'Mary's Monster': Peterborough writer brings story of 'Frankenstein' author to young audiences

Union Leader Correspondent
March 02. 2018 5:56PM

"Mary's Monster: Love, Madness and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein," written by Lita Judge of Peterborough. 

PETERBOROUGH - Children's book author and illustrator Lita Judge of Peterborough spoke to an audience at the Peterborough Town Library Tuesday night about her desire to tell the story of Mary Shelley to a young audience.

"Mary's Monster: Love, Madness and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein" was published in January and is a biography of Shelley told through verse with more than 300 pages of black and white illustrations.

Judge is the author and illustrator of 24 fiction and nonfiction books, including, "Mary's Monster," which as a young adult book is a departure for the children's book author and illustrator.

Judge told the audience at the Peterborough Library Tuesday night that she was inspired to write a biography of Shelley in the young adult genre after she learned Shelley was only 18 when she wrote "Frankenstein."

"I read 'Frankenstein' when I was in high school . and I was struck by the story, but I didn't know anything about the girl behind the story. And it wasn't until about 10 years ago I re-read 'Frankenstein' from an annotated version and in the notes it mentioned that Mary Shelley was 18 when she wrote the book, and that fact just kind of hit me like a ton of bricks," Judge said, "that the person that was behind the novel that's been in print for 200 years, and who made the most iconic monster of all time, was an 18-year-old girl. And I thought about the fact that in 1818 when this book was published very few women were authors. How did an 18-year-old girl manage to do something that changed the course of literature?"

Judge added it also bothered her that most people only know one thing about Shelley, which is that she wrote "Frankenstein" after the poet Lord Byron dared a small party of friends one night to write ghost stories. But when Judge began to learn more about Shelley's life she saw how her family life, experiences and the societal influences of the time fed into the creation of "Frankenstein."

"'Frankenstein' is not just a monster story, it's a radical social criticism of her day," Judge said.

Judge spent six years on "Mary's Monster," which included a trip to England where she was given rare access to Mary Shelley's journals, manuscripts and letters. Judge also traveled to different museums to study and soak in the paintings and sculptures of Shelley's day to inspire her illustrations.

Judge said while she found and read several Shelley biographies in her research, the books were dense and not for a young audience. Judge said it's unfortunate that people - especially young people - don't know more about Shelley and her impact on literature, film and storytelling.

"She invented the first science fiction novel. She invented the first mad scientist archetype. She invented the most iconic monster ever created. She also invented a form of storytelling that had never been done before," Judge said.

"Novels prior to 'Frankenstein' were told in very didactic forms . Mary Shelley was one of the first authors to tell her book with a process of three different voices - that of Victor Frankenstein, the creature itself and Walter the explorer -and that was a revolutionary new tool that an author used."

Judge wanted "Mary's Monster" to bring Shelley's story to young people in an inventive way. She considered using a graphic novel format, but in the end took a unique approach using poems and illustrations.

"She was an incredibly bold young woman, and I felt like to tell her story I needed to come up with an incredibly bold new style," Judge said.

"This book is a biography in that it tells the story of Mary Shelley. It's an origin story in that it tells the origin about how she came to write 'Frankenstein.' But for me it's also an experiment, like her, it's an experiment of playing with a new form of storytelling."

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