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Quills & Queues: Deconstructing ‘Frankenstein’

Tod Davies is an Ashland-based writer, publisher and producer who was born and raised in the Bay Area. She has a diverse body of work that includes co-authorship of the screenplay for the adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and the “History of Arcadia” book series. She is also founder and principal of the independent book publisher, Exterminating Angel Press (EAP). More recently, Davies has had an attraction to the work of English novelist Mary Shelley. I spoke with Davies about her current and upcoming projects.

JG: Tod, Tell us about how your fascination with Mary Shelley’s book, “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus,” came to be.

TD: It’d be hard not to be fascinated with “Frankenstein.” Read today, it’s as if it was written to address all the issues we’re facing now. The theme of an adult rejecting responsibility for a child — childcare and education anyone? The theme of a scientist rejecting responsibility for his creation — got nuclear weapons? The theme of society prizing individual “genius” over personal relationships. The theme of the tragedy that comes from rejecting another human as a monstrous “other.” Most of all, the theme of valuing thought over feeling, rather than letting them work together — how that leads to disaster.

JG: You recently gave a talk for the Friends of Hannon Library lecture series at SOU: “Monster Hit: 200 Years of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN”. What was that all about?

TD: I really wanted to give Mary Shelley her due. I hope I managed to get across what an amazing woman she was, and how the anguish of her own life — losing four children before she was even in her mid-20s, for one thing — went into the writing of “Frankenstein.” She had no other way, given her circumstances as an impoverished woman artist in the early 19th century, to come to terms with the forces that imprisoned her. I hope I was able to show those forces, and how much they constrained her, while at the same time giving her the story of “Frankenstein.” She felt the same rage as her “monstrous progeny,” and telling that story was the way she could express that suffering.

JG: I understand you have a book related to “Frankenstein” coming out in August. Talk to us a little about that.

TD: I write a visionary fiction series, “The History of Arcadia,” about a world that was created by a fairy tale. The fourth in the series, “Report to Megalopolis, or The Post-modern Prometheus,” is narrated by my villain, a scientist who doesn’t understand until it’s too late what he’s done in creating a god man. Hijinks, as they say, follow. The book comes out in August of this year.

JG: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

TD: I’m planning the fifth book in the series, “An Evolutionary’s Handbook,” narrated by a young woman scientist of Arcadia. She kept appearing while I was writing “Report to Megalopolis,” and, as often happens with these things, ended up playing a bigger role than I’d planned. She’s introduced me to a creature, the result of an experiment gone wrong, Babal, a cross between a bear, a lion, and an eagle, as well as to her great love Bertrand, who was born a mix of a boy and a girl. These stories try to get through to me, and my main work is to listen hard and get them right. I wonder if that was true for Mary Shelley too?

— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.

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Tod Davies photo by Marissa Bell Toffoli.jpg