Uncial Press

The Uncial Letter


Mary Patterson Thornburg Revisits An Old Friend...

There are stories everyone knows, whether or not they’ve actually read or heard them. It’s as if we learn some stories by osmosis, the way a tree’s roots suck up water. A story like this is part of the earth we’re planted in. If I say its name, you’ll know immediately what it’s about. Robin Hood... Oh, yes: the happy equalizer, living wild and free on the wrong side of the law, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Ignoring the rules. Or... Cinderella. Not necessarily even an unhappy maiden; the “Cinderella story” can be the story of anyone who by a combination of luck and personal merit goes from a hard, obscure life to riches and happiness (we hope) ever after. Or...


Back in graduate school, long ago, I managed to register for two literature courses in the same three-month term. The combined required reading consisted of sixteen 18th-and-19th-century novels. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, reading was the only available entertainment that was legal, easily available (more or less), and relatively cheap. Those novels are long. I was teaching a couple of courses in the same term, including reading and grading about 250 student essays. I am a slow reader, and I hadn’t yet discovered how helpful CliffsNotes could be. I began to have second thoughts about continuing my academic career.

But, while having those thoughts, I bravely started on that pile of books. Among them was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, early 19th-century, and while it was one of the shorter of the sixteen (at about 475 pages), I was relieved to think I could more or less skim it, since I already knew the story---by osmosis, and from several movies.

LOL, as we say nowadays. Turns out the movies had very little to do with the book. For one thing, Victor Frankenstein’s creature, made from spare parts, was indeed big and scary and not very handsome, but he learned to read and write and was a fluent, impassioned speaker. For another, he was not burned to death by angry peasants; instead, the only member of Frankenstein’s family and circle of friends left alive, he wandered off into the freezing arctic wilderness, seeking death but not yet, at the end of the book, finding it. And for a third thing, there’s an important character in Mary’s novel who hardly gets a mention in any of the movies.

Well, I ended up reading the book, and most of the others, and living through those three months. Then I read the book again, and again, and a few years later wrote my dissertation on it, and on several dozen other stories and subjects that it had led me to. But even then, Frankenstein still haunted me. What had become of the character no movie mentions, the Englishman Victor tells his story to? And above all, what had become of the nameless Creature, practically the only character still moving beyond the end of Mary Shelley’s book? He wanted to die, yes--or at least he thought he did when he leaped down from the Englishman’s ship onto the ice of the approaching arctic winter. But mightn’t he have changed his mind? Lots of people do...

One early 21st-century day, when my computer was in the repair shop, I picked up a pen and a yellow legal pad, and began to write a sequel to Frankenstein...

A couple of days after we received Mary's contribution for The Uncial Letter, we ran across an article about people's names (including fictional characters') that have become nouns, i.e., words that label something. "Frankenstein" is included in long list of words like watt, cardigan, boycott and most recently, yoda. As a class, they are called eponyms.

Our Webster's dictionary defines "frankenstein" as "a monster in the shape of a man" and "a work or agency that destroys its creator." Talk about bad press! Frankenstein was the fellow who built a Creature out of spare parts, and then got so scared of his gentle, innocent creation that he drove it crazy, and to yearning for death, for life had become unendurable.

But what if the Creature survived?

What if...

Into A Distant Light is Mary Patterson Thornburg's satisfying sequel to Frankenstein, and a fascinating story. You'll meet that Englishman Victor told his story to, and learn what happened next. For those of us who have felt the Creature got a really rotten deal, it offers a glimpse into what happened next. And even a slim possibility of "happy ever after" for what may be the most maligned and misunderstood fictional Monster of all.

Into a Distant Light by Mary Patterson Thornburg

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