31 Days of Horror: The Monster Lives in Two Beautiful New Books

Which version of the Frankenstein monster do you prefer: the urbane, melancholy creature from Mary Shelley’s book or the hulking, flat-headed behemoth from the silver screen? No matter which of the two iterations is your favorite, you’ll find something to enjoy in two new books available this Halloween season.

It doesn’t have to be October to read Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. It’s a classic tale, even if the epistolary style and Victorian language are a bit dry by current standards. If you’re going to own a nice copy of Frankenstein, and not the ragged paperback you managed to hold on to from English Lit classes, you can’t go wrong with The 200th Anniversary Edition from Rockport Publishing. While the story remains the same, it’s the illustrations by David Plunkert that make it special and worth displaying prominently.

Plunkert is a highly regarded illustrator, graphic designer, and cartoonist. The art he has created for Shelley’s novel is simultaneously grotesque, whimsical, and gorgeous. Tiny heads rest precariously on tiny, elongated bodies. Medical drawings with numbered organs are scattered through the pages. Nods to the works of Gilliam and Gorey are apparent, but not slavishly adhered to. Plunkert’s illustrations are a perfect complement to Shelley’s beautiful stilted sentences, filled with crackling backgrounds, strange layering, and fiendishly on-the-nose representations of scenes from the book. Gothic to a tee and infused with a jet black joy, the pictures are a skeletal revel.

Buy the book for the story, of course. It’s a must-have for any serious library. But The 200th Anniversary Edition with illustrations by David Plunkert is the one you pull off the shelf to show your friends.

On the other hand, Vault of Frankenstein: 200 Years of the World’s Most Famous Monster by Paul Ruditis is the book you leave out on your coffee table. Chock full of illustrations and reproductions of Frankenstein ephemera, Vault of Frankenstein is endlessly pleasurable to thumb through.

While you’re looking at all the pretty pictures, don’t neglect to read the words. Vault is a well-researched, comprehensive history of the Frankenstein phenomenon, from Shelley’s conception and creation of the original story to its present-day status in popular culture. Ruditis has done his homework, and it makes for an engaging and informative read.

His love for Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein is obvious, but he doesn’t skim over some of the stranger entries in the Frankengenre. Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein is mentioned, although not favorably, as well as Bryan Singer’s failed reboot of The Munsters, Mockingbird Lane.

Fans will love the behind-the-scenes photos from various Frankenstein productions. Readers will also learn about various toys and promotional tie-ins that history had almost forgotten. Ruditis also works to elevate the name of Glenn Strange, who portrayed the monster multiple times, but who is rarely mentioned in conversations about the films. Those interested in film history, particularly fans of the horror genre, will find Vault of Frankenstein: 200 Years of the World’s Most Famous Monster an invaluable resource.

The Frankenstein monster still looms large in our collective cultural memory, villagers with torches and pitchforks be damned. They may have killed the body, but as these books prove, the monster will never die.

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