Beyond Frankenstein—Mary Shelley’s Literary Successes

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Women in Horror

The tragedy of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is that, despite having one of the most famous horror stories of all time, her other work is virtually unknown. Her other two novels, aside from Frankenstein, were actually strange and unique in their own way—keep reading to learn more about the roads Mary Shelley paved for the literary community.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818)

Shelley’s first and most notorious novel was started when she was still a teenager, in 1816, at age 18. Female writers around the world, myself included, are grateful for her contribution to literature, even though she published initial additions anonymously when she was twenty in London in 1818. Her name didn’t actually appear on the publication until the second edition was published in Paris in 1821.

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus

What is incredible about this book is not just that it was written by a teenager, or that it was written by a woman, but that it was written by a woman from the perspective of a young male scientist. This story arose from her travels through Europe in 1815 while she traveled along the Rhine in Germany. Eleven miles away from what is considered Frankenstein Castle, where two centuries before her visit a mad alchemist conducted various experiments. She continued her travels across Geneva, Switzerland—which was also used as a setting for much of the novel. Shelley and her traveling companions had incredibly controversial conversations that ranged from the occult to galvanism—this of course was around the time that Luigi Galvani was conducting his experiments with his frog galvanoscope.

The legend of how Shelley came up with her idea of this particular novel tells us that Shelley and her traveling companions, most all of them writers, decided to have a contest amongst themselves. They wanted to challenge each other and see, who among them could create the most engaging, terrifying, and outrageous horror story. Initially stumped by the prompt, Shelly thought upon the topic for days until she finally had a dream that would inspire her to write the story of a scientist who created life, only to be horrified by his own creation.

The story of Victor Frankenstein was rather controversial due to the idea of Galvani’s technology and what his experiments meant for the scientific community at the time. So, Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist as a man pursuing knowledge that lies in the unorthodox, blasphemous fields of secrets yet-to-be-told. Life and death are uncertainties in this story, when Victor creates a sapient creature, one constructed from the pilfered parts of those who have died.

Galvani’s experiments gave the scientific community a lot of ideas about reanimation after death and also launched experimental medical treatments using electricity to cure diseases that were incurable at the time. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the process that Luigi Galvani used to achieve this ground-breaking discovery about electrical impulses and the nerve system, there are a few YouTubers who decided to replicate the experiment. Enjoy!

The Last Man (1826)

Shelley’s novel The Last Man is an unusual topic for the time during which it arose; originally published in 1826, this book envisions a future Earth—set in the late twenty-first century—that is ravaged by plague and unknown pandemic. It harbors the eery scene of a planet in the throes of apocalypse, where society has degraded to a dystopian nightmare, amidst the ravages of an unchecked and unknowable plague that blankets the globe.

The Last Man

In order to write this particular novel, Shelley spent time sitting in meetings of the House of Commons in order to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a Romantic Era political system. As such, she created another first in literature—dystopian apocalyptic visions of the future within the writing community. Due to the insanely new concept of a dystopic world, her novel was suppressed by the literary community at large, as it was a wholly nightmarish idea at the time. It was almost considered prophecy and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the novel resurfaced to the public where it was clearly understood to be a work of fiction.

Mathilda (1959)

Mathilda is one of those books that, if it had been published during Shelley’s lifetime, it might have created another scandal for Mary Shelley—as such her second long work, despite having been written between August 1819 and February 1820, wasn’t published until 1959, well after Shelley’s death. While this isn’t a horror novel, it does provide some insight into the dark and depressed mind of Shelley following the death of two of her children. Their deaths in 1818 and 1819 respectively caused Mary Shelley to distance herself emotionally and sexually from her husband which was an incredible hardship on their marriage.

The plot of this particular novel dealt with a common theme found in Romance Era novels—incest and suicide, this novel in particular was the narrative of a father’s incestuous love for his daughter. Now you may be thinking—that’s disgusting! And by today’s standards of familial relationships and romantic relationships, you would be correct.

Mathilda tells her story from her deathbed, having barely lived to her twenties, in order to tell the story of her darkest secrets that have led her to such a young demise. She confesses the truth of her isolated upbringing which leads to the ultimate begrudging truth of her emotional withdrawal and inevitable, secluded death. She never names her father, who confesses his incestuous love for her—his confession fuels his decision to commit suicide by drowning.

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Blue in Green – Music, Secrets and Ghosts

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Best Horror Books Best Of Best of Comics Featured

It is well documented that music can have an almost otherworldly hold over us; lowering stress hormones, raising dopamine levels, evoking specific memories, or transporting us to various times and places. But if music has this sort of cosmic power, could it possibly turn into a type of cosmic horror? For example, could a malevolent force created from art stalk us with intent to harm, as in the film Velvet Buzzsaw? Or could the bewitching and obsessive pursuit of art make monsters out of regular people, like what happens in the film Whiplash? Or maybe, as we see in the graphic novel Blue in Green, the terrifying reality lies somewhere in between. 

The story begins with a man named Erik getting a call that his mother has passed, prompting him to return to his childhood home, where he finds a photograph of an unknown man in his mother’s most prized possessions. The ensuing questions launch Erik on a quest that will lead him down some unexpected paths. Who was that man? What was his mother’s connection to him? And who exactly is the pale figure lurking in the periphery of the pages? More clues are uncovered and the mystery deepens as the story twists and turns, winding its way to an ultimately shocking conclusion.

Erik is a character struggling with his current situation in life. A talented saxophone player, he now squanders his skill teaching college classes and avoiding any close relationships. He ponders the fragility of life and wonders how many of us will leave this world without making an impact. His own desires, his failings, the expectations of family and society – all of these topics are the swirling subconscious maelstrom that push the story forward and pull back the curtain to its darker underpinnings. 

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Image from Blue and Green Graphic novel featuring a scared face and a tentacle

And this story certainly has a sinister underbelly. I love stories like this, full of dread, ambiguity, and uncertainty. From the very first image of the pale man you know something is off, but the terror stays in the background for much of the story, adding to the mystery and unraveling the deeper Erik digs. It’s still horror, but more of the understated, slithering-beneath-the-skin kind, which makes those moments when it bursts into daylight even more terrifying. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to say too much about the plot. Not just because I don’t want to give away spoilers, but because this is truly a tale that needs to be experienced.

While the story from writer Ram V is good, the art from Anand RK is really what makes this graphic novel shine. I don’t think I’ve seen a style quite like this, and I was continuously blown away with every page. It’s a mesmerizing blend of architectural precision, vaguely brushed forms, and a particularly gorgeous and enchanting array of colors thanks to John Pearson. The unconventional design of the pages is also really neat, shifting from full page spreads to pages with panels strewn about it like panes of glass. It reminds me of Dave McKean’s work, specifically on the Grant Morrison tale Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (and now that I think of it the pale man shares a resemblance to the Joker). Regardless, the art is captivating and it works well to elevate the story. 

The Blue in Green graphic novel is a story first and foremost about music and the creative pursuit. But it also weaves in ideas about the burdens of the past and the ghosts that haunt our present. It’s about family secrets, loss, rapture, unexplainable feelings, and cosmic dread. We are confined to the mind of Erik, and as the story progresses we have to question how reliable of a narrator he really is. I may not have understood everything that happened, but I know it was well worth the experience. This is a story that is ripe for further read throughs and I’m already itching to dive back in.

Blue in Green is available now from Image Comics.

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Book Recommendation “Girl on Fire”

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Gemma Amor’s “Girl on Fire.” Gemma Amor is a Bram Stoker Award nominated horror fiction author, podcaster and voice actor based in the UK. Her books include Cruel Works of NatureDear Laura, White PinesGirl on Fire, and These Wounds We Make. She’s also co-creator, writer and voice actor for horror-comedy podcast Calling Darkness, starring Kate Siegel. Her stories are feature on the NoSleep PodcastShadows at the Door, Creepy and the Grey Rooms podcast.

Author Gemma Amor headshot

SYNOPSIS: Ruby Miller is free at last. Free from her past, her tormentor, her shitty family and the even shittier odds she was given at birth. But freedom has a price, and when the young girl hell-bent on starting a new life crashes her cherry red 1989 Pontiac Bonneville on America’s loneliest road, she finds out just how dear that price is. From the Bram Stoker Award nominated author of Dear Laura and White Pines comes a new novella, a searing tale of fire, revenge and redemption, a coming-of-age tale with a bite, because, let’s face it… happy endings are for children, and some girls just want to watch the world burn.

Review by Ben Vicariously 4/5 stars.

This story starts with a bang (literally) and is paced like wildfire, zipping through a tale of a young girl’s burning fury being unleashed upon the world. Ruby’s traumatic past haunts her still, and all she wants to do is see the world burn. She is the girl on fire, and her killing rage is both righteous and overwhelmingly destructive. Unfortunately for those around her it is only going to escalate.

To read the full review, click here!

Girl on Fire by Gemma Amor is available now.

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Book Recommendation – Jennifer Strange

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Reviews

Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Jennifer Strange by Cat Scully.

Cat Scully is the author-illustrator of the queer young adult horror series Jennifer Strange, pitched as Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark meets Evil Dead. She’s best known for her world maps, which have been published with Random House, Simon and Schuster, and Sourcebooks. When she’s not writing and illustrating books, Cat works in video game development for the Deep End Games on their next title Romancelvania.

Cat Scully author photo

Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange is the Sparrow, cursed with the ability to give ghosts and demonic spirits a body – a flesh and blood anchor in the mortal world – with the touch of her hand. When a ghost attacks her high school and awakens her powers, her father dumps her unceremoniously in the care of her estranged older sister Liz, leaving only his journal as an explanation. Drawn to the power of the Sparrow, the supernatural creatures preying on Savannah, Georgia will do anything to receive Jennifer’s powerful gift. The sisters must learn to trust each other again and uncover the truth about their family history by deciphering their father’s journal…because if they can’t, Jennifer’s uncontrolled power will rip apart the veil that separates the living from the dead.

Reviews

“JENNIFER STRANGE is a gruesomely fun, demon-infested YA romp in which two teenage sisters learn and ply the family’s secret demon-fighting trade. A promising debut.”

Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Survivor Song

“This debut novel is overflowing with sardonic wit and memorably feisty (and satisfyingly angry) female protagonists…It’s clear this is a story that has more to come, and horror buffs will happily anticipate the next volume.”

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Wow, I had SO much fun with this book! There’s an element of mystery to it right from the beginning, but then it also turns fairly gruesome and horrifying very early on. It reads like a typical YA book, so I was actually caught off guard (in the best way) by the brutality and pulse-pounding scares of our protagonist’s first major paranormal encounter. It’s violent, it’s instantly memorable, it lasts for three glorious chapters, and it instantly hooked me into the book. From that point on reading this was pure bliss.”

Ben Long, reviewer at @reading.vicariously

To read the full review, click here!

Jennifer Strange by Cat Scully is available now at Horror Hub Marketplace

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Book Recommendation – Labyrinth of the Dolls

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Reviews

Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Labyrinth of the Dolls by Craig Wallwork.

Craig Wallwork is the author of the novels Labyrinth of the Dolls, Bad People, and The Sound of Loneliness, as well as the short story collections, Quintessence of Dust, and Gory Hole. His stories have been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, many of which feature in various anthologies and magazines both in the U.K. and U.S. He currently lives in England.

Craig Wallwork author photo

Synopsis

It’s been one year since the horrific murders of Stormer Hill, and the events of that time continue to resonate with Detective Constable Tom Nolan. In an attempt to find the second killer, known only as the Ragman, Nolan joins West Yorkshire’s Murder Investigation Team. Partnered with Jennifer Morrison, a straight-talking detective with her eye on promotion, the two officers are assigned to track down a new killer whose victims are all found dressed like human dolls. As the investigation progresses, Nolan becomes an intricate piece in the killer’s grand vision that puts his life in danger.

Reviews

“Wallwork is a talented crime-thriller storyteller. He delivers what genre buffs want: An investigator we care about, grisly murder scenes, unexpected plot developments, and hideously wicked ‘bad people’. LABYRINTH is everything. Wallwork develops our stalwart constable Tom Nolan even further for his readers; emotional investment is at a new level of intensity that I was not expecting.”

Sadie Hartmann, Mother Horror

“I’m happy to report that this sequel retains everything I loved about the first book, while adding new twists, more insight into Nolan’s character, and a creepy new killer. Without spoiling too much I’ll just say that I loved this sequel! The blend of crime thriller and psychological horror, the police procedural elements, the impeccable pacing, the strong writing voice and vivid detail, the gruesome moments and surprising turns – all of it is great!”

Ben Long, reviewer at @reading.vicariously

To read the full review, click here!

Labyrinth of the Dolls by Craig Wallwork is available now at Horror Hub Marketplace

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