Starting the Season of Scares with Origin of Horror – Frankenstein
In honor of last month’s premiere of Frankenstein MD, a web series adaptation by PBS Digital and Pemberley Digital, this month I decided to read Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel for the first time. I’ve seen the film, of course, and some other adaptations of the story such as Frankenweenie (2012) and I, Frankenstein (2014) but I had it on good authority that the novel is quite different to the tale that we all know.
The premise remains the same – Victor Frankenstein, obsessed with the science of life, builds an oversized, humanoid being that he brings to life. However, the way that the story unfolds after the creation of the “monster” is a bit of a departure. Shelley’s Frankenstein is disgusted with what he has done as soon as the monster comes to life therefore abandoning the being and his responsibility for it almost immediately. The monster then must struggle to understand the world, from learning how to sooth his own hunger to the intricacies of speech to why humans react so violently towards him when he crosses their paths.
When the monster is unable to find compassion from even the most giving of human families, he realizes that the only being who will ever accept him is one that is like him. This realization provokes him to seek out his creator to make him a companion. When Victor refuses to repeat the process, it begins a deadly feud between the two. The monster destroys the people that Victor loves out of anger and perceived betrayal while Victor attempts to destroy the monster to “save” the world from his evil.
Being that this is widely considered to be the earliest science fiction novel, I have to say that it’s a must read for sci-fi fans. There are quite a few tropes that got there start in this story, including my personal favorite – looking at humanity through the eyes of a non-human. A lot of the observations made by the monster are still applicable today. On the other hand, it is also important to keep in mind when this story was written, as there are some moments of blatant racism and sexism perpetuated by the thoughts and actions of the characters.Getting a more detailed look into both the thoughts of Victor and the monster however, completely changes the story and how the characters come across. They’re each so complex that it’s a struggle in some ways to decide who to route for by the end. Both characters are disastrously flawed but for reasons that are understandable. This increased depth enriches the widely known tale thus making this a brilliant read.
In addition, Shelley’s writing is beautifully descriptive. Nature is a huge part of the story as the characters move from forests to mountains to the icy north, and each location is chronicled with deep, rolling details. Because the story is so pervasive, the plot itself doesn’t quite inspire the fear in me that it must have in the original readers but the way that the narrator describes the settings and events kept that gothic horror story feeling hanging in the air.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein fits into so many genres that it’s no wonder it’s been such a well-told story. Gothic literature fans, horror story lovers, and science fiction devotees alike can find something to love in this novel. It’s actually a rather simple tale but brilliant all the same, and Shelley tells it with a depth and beauty that has lasted centuries.