Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pardon me boy, is this the Transylvania Station?

That line--one of  the film's first big laughs—heralds the young Dr. Frankenstein’s arrival in his ancestral home. This is one of the few major departures from the Mary Shelley story, which took place in Switzerland. Transylvania is famous instead as the home grounds of another classic horror figure, the vampire Count Dracula.

 But there is a curious relationship between Frankenstein and Dracula that goes beyond black and white horror movies. They basically were created in the same place at the same time.

 The story of how Mary Shelley came to write the Frankenstein story is pretty well known. She and her lover (and later husband), the great Romantic poet Percy Shelley, were visiting the villa of another great Romantic poet, Lord Byron, in Switzerland in the rainy summer of 1816. One dark and stormy night, Byron challenged them all to write a ghost story, and the first version of Frankenstein was Mary’s contribution.

 But the familiar account leaves out one participant: John Polidori, a young doctor serving as Byron’s personal physician (and who reputedly had a crush on Mary Shelley.) In response to his own challenge, Byron wrote a fragment of a story that he quickly abandoned. Polidori got his permission to finish it, and he soon transformed it into a story called The Vampyre, which was published later that year.

 It was the first vampire tale in English, and the first to place the vampire figure—a foreign aristocrat—in contemporary society. The Vampyre became a sensation in England, and over the years was much imitated in print and on the stage—including the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker called Dracula.

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