Thursday, 10 August 2017

burg frankenstein

I had visited the grounds of Burg Frankenstein in the outskirts of Darmstadt with my parents years ago—in fact the same day my Mom adopted her little dog Zu-Zu—but never returned, not realising that it (along with a lot of other attractions—we really must get better about breaking away from the routine more often and have PfRC on assignment) was just around the corner, until learning of the transmedia edition of the eponymous gothic novel by Mary Shelley and other events happening over the course of the year leading up to the bicentenary of its first publication.
Hiking through the Odenwald to the hill’s summit, I enjoyed a late afternoon exploring the eleventh century ruins and the chapel—that’s apparently become a rather popular wedding venue—and trying to imagine its history and influence. Though Shelley does not explicitly mention the castle or the legends associated with it, in 1814—a few years before writing the novel—she toured the Rhein and stayed in the nearby village of Gernsheim (an adventure for another day) and perhaps heard tales of one of the infamous residents of Burg Frankenstein: the alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel.

Though the only attested product of Dippel’s experiments was an oil made of pulverised animal bones that was supposedly an elixir of life (there’s also a fountain of youth in the forecourt) but was used as chemical weapon during World War II to taint enemy’s water supplies, side-stepping the Geneva Protocols by dint of being non-lethal, rumours abounded that Dippel was conducting unnatural anatomical experiments and succeeded in resurrecting chimerical creatures and may have been the inspiration for Doctor Frankenstein.
Myths and folktales from this region—Odin’s wood, haunted by measurable magnetic anomalies, the site of a witches dance like in the Harz and was also the setting for some dragon-slaying action of the Nibelungenlied, could have also be communicated to Shelley through her step-mother (who was apparently the archetypal step-monster who didn’t foster her step-daughter’s literary talents in any other regard) Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin that were related to her directly from the ethnographers, the Brothers’ Grimm. Some doubt that any connection exists—Frankenstein being a rather commonplace name and designation, but I like to think there’s a triangulation of traditions focused at this place.