Back in the day, on Halloween, kids only had a few masks to choose from to go out into the cold fall night in the hopes of candy and conquest: those were the wolf-man, Dracula, and Frankenstein. Well, we called it Frankenstein but the monster was not named Frankenstein. Rather, it was the “monster,” “creature,” “demon,” even “daemon” in the original novel. Nevertheless, in ignorance, we donned that mask with it’s rectangular head, black matted hair, green skin, yellow drooping eyes, and of course the electrodes protruding from both sides of the neck. We were Frankenstein. But having not read the classic novel by Mary Shelley at the tender age of ten years old, we had no clue that the monster was just the monster and Frankenstein was really a scientist named Victor with aspirations of creating life from death.
I chose the novel “Frankenstein” in my quest to read more classic literature. Honestly, from page one the prose grabbed me. “…for nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose–a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.” That is but a tidbit of Shelley’s word wizardry. So I one-clicked the novel (having nothing to lose, really, because it was free) and was nevertheless impressed with her alliteration, imagery, and poetry. The novel, while a narrative of something grotesque, is quite beautiful written.
“…to give utterance to the burning ardour of my soul and to say, with all the fervour that warmed me, how gladly I would sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise.”
Oh, my goodness, Mary Shelley is a beast! And the novel just keeps flowing in this manner: from the epistolary portion of the novel (letters from Captain Robert Walton to his sister) to the narration of Victor (a warning to the former about what I guess was seen at the time of the novel’s publication as foolish ambition). You catch this the more you read. How Victor shows up on that icy snow cap just as Walton is pressing forward in his own scientific pursuits: one which he writes in the first line of the novel as “You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.” This is the driving sentence in the novel, telling us what the theme is all about.
I won’t highlight this review with history of how Mary Shelley came about the novel in a dream and how it was initially published anonymously and didn’t bear her name until five years later (why is that?), how the novel continued to evolve and be perfected even thirteen years later, or how its initial reception was unfavorable. I believe those areas have been well covered. What I would like to do is deal with the lyricist, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Yes! The lyricist. The literary genius. Now, I’m a hip-hop head and in high school spent I my fair share of afternoons on the back stoop behind Greenville Senior High School freestyling or reciting lyrics that I had written previously. The goal, was to get the hearer’s attention, say something snazzy that would make fingers snap, make people say “Oooh!” Exchange high fives. I did this not by putting together some boring lines that any old spitter could spit, but by using allegory, allusion, analogy, alliteration, assonance, consonance, cacophony, euphony, hyperbole, irony, metaphor, onomatopoeia, puns, repetition, and rhyme — poetic devices that drive my point across. For example, I had one line that said:
On the block, quoting scriptures from Alfred Hitchcock
My brain pops with raindrops that umbrellas can’t stop.
Of course there’s the rhyme–always the rhyme. But there’s also allegory. I wasn’t really quoting scriptures from Alfred Hitchcock; he wrote no bible. But what I was saying is that I was relaying dark and gripping words, just as Hitchcock’s stories are dark and gripping. And the second bar deals with the multiple ideas in my head. Ideas so plentiful that they are like a storm that drenches even when using an umbrella. Analogy. I love lyrics like these and I guess that’s why I am a big fan of lyricists like Big Pun.
Take for instance one of Pun’s lyrics from “Super Lyrical”:
Ay-yo my murderous rap verbal attack is actual fact
Tactical tracks match perfectly with graphical stats
Half of you lack the magical dap of tragical rap
That tackles you back and shackles and laughs at you
That’s the mathematical madness I’m on, the savage, the strong
The marriage, a bond of havoc and song
This massacre’s on as if Picasso laced you
There’s lotsa hateful skeletons locked in the closet of my castle of Grayskull
I won’t even go into all Pun’s dealing with in those Bars; I’ll save that for another review.
Big Pun is a dope lyricist. Believe it or not, Mary Shelley is just as dope lyrically. Case in point: I highlighted many dope lines from the novel and while I will not share them all–probably put the whole novel in this blog post if I did–I will show a few to drive my point into the garage.
“Thus far I have gone, tracing a secure way over the pathless seas, the very stars themselves being witnesses and testimonies of my triumph.”
“I believe it to be an intuitive discernment, a quick but never-failing power of judgement, a penetration into the cause of things, unequalled for clearness and precision…”
“My limbs now tremble, and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless and almost frantic impulse urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit.”
I could go on and on. But I believe my sedan is in the garage safely, the engine is shut off and we are finally home.
Mary Shelley is a beast. Hear me out on this. When other musicians and great appreciators of musicians hear something otherworldly and utterly profound be done by a musician, they might say, “He is a beast!” And that is not a bad thing. It has nothing to do with his appearance or demeanor but everything to do with the abusive nature in which he just handled his musical business. That run, that riff, that wowing rendition, that makes the listener throw up their hands and make the stank face. “BEAST!” A proficient and polished perfectionist, rendering sounds so pleasing to the ear. Mary had that same effect, only she didn’t use music. She used powerful prose and poetic devices. That is why I subtitled this review The Real Frankenstein Monster. Because it wasn’t the thin skinned, grotesque creation of Victor the Scientist. The author who created Victor and the daemon is the true monster–the true beast. (chuckle) Imagine Mary Shelley in a rap cypher with Big Pun. Yeah, not likely. But one can imagine, can’t he?