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Podcast logo of black retro UFO on a red background with the text Every Single Sci-Fi Film Ever*. *Almost.

6. Frankenstein Goes To Hollywood

We're doing things a little differently this episode. Frankenstein is considered by many people to be a solid first choice for the first science fiction novel. Before you start jumping up and down in disgust, yes, there are many stories from the 1600s and even ancient tales which are considered to be strong contenders for the first written sci-fi story. That does not take away from the influence of Mary Shelley.


In 1816 the teenager* went on holiday to Switzerland and came up with the character of Frankenstein and his monster which would then develop into the novel titled Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Over 200 years later there are still films being made based on the characters from the book.


In this episode, we touch upon James Whale’s 1931 film Frankenstein but look at the origins of the story, examine why its monster has such a long lasting legacy, and why these stories resonate with us.


The experts

Roger Luckhurst is a Professor at Birkbeck, University of London. He specialises in literature, film and cultural history from the 19th century to the present. He has written many books and numerous articles on science fiction, horror and the Gothic.


Sarah Artt is a Lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University. She has taught courses on Frankenstein in film and literature and co-led a 3 year project titled The Age of Frankenstein which examined the origins and legacy of the story.



00:00 Introduction, thank you and guests

02:08 The origin of the monster

04:51 Mary Godwin: not your average 19th century girl

06:22 The monster is still with us

10:16 Mary Shelley as the monster: my bad take

14:23 The ultimate goth princess

15:02 Knowledge and punishment

16:37 The horror film genre

20:12 Frankenstein’s monster: a child of revolution!

23:16 Why we love monsters

29:58 James Whale and the Bride of Frankenstein

31:38 Godzilla, B movies and pod people

35:50 The Stepford Wives

39:18 The slave becomes the master

40:08 Burning cross, lynching and the mob

42:59 Conclusions: class, prejudice and eugenics

46:06 Recommendations

The shownotes

• You can watch the 1931 Frankenstein by James Whale here.

• Mary Shelley was born Mary Godwin in 1797.

• You can learn more about Mary and Percy’s affair here.

Lord Byron was a British poet of the Romantic period, born in 1788 and died in 1824.

• John Polidori was a British writer and medical doctor. He wrote The Vampyre which was published in 1819 (Bram Stoker wrote Dracula which was published in 1897). Stories of vampires have existed in folklore in Europe before Polidori’s story published.

• Claire Clairmont is Mary Shelley’s step-sister. (Sarah misspeaks and describes her as a cousin.) Clare gave birth to Lord Byron’s child in 1817 out of wedlock. The story is quite tragic and you can learn more about it here.

• Mary Shelley’s mother was Mary Wollstonecraft who was born in 1759 and died in 1797 just 11 days after giving birth to Mary. She is the writer of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The book was published in 1792 and is a seminal work of feminist philosophy.

• Mary Shelley’s father was William Godwin. He was a British writer and philosopher born in 1756.

• Did Mary really keep Percy's heart? You can read an interesting article about it here

• Although there are older horror films and stories the term “horror” was not coined to describe the genre until the 1930s.

• You can learn a bit about what Frankenstein's monster reads here.

• HR Giger was a Swiss artist born in 1940. He famously designed the xenomorph which is the monster from Alien (1979).

• Both guests touch upon Alien in this podcast but Roger has also written this highly rated book on the topic.

The Celluloid Closet is a book written by Vito Russo.

James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters is a biography about James Whale by James Curtis. It is also the basis of the 1998 film starring Ian McKellan in the role of Whale.

• You can find more information about the films Roger mentions on IMDB: Godzilla (1954), Them (1954), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

• More information on The Stepford Wives here.

The Birth of a Nation by DW Griffith is a strong contender for the most racist film ever made.

• Tabula Rasa is latin and in effect means a blank slate.

• From the recommendations: Poor Things by Alasdair Gray, Poor Things (2023), Titane (2021), The Spirit of the Beehive (1973).



The next film we will be covering is Just Imagine (1930). Is is a musical, rom-com sci-fi set in 1980. You can watch it here:



*Corrections: I wrongly say at around 02:37 that Mary Shelley is 16 or 17 years old when they arrive at Villa Diodati but she is 18.

At 03:47 Sarah misspeaks: Claire Clairmont is Mary's step-sister not her cousin.

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