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Introduction

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Plenty of people today think they know the story of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, one of the most frequently adapted works of the 19th century. The book is no longer widely taught in schools, however, and audiences might be surprised to learn that scenes frequently associated with the story — an angelic little girl whom the Creature accidentally kills, an angry mob of villagers intent on avenging her death, a hunchbacked lab assistant who makes a key mistake — actually date to more recent retellings. Moreover, modern readers might find Shelley’s horror story — thick with suspense and a brooding atmosphere, its long passages depicting the power of nature through extensive travels — at odds with today’s popular culture, saturated with graphic depictions of violence and full of fast-moving action.

But there’s little surprise why Frankenstein has endured and continues to inspire. As of early 2012, for instance, multiple new films and at least one television drama are in the works. The story’s suspenseful, brooding atmosphere is only the beginning. The larger themes that Shelley explores resonate with the same power for us as do the ancient myths, including: What makes a person good or bad? What is just treatment of societal outcasts? What is the relationship between and rights of a creator and his creation (even in remix culture, for what is Frankenstein's monster if not the original remix?)? What is the danger of knowledge and technology run amok?

For readers seeking a summary of the book, or for those who simply want a refresher, the editors of Biblion have formulated the following plot synopsis based on Shelley’s revised 1831 edition. You may listen to audio recordings of key passages from the book’s 1818 edition, read by actor and voiceover artist AJ Stetson, recorded at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library’s Audio Book Studio. You can also explore maps — from NYPL’s Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division — rendered at the time Shelley was writing, of locations in the novel, supplemented by technical notes from NYPL’s geospatial librarian Matthew Knutzen.