefore very much part of the exciting flowering of new ideas and must have felt a young woman at the center of a thrilling brave new world. I may have thought in the 1960s/70s that ‘The Times they are a changing,’ but as Wordsworth said of the Enlightenment: ‘Bliss it was in that gray dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.’
The trigger for the novel was a dinner party at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva. Present were Mary and Percy Shelley. Byron was there too in exile from England because of his sexual exploits including a notorious affair with Lady Caroline Lamb the wife of Lord Melbourne, the future Prime Minister. Caroline had dubbed Byron ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know.’ Byron’s travelling companion, Dr Polidori, was also there. They talked especially about Vitalism and Galvanism. They discussed the galvanic experiments on the artificial generation of life and the development of the brain. They challenged each other to write a ghost story involving the creation of life. Byron wrote a fragment about a dying explorer. Percy Shelley composed his atheist poem Mont Blanc and Polidori a gothic tale ‘Vampyre’, long since forgotten; although it was read by Bram Stoker and may have been the inspiration for Dracula.
Mary’s writing of Frankenstein can be followed from her journals. She fell pregnant while she was writing the book and she was thinking about her bringing new life to the world and what she might owe to it. Mary also reflected about how her mother had died in childbirth, and she wondered how her child might be brought up without her should she die. She delivered the book to the publisher three weeks before going into labor.
The book is as good and relevant today as it ever was as it explores universal ethical and moral themes about the creation of life. It challenges what science can and what it should do. It is told in the form of letters written by an explorer, Robert Walton Saville, to his sister. His obsessive ambition is to find the North West Passage. To achieve this objective he recklessly exposes himself and his crew to great danger. Walton patronizingly assures his sister that, ‘I am going to the land of mist and snow, but I shall kill no albatross.’ Very much an echo of the themes explored in the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Walton recognizes himself and his demons in Frankenstein’s tale and how Frankenstein’s obsession had destroyed him. He learns and turns his ship back south. He provides the medium for both Frankenstein and then the Monster to tell their stories.
Doctor Frankenstein is a driven man, obsessed with the idea of learning the secrets of life. We see he had been inspired by lectures on the new sciences by a Professor Waldman of Ingolstadt (Shelley puts direct quotes from Davey’s Royal Society Discourse on Chemistry lectures into Frankenstein’s mouth), but Frankenstein does not see the moral consequences. Only when he succeeds in bringing a creature to life does he realize what he has done and to his shame, he runs away abandoning his creation.
The book explores what it would be like to be brought to life fully formed as a blank page and then abandoned. How would we know what pain or pleasure is or how to interpret our surroundings? Shelley explores the idea of to what extent the creature would be human, would it have a soul? Do any of us? She explores how a mind might mature while she tells how the creature learns to survive. Because it is so huge and ugly the creature is spurned by all mankind, but it yearns for companionship. It finds it, but only by surreptitiously observing a family from a hiding place. It uses the family to learn to talk and read. But the family drive it away and goaded by misery and solitude, it kills. Shelley explores the very modern theme of how upbringing and brutalization can be responsible for how humans behave in our society. As the creature says, ‘I was benevolent and good, misery made me a fiend.’
The creature and Frankenstein meet and Frankenstein is persuaded to create a female companion for the monster out of a sense of compassion, but also from a sense of duty for what he owes his creation in the way of happiness. Later Frankenstein reflects he could be signing the death warrant of all humanity as it will be replaced by the offspring of the monster. He destroys the half built female creature and he wonders if this was murder of a potential life and where does life begin? Today we might think of it in terms of the abortion debate.
The monster in grief and fury, revenges itself by killing all that Frankenstein holds dear. Monster and creator become locked in a pact of mutual destruction with Frankenstein finally pursuing the creature to the ends of the world. Frankenstein dies, having told his story.
Now that its creator, the object of its hatred, has gone the monster has nothing to live for. Unlike modern film portrayals, where the monster is a mute brute, Shelley’s monster is articulate and sensitive. In contrast to Frankenstein, who is unable to see his mistakes and dies unrepentant with all his hopes blasted; the monster achieves an insight and understanding as well as an acceptance that it is entirely alone and its life has no purpose. It shows itself an intelligent sensitive being with a sense of remorse for its crimes. With nothing to live for, it commits suicide.
The book is a work of genius, and very well written. It can be read as a simple gothic horror story such as Dracula, but it is so much more. I was 17 when I read it and to this day I gasp at the concepts it introduced me to. Ironically only 500 copies were printed and it only became a success from the late 1820s when a stage version was produced in which the subtleties, moral questions and character exploration were lost. Film productions have followed this shallow interpretation of the book and few people bother to read it today. I think this is a shame. The book has even more relevance to the human condition today and especially the issues around the creation and alteration of sentient life, than it was in 1817.
Doctor Paul Diggory
This is the most detailed book recommendation I have ever received in my life, and I expect I will ever receive. Thank you so much for writing this Paul and for being my friend. Your writing inspired me to read Mary Shelley’s: “Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus”, and I am sure it will inspire others to do the same.
My humble hope is that my book continues Mary Shelley’s insight into the human condition. In it I give her creature a larger voice. I try to continue her insight into humanity through her creature’s eyes. Let me know if you believe that I achieved my goal.
The Creature: Forgotten Prometheus
Friday, Dec 5 2014
What a day it was yesterday. My new novel was distributed around the world via Amazon on Kindle and Paperback.
This caused me to go into a great flurry of activity.
The first thing to do was finish the book's marketing video and distribute it to Vimeo and YouTube:
I had put the film together over several months before the book was finished; when it was in its first draft. But I needed to make a few adjustments and finishing touches before it was ready to be pushed into the virtual world of the Internet.
The second thing I had to complete yesterday was the book's web site:
I like to make my books' web sites' the center of the universe of each book. It's a place where all of the book's marketing material reside. Where I can place reviews of the book and let people know where they can buy it.
The Creature is my second novel and is summarized below. I hope you get a chance to read it and if you do please let me know what you think of it at my blog:
The Creature: Forgotten Prometheus, is a sequel to Mary Shelley's master work:
"Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus". This book continues Shelley's Creature's struggle with its reason for existence, its purpose, and its fight against its unnatural nature. As with Shelley's work, this novel expounds the idea of a fabricated human, and examines the unending question of:
"Nature verses Nurture". This novel is a work of fiction, suspense, and horror.
The unexpected discovery of a frozen corpse at the North Pole brings back a giant, hideous, and mysterious creature from the past to present-day California. When the awful thing unexpectedly reawakens from its icy grave it begins a new life in our world.
The Creature tells an exciting, knuckle biting story of this reawakened creature's introduction into a contemporary world. The story explores a modern response to a pseudo human-being. Science is fascinated, greed is motivated, and yet fundamental human traits such as kindness and disgust flow through the story. Are we any better than we were 200 years ago? What benefits has science brought to our social interactions? Who are we, and what differences are we willing to accept?
This imaginative story is scary, fascinating, and raises difficult to answer questions about the very core of what it is to be human.