Death and the little thing called life

The other day a friend  told me about a Netflix show, the Frankenstein Chronicles, that interested him.  So I decided to check it out.

If you haven’t been following the series, first of all, it’s set at a time when London was literally a sewer, they burnt coal with no restrictions, and poor families tossed children they couldn’t feed out into the streets to fend for themselves. In addition,  Sean Bean (aka the beheaded Ned Starke from the Game of Thrones) plays a detective tasked with finding the “monster” who’s been mutilating dead children and grotesquely stitching them back together again. It’s critical to find this person because when Jesus returns to earth those of us who’ve been good will get to sit next to him but only if we have a body to reoccupy.  Preferably one that has not been chopped up or in other ways violated.  Jesus is evidently a bit picky about who he keeps company with.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Jan, you’ve gone off the nut once again.  So let me explain.  In the 1800s, medicine was evolving into a science. Doctors were on the verge of many advances to help prevent premature deaths from childbirth to plagues.  But only, dot dot dot, if they could get a better understanding of human anatomy and to do that they needed, dot dot dot, corpses. The corpses were happily provided by prisons and poor houses as those blokes weren’t going to sit next to Jesus anyway. But innocent children were off-limits.

Ned Starke to the rescue

As to why the preoccupation with death, remember life wasn’t so great back then. This fact was seized upon by preachers promising a meet and greet with the big JC, thereby making death the reward for a virtuous life.  So, in the Frankenstein Chronicles, when mutilated children’s bodies begin littering the shores of the river Thames, fingers are pointed at the scientific community.  It must be doctors dumping their botched experiments, thereby depriving children of a wonderful after life experience. Our hero has a different theory but I doubt I’ll stick around to watch all three seasons (sheesh) just to find out if he’s right. To me these Netflix series’ start out with an interesting concept but then somewhat rapidly become expensive soap operas sans the cheesey acting.  However, the producers and screen writers have done a brilliant job of depicting the environment that spawned early horror classics such as Frankenstein and Dracula. 

As a writer I’m not sure we’re always aware of the environmental and societal forces shaping our work. I doubt either Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker thought “I’m surrounded by death so I might as well write about it.”  But maybe I should speak only for myself.  What do you think?

30 thoughts on “Death and the little thing called life

  1. Your right we all write about that which we know whether consciously or unconsciously. That said I go off on flights of fantasy, and their is nothing fantastical in my life!

  2. I think that social issues form some of what we write, music or stories. I thought Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as part of a challenge from Lord Byron while on vacation. Kind of telling ghost stories by the campfire.

  3. I’ve not seen Game of Thrones or even heard of The Frankenstein Chronicles. Both seem too macabre for my tastes. However, there’s an interest in them [obviously] if not for facts then for the feelings they evoke in the watcher. Sometimes I think authors are only out to get a rise out of people, not to tell their own truth. [Same thing with bloggers, actually.]

    1. Game of Thrones is a fantasy whereas the producers of FC have done their research about the time period which makes the concept interesting – but not enough for dozens of episodes!

  4. Your comment about “these Netflix series’ start out with an interesting concept but then somewhat rapidly become expensive soap operas sans the cheesey acting” echoes my feelings exactly. It usually happens within the first 3 episodes.

    I too have seen the series on Netflix but hadn’t even bothered to check it out figuring that beyond the first 2 episodes it was just going to be more of the same. Almost all of these shows would benefit from a mini-series approach where the theme is developed and wrapped up in a couple of episodes.

    Just before Christmas we watched a Canadian mini-series called The Indian Detective. It was 4 episodes long to solve the crime and I enjoyed it, confident in the knowledge it was going to be wrapped up by the 4th episode. Normally I’m not a big fan of Russell Peters, but I did enjoy this light comic drama. I think it’s on Netflix if you want to check it out.

  5. Hi Jan,

    Okay, so I’m the first person here to have binged the whole thing over two days. Mostly at night when I couldn’t sleep. I guess you already knew that and wrote the article to flush me out of the house. You might as well have used bottles of gasoline with rags stuffed inside. Also, I guess you know that it was not Molotov who created the Molotov cocktail, right? It was, surprise, the Finns. They used them against Soviet tanks, as in, “Here is a cocktail boys!” Long live the Finns! Famous Finish joke told by the Danes: “If you live in Finland there are only three things to do, fuck, fight, and fish and they manage to do all three with a fish.” But I digress, I watched the whole thing Frankenstein thing on Netflix Some times I felt like throwing up. It gave me a bad head a few times. Spoiler alert: I tried to unravel the whole mess of a plot only to end up with that Bean guy running down a path barefoot. There were a number of times I wanted to shake Bean into consciousness. He seemed to be living in the wrinkles on his face. The romance between Bean and the woman was difficult for me. His black partner (hail Netflix for diversity) was a good actor and the girl he was trying to save was also good. I didn’t like the W. Blake or M. Shelly stuff. It seemed added to only give the whole thing a bit of gravitas. I wish they would have just stuck with the medical and religious stuff in relationship to beating death. Have you seen the whole thing yet? Binging is the only way to do this one. Okay, I must return to contemplating root canals and answering the question my mother kept asking right before her death: “How did I get here?” Thanks and, indeed, Long Live Schmaltzy! Duke

    1. You’re right, of course – binge watching is the only way to watch those Netflix things otherwise all the characters seem to get muddled and hard to keep track of. The Bean character was painful to watch, so haunted and grieved and hopeless that I kept wondering how they could maintain the character through multiple episodes. I can see why they added the Mary Shelley angle but it did seem contrived. Less would have better and I didn’t even watch the whole thing. Also I think the real Shelley was probably not so dour and driven. I mean she partied with the bad boy poets of the time. By the way, I happen to know that the Finns also like to drink and cook themselves in saunas but otherwise, a clever and art-loving people. And they would be able to answer your question. But you’d probably have to go deep into their endless forests and find a gnome!

  6. I notice you don’t have that delay thing about waiting for moderation. What is that anyway, moderation?

    1. It’s an anti-spam thing – you have to moderate comments from any new visitors. Once you’ve approved a comment, that person is deemed to be not spam.

  7. I won’t be watching that one! Thanks for the warning. I have a thing about children being hurt (even in fiction). I just binged (Amazon Prime) “Absentia” and it was really good but a few parts were, like, why did they go there?

  8. Love this post. It’s definitely an important part of literature.
    I know there’s a show now, or a series or something, but “The Alienist” is a book I read last winter, and it’s sorta medical -mental health-mystery — it’s VERY good. Easily one of the best books I read in the last five years. You might like it.

  9. It’s interesting too that Shelley felt ostracized after her mother died and her father didn’t want much to do with her. I’m sure that fed into the creation of her ostracized monster as well.

  10. I think environmental and social forces always drive a writer’s work. It seems impossible that all that discussion about the occult and galvanism which she had while touring Germany at the time, along with Mary Shelley’s upbringing did not influence her work in “Frankenstein.” On the other hand, from your amusing analysis it sounds like the Netflix series just wanted to feature a detective show around the loosely based theme of Shelley’s novel. Thank you for the review.

    1. Nice to meet you! I don’t think we realize how much of what’s going on around us ends up in our work which makes it always an adventure to write.

  11. I really like this quirky plotline and also have enjoyed “The Alienist” during loosely the time when Teddy Roosevelt was Police Chief in NYC. 47 million people watched it and it is available “on demand” free since it was on TNT. The finale was last night. Murder in the bath houses of young boys who were cross dressing to make money. Great cast, actually filmed in Budapest to create the old style buildings.

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