‘The New Annotated Frankenstein’ Brings Fresh Life to the Classic Book

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Leslie “Les” S. Klinger

Two hundred years ago, back in 1818, 20-year old author Mary Shelley published her first book—“Frankenstein”—a gothic horror tale about a young scientist who brings a man made of stitched-up corpse pieces to life during an experiment. The story of that “monster,” which is considered to be the first science-fiction novel ever written, has now persisted in popular culture for two centuries. Nearly 100 Frankenstein movies have been made, not to mention television adaptations, music, radio, theater, comic books, other novels, toys and video games. 

Local resident Leslie “Les” S. Klinger, whose day job is being a partner in a law firm, is also a writer, literary editor and annotator of classic fiction, with more than 30 books to his credit. One of his latest works, “The New Annotated Frankenstein,” reproduces the original text with 250 illustrations and nearly 1,000 annotations. His notes include some of the differences between the 1818 and the 1831 versions of “Frankenstein”—before Shelley’s book went to its second printing, she rewrote parts of it.

“[Author Mary Shelley] started to rewrite it in 1825,” Klinger described in an interview with The Malibu Times. “She made handwritten changes that are now in the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. She had gone through a lot of personal changes herself by that time—losing three children, a husband and a friend—and wasn’t as angry as when she was younger. [In the rewrite], she was easier on Victor, the creator of the monster, and made him less of a villain and more a victim of fate. My overall conclusion is that she made him a kinder, gentler person, less guilty of crimes.”

When asked about the 100 or so films that have been made about Frankenstein, Klinger said he’s not really a fan of any of them. 

“I don’t believe any of them have really done it justice, and I’m not sure why—none came close to the book’s story,” Klinger said. “The 1931 film is a terrible distortion. Most of the films focus on the science and the mad scientist, and their moral is to ‘be careful with science.’ Mary was actually writing about taking responsibility for what you do in life.”

Another interesting finding was that the book mirrored the science of the day in 1818. 

“They were interested in trying to discover what made something alive versus dead,” Klinger said. “One guy actually did try to revivify a cadaver with electric shocks, and the muscles did respond. Electricity was new and they thought it had a deep connection to life.”

However, the scene commonly shown in movies with lightning striking the dead body and bringing it back to life was not actually written in the book. 

Klinger’s publication includes an introduction by Guillermo del Toro, a lifelong fan of the Frankenstein genre, whose latest film, “Shape of Water,” has been awarded 13 Academy Award nominations. The director spoke to the press about Frankenstein during the 20th Fantasia Film Festival.

“What Mary Shelley wrote was the quintessential sense of isolation you have as a kid,” Del Toro said at the festival. “It’s the quintessential teenage book. ‘You don’t belong. You were brought to this world by people that don’t care for you and you are thrown into a world of pain and suffering, and tears and hunger, and you learn to talk…’ It’s an amazing book written by a teenage girl. It’s mind blowing.” 

Klinger has annotated other classic books including the Sherlock Holmes stories and “Dracula,” written introductions to various books, done book reviews for the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Review of Books and others, consulted on the two Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films as well as other films, edited a number of books and manuscripts, and maintained membership to a number of societies, including the Sherlock Holmes literary club “The Baker Street Irregulars.” 

When beginning work on an annotated book, Klinger begins with a definite process. 

“It’s a terrible disease,” he laughed. “I run out and buy a whole lot of books, because I’m a book collector at heart, and I buy both academic and fun books. I read the original book very slowly at first and ask myself questions constantly, and put in dummy blank footnotes, which I go back and research. The internet is also a very powerful source for 19th century research; so many old books have been put online.”

Klinger and his wife Sharon have five adult children, six grandchildren, and live in Malibu with their pets. By day, Klinger practices law in Westwood, specializing in tax, estate planning and business law.