October Takeover: Frankenstein

~posted by Tyler N.

Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyMary Shelley’s classic story of hubris and horror has been retold and adapted so many times that in some ways to read the original work is something of a shock.  The creature brought to life by Victor Frankenstein resembles so little the moaning, stiff-legged monster with green skin and neck bolts, cobbled together from assorted body parts and a head shaped like a shoebox, that it is hard to understand quite how that became the common image.

Written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley between the ages of 18 and 20, and first published
anonymously when she was 21, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is also among the first examples of science fiction.  The events of the story are fantastical, but they are brought about by the deliberate actions of Dr. Frankenstein, using experimental scientific means to achieve his results.  The novel received little critical acclaim at first, but was very popular nonetheless, and was already being adapted into stage performances within a few years of its release.  There have been a number of film adaptations, from the 1931 film adaptation of Frankensteinclassic 1931 version with Boris Karloff as the monster, to Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, a masterpiece of parody that also serves as an homage to the 1931 film (using many of the original laboratory set pieces!), to more recent fare like the 2014 Aaron Eckhart-starring I, Frankenstein, which imagines what happened to the creature after the events recounted in the book (spoiler: he gets mixed up in “an ancient war between gargoyles and demons” and wastes an hour and a half of your life).

But no matter how often, or with what liberty, the story is adapted, the original work is well-worth a read.  While a great deal of the language may seem overwrought or melodramatic to more contemporary sensibilities, it does not diminish the story itself.  Among the themes explored in what is a relatively short novel are the relationship between humanity and godhead (the most obvious is the hubris of Frankenstein to imbue life on inanimate matter, but on another level there is the critical question on what a creator owes to its creation); the danger of unchecked ambition (combined in this case with the danger of pursuing innovation absent an ethical or moral compass); and the reflexive fear of the unknown or the simply different (the Monster is generally described as both physically imposing, and physically repulsive, but having gained language and reason he is eloquent in his misery and the most affecting passages are not Frankenstein’s wailing and gnashing of teeth at the misfortune he has brought upon himself and his loved ones, but his creation expressing very candidly and simply his desire to know love and acceptance rather than the fear and revulsion that has been his lot since his creator fled from him in the first moments of his life.)

Put simply, there is a reason this book is a classic.  Whether or not you have any interest in Gothic horror, or if I, Frankenstein is your favorite movie and you’re afraid reading the original will ruin it, I encourage you to give it a chance.

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