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Peter Haining
The Frankenstein File
NEL, London, 1977
price: 3.50
128 pages

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John Stoker
The Illustrated Frankenstein
Westbridge, Devon, 1980
price: 3.95
128 pages

A couple of similar-looking books to remind us that Frankenstein is perhaps the greatest and richest of modern myths. Both of these are large-format, heavily illustrated paperbacks exploring the legacy of Mary Sheller's moment of genius, and they're both very fine indeed.

Peter Haining's book is a collection of articles and stories and comes - as you would expect from such a seasoned anthologist - with a couple of oddities that you're unlikely to know, including an 1847 translation of 'The Old Tower of Frankenstein' a German legend that Ms Shelley is believed to have read. Then there are pieces by and about Karloff, Cushing and Lee, short stories by Robert Bloch and Harry Harrison, and a potted filmography. A bit of a mess, frankly, but quite charming in a scrapbook kind of way.

John Stoker's book, on the other hand, is a more straightforward account of the evolution of the story into a full-fledged myth, following its various stage and screen incarnations and the influence it exerted over 20th century culture. It's excellent. No doubt modern film critics would sneer at its lack of deconstructionalist credentials, but there's a strong vein of direct, common-sense writing that, like, tells you things. All the usual suspects are here, together with accounts of lesser known Mexican and Filipino pieces, and there are more illustrations than you could shake a stick at, unless you were a very experienced stick-shaker indeed. It also has a cover of breath-taking simplicity and beauty.

But my favourite illustration comes from Haining's book and gives us our old friend Richard Milhouse Frankenstein:

Tricky indeed
from the New York Post, 27 June 1973
non fiction