Here is something that I always think is interesting, and that is the story behind the story. What I am getting at is I think it is always fascinating to hear how writer came up with a really cool or popular idea. There are so many ideas out there that when something comes along and takes the world by storm I always really like hearing where the writer got that idea.
Whether its James Cameron with Terminator, who said he basically stole the idea from some Harlan Ellison stories and now Ellison has is credited on the film, or George Lucas who says he got the idea for Star Wars from a Japanese film called Hidden Fortress, or Quinton Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs which is basically the exact same movie as City on Fire. This day and age there are some famous examples of how very famous directors and writers used what they have read and seen to create something new, or slightly new.
Let’s take this back a few years ago, say to the year 1816. Believe it or not there was no internet or Twitter during this time, so it is really interesting so see how a writer can take what they know and come up with basically an entirely new idea. Also, depending on who you ask there is one story that most agree on created a brand new genre, science fiction. Mary Shelly wrote the novel Frankenstein in 1816 and is arguably one of the greatest novels ever written. Not only that but the story is still relevant for so many reasons including another new movie that is coming out in the near future. There are very few stories that have stood the test of time like this one has, but lets take a look at the story behind the story.
The year 1816 was somewhat of a very strange year. The main reason was because of a mountain in Indonesia that set into motion a series of events that led to the creation of one of the greatest stories of all time. So what does a mountain in Indonesia have do to with the novel Frankenstein? Tune in next week for the answer…
Well that mountain was actually one of the largest super volcanos in the world, and wouldn’t you know it that in April of 1815 the most massive eruption in recorded history happened. This is from Wikipedia :
With an estimated ejecta volume of 160 km3 (38 cu mi), Tambora’s 1815 outburst is the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. The explosion was heard on Sumatra, more than 2,000 km (1,200 mi) away. Heavy volcanic ash falls were observed as far away as Borneo, Sulawesi, Java, and the Maluku Islands. Most of the deaths from the eruption were from starvation and disease, as the eruptive fallout ruined agricultural productivity in the local region. The death toll was at least 71,000 people, of whom 11,000–12,000 were killed directly by the eruption;
So again what does this have to do with 1816 when Shelly published her novel, the eruption was a year before. Well there was enough ash, rock, and debris thrown into the atmosphere that this one eruption actually cooled the planet in what is known as volcanic winter. 1816 was also known as the “year without a summer.” Basically there was so much stuff in the atmosphere that it reflected enough sun light to cool the planet considerably almost a full degree Fahrenheit on average, which caused major food shortages in the northern hemisphere. This is quite amazing considering the effects an average of 1 degree can have.
So how does Mary Shelly fit into all this. Well Mary and a few of her friends along with her future husband and Lord Byron were touring Germany during this time. The bad weather forced the group to abandon their outdoor activities and stay inside. One of the group proposed a contest, who could write the scariest ghost story of the group. Shelly used many of the ghost stories that she had heard before along with the different castles they had visited on the trip for the setting of her famous story. She also said that a dream helped her write the story. The rest as they say is history.
Two genres came from this initial contest, the sifi genre but also a vampire genre that came to its peak of popularity a few years ago form a story called The Vampyre by John William Polidori, who cites this contest and a story from it as his inspiration. It is quite amazing that two ideas and or stories are still popular in modern times. While vampires and that genre are still popular, I would say that science fiction has turned into something that Shelly could have never dreamt of. Frankenstein along with another of her novels call The Last Man, are known as two of the first works in modern science fiction.
I always find the story behind the story interesting, but I think this has to be one of the most interesting ways how certain events can influence history, especially literary history.