*I forgot to publish this on Monday, which is unfortunate because I definitely could have used the feedback. I got on here to post something in the wake of our final day together, but instead I decided to publish this instead*
Examining the Connections between the Works of Shelley and Rowling
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly seemed to be surrounding by tragedy. Her mother, famous authoress Mary Wollstonecraft died during childbirth, leaving her father, William Goodwin, to raise her. Goodwin, by most accounts, was overwhelmed as a father, who struggled not only with the death of his wife, but finical concerns. Goodwin was ill prepared for the hardships he would face trying to raise a young woman and on some level neglected Mary because he was unsure of how to raise her. Mary soon found love in Percy Shelley, a wealthy, radical author and friend of her father William. It was with Percy’s help that Mary would submit her first novel, Frankenstein for publication, the first in a series of steps that lead to the release of the novel as we know it today.
J.K Rowling faced similar hardships. Most of her adolescent life she lived in a home with an extremely ill mother and a distant father. She attended college, but felt that she was largely unexceptional, despite high marks. Rowling began work on her first novel while living alone as a single parent teaching English in Portugal. Recently divorced and in a strange country Rowling sought to reconnect with the people and books that made her happy. Dickens and Tolkien not only served as an inspiration, but a means to release all the pent up emotions she had inside her. The characters in her work reflect those she had known. The world she created was one where good ultimately triumphs and love is the most treasured aspect of the human experience. Rowling was able to take the experiences of growing up in a traditional British school system and turned into a global brand whose value is in the billions.
Finding acceptance is a theme found in both Shelley’s and Rowling’s works. Frankenstein’s monster wants to live a normal life, but his monstrous countenance made interactions with others impossible. Harry Potter also seeks to find acceptance, after spending the earliest years of his childhood neglected by his aunt and uncle who raised him. Victor Frankenstein’s inability to accept his creation ultimately leads to his downfall. The characters are motivated by their need to be accepted by into the community. In many ways this is typical of British culture even today. While Americans tend to be more individualistic in nature the British tend to be more collectivistic. For many British people gaining the acceptance of their community is a major part of the human condition. Those shunned by society lack the means to fulfill their emotional needs. Victor Frankenstein’s greatest flaw may have been his independence. With no real familial or communal ties to reinforce cultural values he was free to pursue goals that were ghastly and inhumane in nature. What makes matters worse for Victor is the fact that there were those willing to embrace him, but he refused to allow others to take him in. Victor not only denies his monster his own acceptance, he also denies him the chance to be accepted by anyone when he refuses to create a bride for his monster. This refusal to become part of the community is a large part of why Victor Frankenstein can be viewed as the villain of Shelley’s novel. In Rowling’s Harry Potter series the notion of cultural acceptance is equally important. Part of what gives Harry the strength to stand up for what is right is due to the way those around him have accepted him and made him part of their community. Without a strong support network Harry would have failed many of the tasks that were laid out before him. Voldermort also parallels Victor Frankenstein when it comes to their perception on the importance of community. Both men shun others under the misguided perspective that they have no peers. Both are able to push the boundaries of what is considered morally acceptable because they have no community ties that force them to act under any sort of social guidelines.
Another of the central themes of both Shelley’s Frankenstein and Rowling’s Harry Potter series is love. The lack of a loving environment during their earliest developmental phases is the largest contributing factor to the way Frankenstein’s Monster and Voldermort views the world. It is not difficult to see why both authoresses chose love as a major theme in their work considering the impact feelings of neglect had on their own lives. Love should also be viewed as a different theme than acceptance, because it goes beyond being part of a community. Love for both Shelley and Rowling are essential for development because it speaks to what we crave most in this world. Both Frankenstein’s monster and Harry Potter were “born” from unfortunate circumstances. The monster had no control over his genesis, but was constantly blamed by his creator for the hardship he faced. Harry Potter found himself in a similar circumstance. The death of his parents led to the events that molded the way Harry grew into manhood. Just as Victor Frankenstein created the monster so too did Voldermort create Harry through his actions. Both Victor and Voldermort knew nothing of love and were both unprepared for the consequences their actions would have. Had Victor raised his monster he could have instilled in him some sense of humanity. If Voldermort had stopped to comprehend why I mother would sacrifice her own life for that of her child he may have been able to foresee the consequences of his actions. That is not the only role love plays in the novels. Voldermort’s childhood takes place in a loveless environment. In fact his very conception was the result of deceit. Without love in his life Voldermort was unaware of the comfort and strength that can be found within communal bonds. The monster’s inception is equally loveless as he is the product of sewn together body parts that were stolen from graves.
The idea of the danger of progress is also examined. Both Voldermort and Victor Frankenstein pushed themselves past the boundaries of humanity in search of a dark power. The constrains of what is acceptable was not enough to stop them in their pursuit for eternal glory. While one may have used science and the other magic in order to accomplish their goals both men pushed themselves past the point of no return and in the process twisted themselves into something that was not entirely recognizable. This reckless regard for what makes them human made it impossible for either man to prevent their ultimate downfall.
It is not only literary themes that tie the works of Shelley and Rowling together. Both women also felt external pressure to write their works under a pen name; for fear that the populace might be too quick to write off the literary works of women. For both Shelley and Rowling this can be attributed to the subject matter found within their novels. While women writers had garnered some success in Shelley’s time the idea that a female could write a novel about the dangers of science and progress for progress sake would be a foreign concept.
At first look it may be odd to compare Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to a contemporary series of books like Harry Potter. Both novels are the products of vastly different times. Yet there exist connections between them. While both authoresses told completely different stories they used very similar themes and tropes to tell them. More importantly even after 200 years a female author still felt the need to write under a pen name in order to publish her work in a traditionally male dominated field. Despite having fellow writers like Shelley pave the road for her J.K. Rowling still found herself in the position to be a trail blazer. And both works, despite being easily acceptable for readers of both genders still carry with them a tone and subject matter that could be described as subtly feminine. While men and women are capable of performing the same task and should be considered intellectually equal the fact that women writers tend to excel in certain literary avenues over their male counterparts and vice versa is not surprising considering that social pressures and cultural norms that have forced them to develop different perspectives. Yet despite these differences both women have wrote works that standalone on their own as impressive, regardless of the gender of the author.
It will be interesting to see what impact, if any the works of J.K Rowling will have on the literary world after time has passed and her success and fanfare has died down. Admittedly it took a little over 150 years for the works of Shelley to undergo a revival in popularity and reignite the imagination of a new generation of individuals. Perhaps when the time comes and another woman author enters the public spotlight through the writings of critically acclaimed book she will be able to do so under her own name, without fear of readers rejecting her on the basis of her gender alone. Countless women have written works that will stand the test of time. They did so with a unique perspective borne from the culture that surrounded them. Being able to read and experience a small part of these individuals’ lives through a lens they, themselves create is a fascinating experiencing. The themes of their books are part of what has made them so successful. It is to some extent why these connections exist between Frankenstein and Harry Potter, because they speak to the central issues that we face every day as human beings. Both women were able to share part of their own life experiences through a common literary language that goes beyond words. The search for acceptance and love is something every one struggles with at some point in their life or another. Understanding what connects these two authors helps us to understand not only ourselves, but other works that have been written through out time.