or, The Modern Prometheus
"Begun when the author was only eighteen and conceived from a nightmare, Frankenstein is the deeply disturbing story of a monstrous creation which has terrified and chilled readers since its first publication in 1818. The novel has thus seared its way into the popular imagination while establishing itself as one of the pioneering works of modern science fiction."
The tale of Frankenstein is one of those stories that has permeated popular culture to the point where, pretty much knows at least some form of the story. However, the multitude of films, books, tv shows and parodies that have borrowed from the text have all added their own tweaks and changes to the point where much of the original story is lost.
Going into this book, I understood I’d be getting a radically different story from the one I expected. Though while I knew there’d be no green skinned, flat-topped monster with bolts through his neck, I was surprised to learn just how little of the pop culture Frankenstein exists within Shelly’s original novel. There’s no Igor, no castle laboratory on a dark and stormy night, no villagers with pitchforks, not even a blood curdling scream of “It’s Aliiivvveee!!!”
Instead, the novel is a far more subdued affair, to the point where it’s, dare I say, boring…
The novel sees the young scientist Victor Frankenstein create life in the form of “the creature”, (or “the daemon” or “fiend” as it’s more commonly referred to throughout the book) an eight foot tall, yellow skinned man, sewn together from various body parts that Victor acquires via grave robbing.
Upon creating the beast, it flees into the night and is not seen again by Victor for two years when it resurfaces and murders his brother.
During these years, Victor, seemingly unburdened by his creation, returns to life as normal, sipping tea, spending time with friends, resuming his studies, and it’s this that causes the main frustration when reading the novel.
The novel reads as a series of interesting but brief highs followed by long and tedious lows. Victor creates a monster then we’re forced to endure lengthy scenes of his day to day life. The creature murders Victors brother then we move onto a long and uninteresting court sequence. Victor confronts the monster only to have him talk for a hundred pages about living in the woods and spying on a peasant family.
The result of this is a novel with much potential, instead feeling slow and cumbersome.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on within its pages, not just the horror aspect, but also the questions it raises. The idea of a monster being made, not by nature, but by the way in which society acts upon it. The string of potentially unreliable narrators that tell second and third hand accounts of the story, lending it a Chinese whispers style mystery as the reader is left to wonder if Frankenstein is telling the truth or has been driven mad.
I also loved the creature himself. I loved that he was agile and overpowered, how he learns fluent and eloquent speech in under a year, as if Frankenstein had succeeded in not only making a man, but making a better version. He was at once a frightening, but sympathetic character. Murderous and vengeful but ultimately lonely and abandoned.
These were the things I wanted from this novel, these were the moments I clung to while reading. But they were brief and skirted over quickly in favour of more long winded and painfully uninspiring passages.
If a monster truly is created by how society acts upon it, then the twists and mutations that a long history of adaptations, remakes and reimaginings have grafted onto the Frankenstein mythos have left it a monster that has been greatly improved, as in this original state, it fails to come to life.