Today, we share part 1 of our three-part interview with This Dark Endeavor author Kenneth Oppel! I really enjoyed picking his brain a bit about his clever prequel to Frankenstein — so many thanks to Chrissy at S&S for arranging this interview, and to Ken for answering all my bizarre questions! And now, on with the show …
What made you want to write a prequel to FRANKENSTEIN? Was there an original spark of inspiration, or was it a series of inspirations?
I love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I’d just re-read it a couple of years ago, and the mentions of his childhood were brief but evocative. There were mentions of seeking out the Elixir of Life, raising ghosts and demons that I saw as the seeds of possible gothic adventure stories. I spent a lot of time wondering about what might happen on such adventures, and what would motivate them in a powerful way. I sat on the idea for quite a while, almost a full year, before it seemed fully realized enough to start work on. I wanted to make sure the idea was well formed; I really didn’t want it to be seen as a gratuitous attempt to cash in on the Frankenstein myth.
How did you set about writing a prequel to FRANKENSTEIN that — for the most part — still flows into the original narrative?
I’m a pretty good mimic, so I did try to capture the linguistic flavour of the original, but without making it inaccessible to contemporary readers. I quite enjoy the richness of period fiction, so the language in Dark Endeavor might be a little more formal, but I made sure it’s effortless to read. I read all my books aloud during the writing/editing process, and if the prose sounds too constipated, or unnatural, or the pace is slack, I know about it, and change it. The book combines gothic adventure and horror and romance, and I wanted it to belt along. I’m not sure I could write a book that didn’t have a fairly powerful plot as its internal combustion engine.
Okay, be honest: how many times have you read FRANKENSTEIN? How many of those times were just for writing this book?
I’ve read it maybe three times cover to cover. While writing the book, I only read certain sections that were pertinent to either my plot, or the characters, or the overall tone.
One of the things I loved most about THIS DARK ENDEAVOR was spotting the little (er, well, or not so little) references to the original Frankestein text. Things like Wollstonecraft Alley and Dr. Polidori’s naming. What do these references mean to you? Were there some others we should take note of?
Victor’s parents I actually based on Mary Shelley’s real parents, the radical thinkers and writers William Godwin and Mary Wollestonecraft, so my Frankenstein household is very liberal for its time. Mrs. Frankenstein writes pamphlets on the rights and education of women; Mr Frankenstein is a fair magistrate who insists on his own family making the servants their Sunday dinner as a gesture of egalitarianism (a concept that was sweeping through Europe in the late 1700’s). And my Victor himself certainly shares traits of both Percy Shelley and Lord Byron (as did Mary Shelley’s Victor allegedly). So I tried to work in lots of insider Frankenstein information, like Wollestonecraft alley. Polidori was the name of Lord Byron’s personal physician,, who travelled with him, and was present the summer on Lake Geneva when Mary wrote Frankenstein and Polidori himself wrote Vampyre – one of the first vampire stories! So I had to use his name for the alchemist character. I actually read up a lot on the Shelleys and their very eventful lives, ad borrowed biographical details to flesh out my own characters.
Thanks again! Tune in tomorrow for part 2.
Hah! I was just re-watching the mini-series on Byron the other day. (I know, I know.) Interested to see how this plays out in the next books in Oppel’s series.