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The ACPL’s One Community, One Story project unleashes a monster

Traveling exhibit highlights the legacy and origins of Frankenstein

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2005-08-22


A traveling exhibit stopping at the Fort Wayne Allen County Public Library during September shows how questions about the limits of science and medicine didn’t start with the current debate over stem cell research. It’s been going on for a long, long time.

“Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature,” a traveling exhibit developed by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) in collaboration with the ALA Public Programs Office, puts the start of the debate in 1818, when Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus was published.

The exhibit focuses on Mary Shelley's novel and how it uses scientific experimentation as metaphor to comment on cultural values, especially the importance of exercising responsibility toward individuals and the community in all areas of human activity, including science.

As a tie-in with the traveling exhibit (which runs through September 30), the Allen County Public Library has chosen Shelley’s Frankenstein for this year's One Community, One Story project.

The story behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is almost as famous as the monster. The book was begun as a challenge among literary friends passing time on a dark and stormy evening to write a ghost story. Shelley’s novel grew beyond the confines of a horror story to incorporate many of the philosophical and scientific questions and issues of her time. It also illustrates some of the bizarre (to us, anyway) medical beliefs in the early 1800s, not least a fascination with electricity as a potent cure-all — the pharmaceutical mood-inhibitor of its day.

In many respects, Shelly’s book is far cry from the story everyone is familiar with. Many of the elements of the original novel, especially the gruesome parts, have made it into the Frankenstein mythos. Newcomers to the book will recognize the good doctor Victor Frankenstein himself, as obsessive and just plain nuts as ever, sowing together his creation out of bits and pieces of freshly buried bodies nicked from local cemeteries. But the monster might come as a surprise. He’s not the lumbering, groaning hulk we’ve come to know. He’s a much more tragic figure (with, apparently, a pretty good grasp of philosophy), and the death and destruction he visits upon Frankenstein is motivated by a clearly stated desire for retribution rather than the fact that… well, he’s a monster.

In short, some of the book’s themes are pretty deep, but the exhibit and other programs offered by the ACPL provide an excellent guide. “We thought reading Frankenstein would be a great tie-in with the exhibit,” says Roseann Coomer of the ACPL. “The display will be open all the hours the library are open and it’ll be here through September 30th. You can walk through and read all about Mary Shelley, about her family about the times when she wrote this, and some of the medical tie-ins with her book.”

Of course, the One Community, One Story project is not all about furrowed brows and deep thoughts. There are lots of things going on through September and October, including book discussion groups at all library locations, Monster Story Time and a coloring contest for children, and two late night tours of the exhibit on September 2nd and September 23rd led by the Bride of Frankenstein herself.

Plus, two Frankenstein-related movies will be shown at the Cinema Center's Theatres, free of charge. The first, the original 1931 movie with Boris Karloff as the monster, will be shown on September 15th at 7pm at Cinema Tech. Then, you can see a (relatively) young Peter Boyle sing “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in Mel Brooks’ classic Young Frankenstein on September 22nd at 7pm, at the original Cinema Center.

This marks the third year of the ACPL’s One Community, One Story project (Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and the Diary of Anne Frank were previous books). Coomer says the general reaction has been very positive. “If there’s a way that we can involve as many people in the community as possible, and as many different organizations, we like to do that,” she says. “The reaction is hard to gauge, but we always have wonderful responses from people calling in and saying they’ve enjoyed doing it.”

Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature runs from August 20 – September 30 at the Main Branch of the Allen County Public Library.

For complete times and dates for One Community, One Story events, call the ACPL at 421-1200 or check www.acpl.info

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