The subject of Frankenstein, similar to vampires and werewolves, is something that everyone nowadays can relate too. However most people come by these mythical creatures through watching TV shows, or from their appearances in Hollywood blockbusters, and rarely from having read the original books the characters were born from.
It’s for this reason I decided to go back and discover the original, classical stories, and see where these characters began, and how they compare to their adapted modern brethren.
First on my list was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. For most people my age, when thinking about the character Frankenstein we will often think of the 2004 Van Helsing film version, the foul looking giant that is used by Dracula to bring his children to life. This version however is highly adapted and portrays very little of Shelley’s original Frankenstein.
For those unfamiliar with Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein here is a basic summary of the events within the book:
Having been rescued from the harsh environment of the Arctic by sea captain Robert Walton, Doctor Victor Frankenstein conveys the events resulting from his sinister obsessions and unholy experiments on the dead. Stitched together from body parts and brought to life, Frankenstein’s monster soon develops into an articulate and sensitive being. Shunned by all, lonely and abandoned by even its creator, the miserable monster tracks down Victor Frankenstein and requests that the Doctor make him a companion; otherwise suffer the consequences of his rage.
The creation of the book Frankenstein originally came out of a competition between Mary Shelley, her husband Percy, Lord Byron, and John Polidori when they decided to see who could write the best horror story. Along with this the storyline to the book come to Mary in a dream. After thinking for weeks about what her possible storyline could be, it’s said that Shelley dreamt about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made. This basic premise led her to writing Frankenstein.
With the books popularity, its classic reputation and the many adaptations that it’s spawned over the years, my expectations for it were very high. Having now finished the book I can definitely see why so many people enjoy it, and why it had so much effect when it was first published. Saying this however I do feel that it didn’t quite meet my high expectations.
Throughout this book the reader experiences two separate narratives, the majority of the story through the main character Victor Frankenstein, as he re-tells the sequence of past events that led up to his current situation, and the second is told through letters written in the present by Captain Walton to his sister Margaret Saville. This style of writing vastly enhances the realism of the book, making it feel like a scary story that would be read out loud to people around a camp fire. This is cleverly accomplished by abruptly changing the flow of time in the story from past to present, causing pauses in Victors re-telling of events. During these interruptions the reader is forcefully brought back to the present, to remind them that Victor and the Captain are still on the ship, and that all of these events being described have already transpired.
Going into this book I expected that a lot of the story would be focused on the events leading up to and during the creation of the monster, as these are the areas modern adaptations tend to focus on most. To my surprise however these areas were brushed over quite quickly to allow more time to be centred on the monsters life and the relationship of Victor and the monster as it grows and learns about the world. Although this wasn’t what I’d expected, it was a pleasant turn of events.
By focusing on the events following the monsters creation, there was sufficient time to properly develop the relationship between Victor and the Monster and also gave way to more interesting plot twists. Although narrated by Victor Frankenstein, the introduction of the monster so early on also allowed for the monsters side of the story to be told in conjunction with Victors, giving a clearer version of events. This aspect in my opinion added greatly to the book allowing the readers to see through the eyes of the monster and gain its perspective rather than solely just being an autobiography of Victor Frankenstein’s life.
Including the monsters perspective within the story also makes this book very fulfilling for the reader. Having this view incorporated provides the reader with the opportunity to discover answers to the numerous questions that emerge throughout the story. This perspective also allows the reader to understand to a fuller extent the reasons why the monster is behaving and acting the way it does.
The only real issue with the story I found, is not particularly a fault of Mary Shelley’s writing but perhaps the period in which she was writing it. This issue was the length of time between the encounters of the monster and Victor Frankenstein. Due to the time it would take to travel using the transport of the period, such as horse and carriage, there were occasionally long periods of time in-between each encounter, which made parts of the book feel dragged out. During these quieter segments I had to make more of an active effort to keep with the story and follow what was going on.
Frankenstein is very different from its modern counterparts, and didn’t quite live up to its present day, high reputation. Taken on its own however, as a single stand-alone book, I’d say that this is an amazingly intelligent book, far better than many of the modern variations being churned out today. Although some people today may not find this story frightening, for years it has successfully scared, horrified and chilled readers, leaving an everlasting imprint of the gruesome image that is Frankenstein’s monster in their mind.