Mary Shelley – Frankenstein

Title: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
Author: Mary Shelley
Year: 1818

It’s sometimes a strange experience to read books which stories are already well-known, especially if this alleged familiarity turns out to be erroneous. This is certainly the case with Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The story has been used so many times and adapted to so many different media that the original story is lost somewhere in the marshland of bad movies and borrowed plot elements. I had a vague idea about what Frankenstein was about, but it turned out that most of it was wrong.

The story begins with a strange chase over Arctic ice, where the pursuer is rescued by a ship from certain death after directing his sled far beyond safe limits. As he recovers, he begins to tell a sailor about his miserable story of his life and how he came to be here in the north chasing after a monster who wreaked havoc upon his life. This man is of course Victor Frankenstein himself, creator of the well-know monster, and we are told the story in two ways, first by Frankenstein and then by the monster himself (no, it isn’t an  androgynous machine). Through these two stories, we learn about how Frankenstein diligently studied the natural sciences to enable him to bestow the blessing of life on inert mechanical parts. We also learn about how Victor’s abandonment of the horror he created, and, subsequently, how the being in search for revenge brings about the death of all that his creator loves.

What is most striking about this story is the discrepancy between the two versions. Reading what Frankenstein himself says, it seems like an ordinary horror story with a monster killing and bringing misery into the lives of innocent people, but reading what the monster has to say about it, it’s easy to sympathise and understand his position. Even though Frankenstein has no compassion for his creation, it’s obvious to the reader that the author harbours such feelings. It is not a simple tale about good and evil, such as some film adaptations have it. Frankenstein’s creation is in the beginning a compassionate being, prepared to contribute to the greater glory of mankind, but as he is shunned and hated for his horrible appearance, his mind blackens and finally sets upon revenge, as he can find no other outlet for his frustration.

This is a good read and something I think most people should read. It isn’t very long and even though it gets a bit long-winded at times (thus the reduced grade), it’s still worthwhile. The language isn’t something I fancy in the extreme, but it’s good enough to tell this story. It’s precisely in this story and its themes that the greatness of Frankenstein lies. It is oftentimes regarded as the first science fiction novel and is a well worthy origin of this genre. Read it, if you haven’t already!

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  1. Xhakhal’s avatar

    Wera describes the Victor part as being mostly emo angst, and the book being “a cozy read” or something of the sort. I purchased it the other week (for less than 1SEK), the Penguin edition, and I may read it… sometime. On a train or something. I once had it as an audio book read by Kenneth Branagh … or whoever it was. Some person with a nice voice. I don’t know what became of it, though…

    It is interesting, though, how warped ones perception of such a well-known story can become if you don’t head straight for the source material immediately. On the other hand, in the case of books like Dracula (for I haven’t read Frankenstein yet so I can’t make a fair comparison), what is derived from the story is often better than the source material, as Dracula is one of the most boring books in the world.

    I think I’ve talked about this before, when discussing Philip K. Dick and his once original ideas – and the subsequent plagiarism thereof.

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  2. Olle Linge’s avatar

    I think it works both ways, but mostly I think books and film are good for different reasons. There are of course examples of directors having taken books and turned them into movies that I like for precisely the same reason as I liked the original book (such as Fight CLub), but this is rare.

    However, when it comes to such important cultural phenomena, such as Frankenstein, I think there is a merit in reading the original just to see where it all started. In other cases I might be content with watching the movie.

    I think film adaptations can be a good way of enjoying a story which isn’t interesting enough to waste time reading (or which is written in such a way that it isn’t worth the effort).

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