Touch of evil

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Frankenstein's monster

Let's clear some things up: Frankenstein (pronounced Fronk-un-steen) is the mad scientist, the monster has no name and both of them were created by a teenage radical named Mary Shelley.

The daughter of progressive parents (one was an anarchist/atheist/free-love promoter and the other the 18th century's most famous feminist), the young Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin eloped with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1814.

Already a prolific poet, 19-year-old Mary had no trouble rising to the occasion during an 1816 summer vacation to Switzerland, where her husband and friends decided to hold a scary story-writing contest inspired by the weather.

It was, as they say, a dark and stormy night -- and had been for several months. Earlier that spring, Indonesia's Mount Tambora had experienced a massive eruption that launched tons of particulate matter into the atmosphere, blocking out the sun and creating what came to be know as "The Year Without a Summer."

For poorer people, this meant starvation after summer snowfalls killed the harvests, but for the Shelleys it simply meant a dreary vacation that needed livening up.

And liven it up, Mary did. Inspired by a dream, she wrote the classic story of a mad scientist who tries to create life and ends up giving birth to a monster he can't control. When her story was published as a book two years later, it was an instant bestseller.


Never bring up the world's most famous count in a conversation with a Romanian. Dracula is a bit of a touchy subject there, where the citizens remember the inspiration behind the myth, Prince Vlad Tepes, as a national liberator who saved Romania from the Turks. And, frankly, they think this whole evil-creature-of-the-night thing is an intentional smear campaign.

To be fair, Vlad hardly needed help to build his bad reputation. The 15th-century leader was, like most warlords of his day, a pretty violent fellow, known for spearing his enemies onto pikes and leaving them scattered around the countryside as a warning to others.

In fact, his nickname "Tepes" means "The Impaler." Naturally, this sort of behavior inspired people to write about what he'd done and, occasionally, embellish it to be even worse.

In these accounts, the prince was commonly referred to by a different nickname: Dracula. A diminutive form of his father's "Dracul," or "the dragon," Vlad's antagonistic biographers probably chose the name because of its connotations with another "dragon" -- Satan.