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Literature’s Scientific Investigators

Astronomers released a new report this past week. http://news.yahoo.com/under-frankenstein-moon-astronomer-sleuths-solve-mary-shelley-201601341.html/

Rumor has it that these researchers play with scientific private investigation in their spare time. They snag one literary allusion at a time, hoping to find the possible authentic astronomical event to which it refers.

“A group of astronomers used some crafty celestial sleuthing to put to rest a 19th Century mystery surrounding the events that inspired Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of the classic novel “Frankenstein,” to pen her tragic tale of the infamous monster.

Astronomers from Texas State University-San Marcos delved into Shelley‘s own description of what moved her to write the legendary story, in hopes of solving a long-standing controversy over whether the account is true, or if the author took some liberties in her re-telling of what happened.”

This new investigation report deals with Mary Shelley’s assertion that she witnessed the full moon from her bedroom window and “…had a waking dream” in which the story of Frankenstein came to her fully realized. Consider for the moment how minor that singular statement really is. It’s peculiar that such a controversy would surround it for two centuries, but it has.

If these researchers spend their spare time investigating such allusions throughout literature to find the truth of them, how long does it take to get all the evidence Yay or Nay on a given investigation? When one thinks of the sheer numbers of such literary statements used over the years, it’s easy to understand that these intrepid scientists will never go without a project that fascinates them.

What does an investigator look for? The creative non-fiction world of writing alone is a treasure chest filled with bits and pieces of factoid information. Getting hold of someone else’s account of the event(s) written about would help to verify or negate said event. Journals and diaries work for this type of search.

Of course, the investigator would have to first identify those who would have witnessed the event. That could take years; depending on what year the event took place. Only after that could the scientist take the field, so to speak, to do the calculations necessary to validate whether the event might have happened during a specific or approximate date in time. Without that verification, the reader has no way to trust the story’s accuracy other than through faith. That, too, brings up its own ball of worms into the light.

The Bible and other religious texts depend on faith alone to ensure belief in the words contained within them. In the past twenty years, archeologists, plus astronomers and botanical paleontologists have verified many puzzling events and locations within the Bible. New discoveries are made every day which point to the accuracy of the histories laid down in the Good Book.

This leaves today’s writers with an increasing demand for accuracy in all writing, regardless of genre or audience. It’s doubtful that will change in the foreseeable future. The troubling aspect of this verification process centers on how much research and authentication is an absolute necessity.

Are three sources enough? Should a first person account be used if one is found? How far into fiction writing will such verification run?

The questions keep arriving like so many uninvited guests at a holiday dinner. If the writer works in both fiction and non-fiction, she/he may find the simplest of projects taking on new responsibilities and factors that weren’t planned for.

The simple act of putting together a science fiction short story could drive a person mad if every tiny detail of the technology used on whatever world or universal scale is referenced. At this time science fiction demands accuracy above most other genres of fiction. The technology involved must be at least theoretically possible or probable given current technologies and surging advances each year.

What will land on the writer’s doorstep of responsibility tomorrow morning may be more than the local newspaper. It may be a new role cast by the readers who look for authenticity and accuracy. The day of speculation as fact looks to be well on its way to the dustbin of earlier decades.

  1. CarrieBoo
    October 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Brilliant post, Clauds. Hugely important to get right and ever changing. It’s amazing what was “acceptable” when I was a kid. Kids aren’t as naive these days.

    • claudsy
      October 4, 2011 at 11:10 pm

      In this info age, writers can’t afford to make sweeping statements unless it’s a matter of opinion. Opinion has its place as well. It’s a matter of reporting.

  2. October 10, 2011 at 8:42 am

    Great post Cluads. I agree that with all the technology and information out there right now, we have to be very careful what we say/write. I had heard this “story” of Mary Shelley a few times through the years. I wish I could have a dream like that.


    • claudsy
      October 10, 2011 at 11:05 am

      Thanks, Court. I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to this kind of report. The fact that astonomers use free time and scientific resources to trackdown these little mysteries/questions does intrigue me. I keep wanting to know why they bother. Why does such a question of niggling doubt compel someone to take the time to explore for the truth of it so long after the fact?

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