“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!”
Have you noticed the daylight dimming, and the shadows growing? How the warm air is cut by a sudden, chill breeze? Autumn is here: withering our gardens, bringing death to mind, and setting the stage for…Halloween! And what better way to mark this day of spirits and fright, than with a look back at some of the great gothic monsters of yore: Dracula and Frankenstein.
The story of Dracula has frightened and entertained millions of readers, movie goers, and theater aficionados since its original publication in novel form in 1897. At the time, author Bram Stoker was working for the Lyceum, a famous theater in London, and made ends meet by writing gothic adventure novels that titillated their Victorian audience.
Interestingly, Dracula was not the first vampire novel. At the time, many writers such as horror author Sheridan Le Fanu, and penny dreadful writer James Malcom Rymer, had produced short stories and books centered around vampiric monsters. Stoker was undoubtedly inspired by these works, as well as his personal readings on Eastern European folklore and the reign of the sadistic Vlad Drăculea III, a Prince of Wallachia (modern-day Romania). This research gave flavor and color to his descriptions of the Transylvanian mountains from which Dracula descends, and introduced many now-famous vampire related superstitions.
When Dracula was published it received almost universal praise, and inspired a kind of “vampire craze” across Europe. This further boosted the popularity of the novel and gave birth to a informal market for vampire related artifacts and amulets. In the following decades its popularity continued to grow, and spurred the production of a plethora of adaptations, including, the 1931 film Dracula with Boris Karloff in the title role, and the 1992 Academy Award-winning adaptation Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The incredible – or should we say, supernatural – longevity of the Dracula tale seems to indicate that the Count will be haunting fans for generations to come.
Long before Dracula, however, writer Mary Shelley created a different kind of (un)dead monster with her novel Frankenstein. The circumstances that surround the writing of the novel are both eerie and fascinating: In 1814 Shelley traveled through Germany, making a stop at the storied Frankenstein Castle, where alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel was rumored to have performed bizarre anatomical experiments centuries before.
Two years later, Shelley traveled to Geneva to spend the summer with her friend and poet Lord Byron. The weather that year was particularly dreary due to the fallout from a large volcanic eruption in Indonesia, and the guests found themselves spending their days huddled around the fire, reading ghost stories to stay entertained. This inspired Byron to propose a challenge to his guests: to each write their own tale of horror. Shelley was dismayed as she struggled for days to come up with the beginnings of a story. Finally, late one night, she found herself pondering the recent discovery of galvanism – the role electricity plays in animating severed limbs – when inspiration struck:
“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.”
Thrilled by Shelley’s vision, Byron encouraged her to lengthen and publish the short story she produced at the retreat. In early 1818 the first edition of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, was published, and a legend was born. Much like Dracula, the novel has inspired countless adaptations, including the iconic 1931 film “Frankenstein,” featuring Boris Karloff (yet again!), and our personal favorite here at Marty Magic, the 1974 Mel Brooks comedy classic “Young Frankenstein.”
Do the Monster Mash this Halloween!