I am no longer angry at Frankenstein. One year ago I picked up Mary Shelley’s novel looking for something.
I knew I’d get to meet a monster, but I was also expecting darkness. Some campy themes. Maybe a bit of suspense. The mixture wasn’t really there. Halloween came and went. Disappointed, I put the book down and decided to wait another year.
A month ago I gave it another try. Totally worth it. Now that I’ve relived the “birth” of the monster and tried another perspective on his persecution, I can look back to what went wrong in my first attempt with this book.
When I first started Frankenstein, I had an image in my mind of who (what?) I was about to meet. My presumptions were primarily driven by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I’d read the year before. I thought Frankenstein the scientist, not the monster, was going to be a smart man with a whole cadre of supporting characters. There would be the beautiful love interest, a trusted sidekick, a mysterious but coincidentally well-researched and mystic scientist; and, finally, there would be a string of mysterious deaths which only our cast of characters would be able to explain.
Shelley’s novel had all those things. But there was no campiness about them. Instead of the stereotypes I was expecting, I actually met real people. Individuals who made decisions throughout the course of the book and who then were made to suffer the consequences of their actions.
Shelley was telling us a story. But she was also conveying her opinions about the scientific advancements of her time. There is a lesson in her work. One where campiness simply had no place.
The monster I was anticipating was the one Hollywood wanted me to see. I’ve never watched any of the B-Movies, but remembered a flat-topped Frankenstein from The Addams Family. Whereas the thing in the former collection was always this frightening beast, in the latter he served as something of a comedic foil. In both cases, Shelley would have turned in her grave.
The real monster of the scientist Frankenstein was ugly on the outside directly from the outset. But it wasn’t until humanity–including his own creator–had scorned him on numerous occasions that he turned to evil. Again in comparison to Dracula, this abomination is completely different from his Halloween contemporary. The only changing we saw in Stoker’s character was from man to bat and back again.
Therein lies the real story behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We need to be careful with our ideas and with our science. What at first might seem an advancement could be anything but. And when we come across the unfortunate or the evil, it is worth reflection upon why the unfortunate or evil are such.