Here’s a great muse I discovered @monsterlibrarian about>with the author. This looks like a great site for my fellow information junkies when looking for additional publishing spots, book reviews, links etc. I’d bookmark this site if I were you. I’m including a copy of their “About Us” @ the end of Oppel’s comments.
Kenneth Oppel is the author of two novels (so far) about the young Victor Frankenstein, This Dark Endeavor (reviewed here) and Such Wicked Intent(reviewed here). He has also written many other books, and received a Printz Honor Award for his novel Airborn in 2004. We asked him to share what influenced him to write the story of Victor Frankenstein. It was pretty neat to learn that Frankenstein is one of his favorite books! You can see what he wrote back to us below.
From Kenneth Oppel:
Frankenstein is one of my favourite novels, and I wish I’d written it. Unfortunately, it was written two hundred years ago by a 19-year old genius called Mary Shelley. Arguably, Frankenstein is the first science fiction novel, the first monster novel, the first horror novel. Not only is it an incredibly gripping read but, like all the best literature, it tackles weighty themes: reckless human ambition, the ethical implications of scientific pursuit, the creator’s responsibilities to his creations, and the perils of really, really bad parenting. All things that are still relevant today.
A couple of years ago, while re-reading the novel, I was struck by how quickly Victor Frankenstein’s youth is described – and one line in particular stuck out: “No youth could have passed more happily than mine.” Now, remember that this is a kid who goes on to dig up corpses, chop them up, sew the body parts back together, jolt them with electricity in the hopes of revivifying them, and creating life from death. Doesn’t sound like a very happy youth to me. What might have happened to Victor to lead him to become the “mad scientist” we all know? That, I thought, would make an interesting story.
A few pages later, Shelley goes on to give a helpful clue: “I entered with the greatest diligence into the search for… the elixir of life…. What glory would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!”
Right away I had an image of a teenager who was curious, ambitious, arrogant, and probably obsessive. Obsessions are a staple of literature — every great character has one. Whether it’s a desire or an aspiration, or the simple will to survive, there’s something that drives every hero — and every reader to keep turning pages.
Sixteen year old Victor Frankenstein is a fantastic character to work with. He’s the embryonic form of the man who will go on to dig up corpses, chop them up, suture then back together and jolt them with electricity to try to create life from death. Now that’s an obsession! When you read about people who create a work of genius, whether it’s an invention or a work of art, there’s often a strain of compulsion or even madness that motivates them and keeps them working tirelessly towards their goal — often at great emotional cost to themselves and those around them. Off the top of my head it could be as various as Howard Hughes (with his movies, or his Spruce Goose), or Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now) or Philip K Dick (who wrote himself to death).
Victor’s search for The Elixir of Life makes for an excellent quest. But it seemed to me there had to be something more behind it. What if Victor needed the elixir for a personal purpose? Was he himself ill? Or maybe a friend, parent – or a beloved sibling?
And so, in my alternative Frankenstein mythology, I decided that Victor Frankenstein had a twin brother, Konrad — who has an entirely different personality, and is a much steadier sort than Victor — and just that much better at everything.
It was tremendous fun to learn about the real Mary Shelley and her sources for Frankenstein. I’m sure plenty of my readers will pick up on all the references to the real Mary Shelley and the fascinating and tragedy-filled life she led. From my point of view, all this material was source material for me. I used Mary Shelley’s family as a basis for Victor’s – and stole characteristics from her husband (Percy Shelley) and friend Lord Byron to build Victor’s personality and backstory. When you’re reimagining a literary classic, you want to preserve the tone of the original, and this was one way I could do it.
And I loved writing Victor. As a writer I think you strive to create characters that exercsie the full range of human behaviour and emotion — and often these things are not heroic or noble or attractive. Victor is certainly a larger than life characters. He’s smart, arrogant, rash, selfish, but also loyal and loving and brave — in short, he’s no more an antihero than most of us on the planet. It’s huge fun to let loose a character with a temper, but also with a passion and a plan. I think you sympathize with Victor’s sense of inferiority around his perfect identical twin, and any reader would sympathize with someone who tries so hard to be good at things, in the shadow of another. Sometimes envy makes people do rotten things. So Victor’s not always nice, but you always want to watch him — and I think you want him to get what he wants, even if it’s a bit appalling. I mean, he’s Victor Frankenstein, not Harry Potter.
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