Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Mary, Frank and Me

 Mary, Frank and Me
as told by the ghost of Percy Bysshe Shelley channeled through Doc Walton

Mary was the uncontested beauty of our group, a walking wraith of sunshine and light.  We all loved her, none so much as I of course, and there was not a man or perhaps a woman as well, for we were a libertine lot after all, among us who would not have gladly changed places with me, the object, for reasons I will never understand, of her eye.  But I wish not to linger here on Mary's physical charms as I will spend a lifetime singing her song elsewhere inspired by the realization that the beauty I find in nature was awakened first in me by the mere sight of her.  I wish, rather, to speculate how it all came about, the work that made Mary's name known to all.

We had gathered as we often do near Lake Geneva, Switzerland.  The year as I recall was 1816.  Lord Byron, a dear friend and at that time the only one of us to have a farthing to fling, had invited us to stay at his baronial lodgings for the summer in the Villa Diodati at Cologne.  Mary and her stepsister, Claire Clairmont who was at the time pregnant with our host’s child, along with a young doctor friend of Lord’s, one John Polidori, and I had all been friends for some time, drawn together by our liberal views and our commitment to the literary arts.  We were to spend the days exploring the countryside with its renowned botanical lushness - surely fodder for my pen - boating on the lake, writing, and in general taking the air to clear one’s head of the wine and laudanum to which we had ample access during the long evenings spent together reading each other’s works and engaging in conversations the like of which would curl the hair of an ordinary citizen of the day were he or she to overhear the religious blasphemy, the sexual openness, and the political diatribes we each were prone to espouse.  Mary’s views, I must mention, were surprisingly among the darkest and she often called upon me to offer up one of my verses to ease her gloomier moods.

The weather that summer, as if to dampen our group’s usually high spirits and turn our thoughts as well as our physical selves inwards, was abominable.  There was incessant rain accompanied by cannon-like thunder and blinding bolts of lightning that left one both deaf and sightless if caught outdoors or too near an open portico. Mary alone seemed undisturbed by lightning’s sudden intrusion and raw power; an indicator I suspect here in hindsight of what was to become.  Among the dreariest of conditions was the constant chill that pervaded if one ventured beyond the reach of hearth’s fire.  We were all, with Polidori’s possible exception, of an emotional disposition - none more so than Mary - and consequently were affected by the weather more than others of lighter heart whose personalities allow them to shake off the gloom of a grey day and carry on if not cheerfully at least with the optimistic outlook that the next day will dawn warmer and brighter . 

It was during an evening of rainfall such as I have described, that Lord Byron, to fill a conversational void brought on by the lack of wit that accompanies a group depression, suggested that he read aloud from not some of his lovely verses, but rather, from a book of German ghost stories that he had found among the villa’s meager library offerings.  We agreed eagerly - anything to change the mood - and listened attentively as he did so.  Polidori, a passionate man and imaginative writer, followed the reading with a story of his own creation.  It involved a hideous blood sucking beast.  It was sketchy and incomplete, but found us all paying rapt attention during the telling.  Polidori had no ending for his tale and asked us to find a conclusion for him.  Not one among us agreed to the request for none could duplicate the unique style of Polidori’s imaginings.  He was left to find his own ending, a task he accomplished somewhat later with surprising results.  Just before we retired for the evening, Lord Byron put forth the suggestion that we all write our own horror stories and read them aloud at some future date, the group to decide then whose tale of terror was best.   I readily acquiesced along with the others even though I knew that my being a lyrical poet put me at somewhat of a disadvantage.  My tale, if I may shamelessly trumpet it now, was penned much later as I was slow to find a theme.  It was ancient mythology and Mary’s story that inspired me eventually to pen Prometheus Unbound.  The date for our group’s original offerings was set for three weeks hence.

Two stories of historical note were born as a result of that evening’s challenge.  Mary’s, of course, is most certainly the more famous, but Polidori’s Vampyre had as lasting a consequence on the literary endeavors of the future as Mary’s “Modern Prometheus.”  Vampyre gave us a creature that Bram Stoker would meld with his vision of the undead and deliver in his brilliant gothic novel Dracula.  But it is Mary’s horrible yet somehow sympathetic creation that endures unrevised to this day. 

How such a monster had been wrought from the mind of a gentle, well bred,  woman of the age I will now endeavor to explain.

Mary was but a child of sixteen years and I a lad of barely twenty-one when we fell  deeply in love.  Her father, William Godwin, a philosopher and writer of some reputation in his own right, once a friend, was no longer so for reasons I wish not to detail here for they have little if any impact on my subject.  Allow me to just recall that he did not approve of a union between Mary and me and it was for this reason our affair took on a clandestine aspect.  We met often in secret and in the most unlikely of places, a truly ghostly setting. We gathered during night’s darkest hours in the cemetery that held the coffin of Mary’s own mother.  It was upon the lush grass growing from the soil above her grave that Mary and I consummated our love.  This location and the deeds done there, I would submit, planted the first seed in Mary’s fertile imagination that would grow in time to become her most famous creation.

After months of planning Mary and I fled from her father’s domain never to return. We wandered Europe for a few years uncertain where to alight.  I had early on some family money and earned a bit more as a critically acclaimed but as yet not popular and thus not often published poet.  When my family disowned me for my scandalous behavior and ceased my funding we were often nearly destitute.  We had, however, acquired many good friends, Lord Byron among them, and from time to time accepted their patronage.  We wished during our better, more flushed hours, to have a child and although Mary’s womb proved as fertile as her imagination, her body initially proved incapable of bringing one to full term and our first three were lost.  This, it seems to me was the second psychological factor in her mind’s sculpting of what would become Victor Frankenstein and his monster.  What parent I ask you would not wish to bring life to that which they had conceived but remained unborn?

There then lacked but the asking for the tale to arrive on the page and our group had done just that, much as writer’s groups in your modern era often inspire works that would never have been wrenched from minds busy elsewhere were it not for suggested topics.

Mary brought her Frankenstein to us in a shortened form that long ago day and it was quickly deemed the best of all.  It was at our insistence that she would later lengthen to completeness her fantastic tale. 

Though it is impossible to fully explain the nature of one’s creative effort, Mary did reveal to me as we sipped champagne on the date of the book’s first publication, that the parts for her story were all lodged randomly in her subconscious and her task was simply – if the word simply applies here - to dredge them, sort them, and pen them to paper.  She wanted a creature equal in its gruesomeness to Polidori’s own. - we were, after all, in a competition, albeit of our own devising – and she found it in Victor Frankenstein’s assemblage of body parts robbed from the graves of the recently dead.  The lightning Mary so often pondered would spark the monster to life and then would follow the agony of its existence as a being separate and apart from all others; an agony that could and would lead to violence.  Victor Frankenstein, perhaps the original “Mad Scientist,” would bear the ultimate responsibility for the abomination he brings to life and the consequences of its actions.  He would follow it to the far corners of the earth endeavoring to put an end to the torment that both he and the creature share… but to no avail.  His inhuman creation not born of woman cannot die and will wander the earth for eternity.  In the end a tragedy, not a horror story at all.

But the book was not received that way and Mary tried unsuccessfully to distance herself from her famous Frankenstein by writing other books.  None, though, would prove to have an impact anything near that of her singular masterpiece of the macabre.  For several years following the book’s publication her notoriety would bring distress, but she would ultimately come to understand and accept that she and Victor Frankenstein’s undying monster would make her, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, immortal as well.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

2014 Book List


 1. The Litagators   John Grisham   Entertaining and informative as Grisham always is.

2. The Strain   Guillermo Del Toro   First book of a trilogy.  A new kind of vampire.  First half of the 
book is very good. Second half, not so much.

 3. Five short stories from The Best Of P.G. Wodehouse  Always a pleasure.

4. The Rosie Project   Graeme Simsion  Entertaining love story with a mildly autistic/genius narrator. Good fun.

5. A Short History of Nearly Everything   Bill Bryson.  The big picture made clear.  Good stuff.

6. Paper Trails   Pete Dexter  Pete’s newspaper columns.  Great reads.

7. The Intrusion of Jimmy   P.G. Wodehouse  Great fun as always.

8.  How Long is Now?  Tim Freke  Interesting philosophical tome. Worth a look see by anyone.

9. The Goldfnch   Donna Tartt  A deserving Pulitzer winner.  Beautifully written.

10.  Darkly Dreaming Dexter  Jeff Lindsey  Fun, fast read from which the Dexter TV show’s first episode was written.

11. Mary’s Mosaic   Peter Janney   How JFK’s main squeeze was murdered and by who.  Nice companion piece to JFK and the Unspeakable.

12,  Rainbow’s End   Martha Grimes  Another satisfying Richard Jury and Company mystery.

13.  The Little Nugget.  P.G. Wodehouse  Always fun, but this one is not special.

14.  Silent in the Grave  Deanna Raybourn   Mystery set in the 19th century and told by the protagonist, Lady Julia Grey. Plays out in a nice unhurried fashion.

15. The Strain Book 2    Guillermo Del Toro  The story expands, becomes broader in scope.  Just good enough to move me on to book 3.

16. Silent in the Sanctuary.  Deanna Raybourn   Lady Grey solves another murder mystery in her own unique style.

17. Vertigo 42    Martha Grimes  Martha’s latest is one of her best.

18. Silent on the Moor  Deanna Raybourn  Nice wrap up of the trilogy.

19. Over Easy  Mimi Pond  Graphic novel set in a ‘70s diner.  Big fun.

20. The Little Warrior  P.G. Wodehouse  Love and complications around the making of a Broadway play.  Good P.G. stuff, as always.

21. Foul Matter  Martha Grimes  Most entertaining book of the year so far.  Read it all in two sittings. Publishers, writers, agents, editors and …hit-men. Fabulous!

22. Cold Flat Junction    Martha Grimes  More good Martha.  Twelve year old girl narrator solves murder mystery.

23.  The Deer Leap   Martha Grimes  Like I was when I ran out of Dick Francis’ mysteries, I will be when I’ve read the last of Martha’s, sad.  Always good entertainment.

24.  The Man With A Load Of Mischief.  Martha Grimes   Martha’s first Inspector Jury mystery.  I’m caught up now and will let Martha go for awhile.

25.  It’s Only Slow Food Until You Try To Eat It   Bill Heavy  Good writing from a man trying to catch, shoot, grow and forage for his own food.     

26.  The Souls of All Living Creatures   Vint Virga  D.V.M.  Caring for animals and philosophically linking their ways to ours.  Well done.

27. The Road Home  Jim Harrison  A great book.  A long, slow, deep read. I savored it from beginning to end.

28.  Love Among the Chickens  P.G.Wodehouse  Frolics and love at a chicken farm by people who know nothing about chicken farming.

29.   Different Seasons  Stephen King  I had read this collection of novellas before but didn’t realize it until I was well into it again, so I continued on.  Four solid stories and an interesting afterword.

30.  Desperation   Stephen King   Not one of his best, but still readable.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


                           PRINCE CHARMING
                                     By Doc Walton

And they lived happily ever after.

If by ever after I mean about a year.

You see the thing is kids, and you might as well learn this now, Princes on the whole are not really a settle down and live happily ever after kind of royalty.  At least not the young ones.  They are generally handsome, they are generally rich and they are for the most part a fun loving bunch of fellows.  And seriously, why wouldn't they be?  Given that handsome and rich part there is not much in the way of fun that isn't available to them.

Take the case of Prince Charming for example.  You all know Prince Charming.  He's the one that went in search of the foot that fit the glass slipper Cinderella left at the ball.  He finds it, of course, with Cinderella attached and bibbety bobbety boo off they go to live happily ever after…end of story.  Well that's what they would like you to believe kids; they being the writers of happy endings.   What really happened is a whole nother story.  Who here wants to hear it? 

Everybody?  Alrighty then, I can't give you all the gritty details because you are too young for that, but I'll give you the story in short and you can fill in the rest when you are older. 

Cinderella - let's call her Cindy - was in fact a beautiful young woman, especially so when her fairy godmother was seeing to her, but no eye sore the rest of the time either.  For awhile this was enough to keep the prince interested.  He was particularly enchanted by Cindy's lovely little feet which was, after all, why he had hunted her down in the first place.  He would spend time every day caressing, fondling and kissing them.  Cindy, for her part was still flummoxed and bewildered that she was there in the palace for real, so whatever the prince wanted to do was okay by her.  She did, though, secretly wish the prince would move along to other, er, ah, entertainments a bit faster.  Let’s call it dancing.  The prince was a pretty good… dancer.  Months go by and Charming’s foot fetish wanes some and the difference between his upbringing and Cindy's becomes more and more apparent.  He has been highly educated and she barely.  I mean they can only dance for so long and then talking is usually required.  It turns out they have little in common to talk about.  The prince rattles on about history, foreign lands and politics, boring Cindy half to death, because what she wants to talk about is the terrible mistreatment she had undergone at the hands of her step family.  Neither one is interested in the other's day to day chatter and what with that foot thing occurring less and less often, the prince decides that riding about the countryside is more fun than hanging around the house.  Cindy for the most part doesn’t miss him.  She simply reverts to old habits and spends her days cleaning tapestries and polishing the armor of knights long past that are assembled upright in corners here and there about the castle. She has lots of pretty clothes and although it is not a great life, she thinks, it is better than her old one.   

And this, children, is where the story takes a turn.

Bored Prince Charming is out riding one day in a part of the forest that was surprisingly new to him.  He thought he was familiar with every rock and tree but here was a part of the woods he hadn’t seen before.  What he didn’t know was he had wandered into an enchanted glade where a beautiful princess had been cursed by an evil witch and now lay asleep unable to wake for a hundred years unless kissed by a handsome prince.  Curses in those days had to have an antidote and the witch had figured that finding a handsome prince and getting kissed…well, you know, what were the odds?   
Charming wanders around in the magical glade delighted by the birds chirping and flitting about, the squirrels winding themselves around trees, bunnies hopping about and unicorns grazing on the plush forest floor, all the things anyone could ever expect in an enchanted setting and here it was in Technicolor, which as you know kids, is better than real color.  A beam of light beyond a near stand of trees catches the prince’s attention and he wanders over to see what’s what.  There on a bed floating slightly above the ground lies the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.  The prince dismounts and kneels beside her.  After gently shaking her shoulder and urging her to awaken he realizes the woman is in some sort of coma.  He decides he needs to ride back to the palace and get help, but before departing he plants a deep, serious kiss on the woman’s lips.  He figures why not.  After she wakes up she might not like him, so this may be his only chance.  He also notes that she has really nice feet.  What he doesn’t know, kids, is that the princess was dreaming in the moment before the prince kissed her and what with her being in her late teens and all those crazy hormones that wash over a person of that age, her dream had taken a quite erotic turn.  I’ll explain what hormones are later.  Erotic too.  She awakes to the prince’s kiss and kisses him back with a passion he had never experienced before.  This kissing part goes on for awhile and then what ensues after that is a serious episode of what I will call shenanigans.  Don’t raise your hands all at once, I will explain shenanigans at some later date when you are older… much older.  What you need to know for now is the prince and the princess agree to meet on a regular basis there in the enchanted forest until they can figure out what to do with the prince’s principal problem.  You know her as Cinderella.

Well this carrying on carries on for a couple of months until our Wide Awake Beauty declares she is tired of living in the woods even if they are enchanted and she doesn’t lack for comforts.  She wants a roof over her head and a castle to princess about in.  She has learned all about Cinderella and she wants the prince to make up his fickle mind.

Charming, for his part, is getting a little tired of trekking into the woods each day to attend to his paramour, that’s girlfriend to you, kids, whose name by the way, is Aurora, so he sneaks her into the palace.  Oh, and here’s another by the way, a palace is actually just a fancy castle.  He takes her to a wing of the building far removed from where Cindy mostly hangs out.  It is, I hafta tell ya, a really big castle. 
This new situation suits the prince for a couple of weeks, but in truth he grows somewhat tired of slipping about and making excuses for his absences.  He declares to both women that he has to go away for awhile on tax collecting business.  The upkeep of a castle requires some funding, he tells them, but he will return shortly.  The fact of the matter is the prince is loaded and doesn’t need money, but it is the best excuse he can come up with that will get him out of the castle without having to take one or both of the ladies with him.  Tax collecting, everybody knows, is dangerous work.

He wanders alone deep into the woods, far deeper than he has ever gone before and one day, when he is nearing what he thinks should be a turn-around point, his steed crests a hill and the prince finds himself looking over a spectacular valley.  He sees on the far side of this splendid basin a cottage nestled among a grove of trees.  As he watches, seven little men exit the cottage in single file all carrying one sort of digging tool or another.  They disappear whistling into the trees to the left of the cottage and the prince notes that as they do a lovely looking woman appears at the cottage door and waves them a cheerful goodbye.

What happens next, kids, is what we now have come to expect, but not precisely in the manner expected.  The prince rides down to the cottage and introduces himself to Snow White, who it turns out, has been hiding with the dwarves for fear of an evil step mother who wants her dead.  Step mothers, you should know, children, are not all evil, just the ones in fairy tales and probably yours if you have one.  The prince is invited in for tea and what with Snow being another extraordinary beauty one thing leads to another.  All right, all right, I’ll explain.

You see, Snow had also reached an age where romance is generally desired and although each of the seven dwarves had made their advances, she couldn’t actually settle with one and break the other’s hearts.  Besides that she had her own idea of what a suitor should look like and it was here that tall, dark and handsome factored in.  The prince fit THAT bill exactly.  Seduction ensued.  Okay, okay!  It means she put the moves on the prince and, of course, horn dog that he was, he caved right in.  Before the day was out and the dwarves returned Snow and the prince were riding off together, hell bent…I mean heck bent for the castle.  Things were about to get complicated.
Like I said kids, it was a very big castle.  Snow White was tucked into yet another wing far removed from the others.  The prince merrily returned to his bed hopping ways.   

What?  Oh yeah, that means he didn’t always sleep in the same bed.  Hey come on kids, he was a prince.  Who cares if he had weird sleeping habits?

Anyway, just like before, he quickly grew tired of this arrangement.  But this time, unlike before, he decided to not ride out but simply bring the women together and select once and for all which one should be his true princess.

Well, you can imagine how that went.  First the ladies got after each other like alley cats over a fish bone, each declaring they were Charming’s one real love.  Eventually, though, they calmed down as this was getting them nowhere and it became clear to all three the decision was really the prince’s to make.  They gathered ‘round him ominously and demanded he choose choose CHOOSE! 

But the stubborn and spoiled prince wouldn’t do it.  He would not commit to one princess and one only and let the others go.  He was, like I told you at the beginning, accustomed to privilege and here were three ungrateful ladies – as he saw it - who he had rescued from dire circumstances now trying to tell him he couldn’t do exactly as he wanted.  He was getting riled and somewhat miffed.  What’s that you ask?  Oh, sure.  Miffed means just a little short of angry.  The prince turns his back to the more than miffed princess wannabes and walks to the nearest castle window.  It is there that he sees something that clears his head and makes him decide what he truly wants to do.
“Guards” he cries out!  “Guards!”  And faster than you can say Rumplestillskin six armed men enter the room.  “Take these women to the tower,” he commands, “I don’t want to see them again.”

The stunned ladies are escorted out while the prince hollers after the guards.  “Put them in Repuzel’s old room.  And make sure they keep their hair cut.”
The prince returns to the window just in time to see the young woman he had spied  a moment ago disappear into the forest.  She’s carrying a basket and is dressed in a bright red, hooded cloak.  Hmm, he thinks.  I do believe it is time for me to ride out again.   

“Guards,” he shouts anew. “Ready my horse.”
And that, kids, is the whole story.


The prince follows - I guess you could say stalks if you want to be accurate, kids - Little Red Riding Hood for a couple of days and learns the location of her grandmother’s cabin.  He thinks it would be a great idea to go there, charm the grandmother and thus smooth the way to getting the girl.  He arrives at the cabin on an overcast, gray sort of day about an hour before Red Riding Hood is expected.  He figures that is enough time to get all his charming done.  When he opens the door he finds it is quite dark inside.  There are no lanterns and what with the day being dark, there is no light coming through the windows.  He can barely see Hood’s grandmother across the room.  She is sitting in a rocking chair.  From what he can tell at that distance, she has large eyes, pointy ears and, when she smiles, quite large teeth.

“Hi there Good Looking,” he says to her in his best oily voice. “I’m Prince Charming from the castle beyond the woods.  Mind if I come in?”

“Please do” says the grandma. “And come closer, I can barely see you.”

Doc Walton  October 2014