Sunday, May 30, 2010

Frankenstein and R. J. Myers’ Domination Fantasies

A couple weeks ago I reviewed R. J. Myers’ The Cross of Frankenstein. It was the respected political commentator’s first foray into fiction. He followed it with a sequel, 1976’s The Slave of Frankenstein and despite the promise of a third book, his only other genre efforts were a late seventies soft-core vampire title and a privately-published guide to blood-drinking as an alternative lifestyle. I always feel a pang of guilt when I come down hard on a fellow pastiche writer. I’ve been on the receiving end of disappointed Sax Rohmer and Conan Doyle fans who felt I had no business continuing the adventures of characters they love. At the same time, I believe I have been fair and honest in my assessments when reviewing pastiches. I have the utmost respect for Joe Gores, Michael Hardwick, Cay Van Ash, and Freda Warrington as writers who tried hard to stay true to the original author in terms of style and spirit. I can still enjoy Peter Tremayne and Basil Copper who, despite falling short of the mark, can still spin an entertaining yarn. Consequently, I feel justified when I confine Myers to the lowest pit of literary Hell alongside Ian Holt and Richard Jaccoma for The Slave of Frankenstein, while a very different beast than Myers’ first effort, is equally contemptible.
The book begins thirty years after the events of The Cross of Frankenstein. Our dishonorable hero, Victor Saville found himself wanted for the murder of the detestable Mr. Greene shortly after the close of the first book. Wisely, Saville sought legal counsel and confessed a full account of the incredible events that transpired. Strangely, his legal counsel didn’t believe that self-defense when dealing with a murderous political revolutionary allied with the Frankenstein Monster would help his case so he advised his client to change his name and become an American citizen. The trick is that the new surname Victor chose was Frankenstein which rather defeats the purpose of going into hiding since any surviving members of the religious cult and private militia knew Saville to be Frankenstein’s son. Sure enough, over the next thirty years, the Monster (yes, the Monster) sends him a series of harassing letters to his new home. Victor chooses to ignore these and considers his father’s creation to be nothing more than an irritating crank. You know I can’t think of a worse portrayal of Mary Shelley’s dignified and awesome literary character than turning him into a nineteenth century prank caller. The years have passed and Victor married, fathered a son and daughter (Victor and Victoria, naturally), became a widower and finally gets pissed off that the Monster is now threatening to do nasty things to Victoria (now a student at Oberlin College) so he decides at the ripe old age of 60 to journey to Virginia and kill his father’s other son once and for all.
Victor pays a visit to his less than credible legal counsel to square things away since he fully expects to perish in killing the Monster. Wouldn’t you know it, his mouthpiece has another client, a U.S. Senator who is concerned that his past support of the imprisoned abolitionist John Brown will spell poison to his political career. The mouthpiece asks Victor to do a little espionage business while down in Virginia and make sure all evidence of the Senator’s unwise support of the abolitionist cause be (if you’ll excuse the expression) white-washed. Victor heartily agrees to do one last good deed before killing the Monster.
Upon his arrival in Virginia, Secret Agent Frankenstein keeps his rendezvous with his contact, Major Thomas Harrison. Harrison is a peculiar character, a slave owner who believes the real slaves are the working class for they are not guaranteed three square meals a day and safe lodging over their heads like the slaves he keeps. Myers devotes an entire chapter to this nice bit of Marxist philosophy about the evils of capitalism and how the slaves never recognized that they had it so good. Victor is swayed by the arguments to at least strongly sympathize with this unique spin on the Marxist cause.
Despite being 60 years old, Victor is no less randy than he was as a youth. He first sets his lustful gaze upon Harrison’s mulatto slave, Dolores (later revealed to be Harrison’s illegitimate daughter), but he also is attracted to Harrison’s “nubile” 16 year-old stepdaughter, Hope (later revealed to be carrying her stepfather’s baby), and during his first night under Harrison’s roof, he beds Mrs. Harrison for a marathon all-night session replete with hilariously comical descriptions that Myers obviously finds impressive such as “once the first fire had been smothered in her lathered loins” and “fondling my organ and kneading it slowly back to life, like yeast rising in bread.” One can consider it a small mercy that he never completed his third Frankenstein sequel as the book jacket promises.
I did note with some interest that Dolores is portrayed as attractive, intelligent, and articulate while the male slaves are all given insulting dialogue better suited to Stepin Fetchit such as “I’s cotched a cold” and “I’s heah to hep ‘lores.” Victor is barely able to control himself around Dolores the very next morning after sleeping with his host’s wife. Myers notes that Victor “cursed this searing lust that rose like lava from a long-dormant volcano. What searing damage it might yet do was beyond my immediate imagination.” Having read two of his books, I sincerely doubt much is beyond Myers’ imagination.
As the story unfolds, the reader learns that Major Harrison is in league with the Monster and they plan on liberating John Brown before his execution. Their grand scheme involves transporting Harrison’s slaves and over 200 recaptured runaway slaves from the Underground Railroad via train (apparently, Myers misses the irony here) to Harrison’s new plantation where their body parts will be harvested to make a slave army of Frankenstein monsters that will revolutionize society, free the working man from the yoke of capitalist slavery, and end slavery forever (once they’ve harvested enough body parts from the slaves, that is).
Of course, nothing goes according to plan as Victor is liberated in place of John Brown in a plot twist that would make even Alexandre Dumas cringe for Victor and Brown look exactly alike. The conspirators end up with Victor while Brown meets his fate. The ending gives us not one, but two final ends for the Monster. Poor Hope, pregnant with her stepfather’s baby and unwilling to let Victor abort her child, gets killed off by the Monster. Victor cowardly abandons Dolores and Mrs. Harrison to save his own hide when the Monster sets fire to Harrison’s house. Mrs. Harrison dies in the flames and Dolores rejects Victor’s subsequent marriage proposal leaving him alone with his daughter, his unreliable lawyer, and the fear that the Monster still lives.
Early in the book, Victor muses over the literary injustice that Uncle Tom’s Cabin (“a hastily-written newspaper serial”) is selling in the millions while Moby Dick, a work of seven years’ labor is only selling in the hundreds. Given that Myers notes that he spent six years writing The Cross of Frankenstein in that book’s foreword, it is perhaps telling that he finds less value in the abolitionist work than in an admittedly classic literary yarn rich in Biblical allusions and sexual metaphors for it is the same path he tries to walk with his second, more ambitious Frankenstein sequel. Myers' book is top heavy in Biblical quotes and Dantean allusions that sadly fail to lend any weight or credence to the author’s protracted and offensive view of sexual politics and race relations. William F. Buckley, Jr. hailed Myers’ Frankenstein sequels as “a tour de force of great skill and daring” on the back cover. I found both books to be risible at best and sickening at worst. “Here endeth the lesson.”

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