Frankenstein: 203 Years of Terror

As we near the end of spooky season, let us celebrate one of the giants of Horror: Frankenstein, the original book version.

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On this, the eve of Halloween, let us celebrate one of the most iconic stories of all time: Frankenstein. This horrific tale has fascinated, entranced, and terrified us for 203 years. And some say it gave birth to an entirely new genre: science fiction. Let the Frankenstein Friday celebrations commence!

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How better to kick things off than by celebrating the mind behind it all? Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s life began on August 30th, 1797. And oh my, what a life it was. Take her marriage, for example. Scandalous does not even begin to describe it! Mary met and entered a relationship with her future husband (Percy Bysshe Shelley) while he was already married; and while she was 16 years old! Percy’s original wife actually ended her life as a result of the affair!

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The most important event, not in Mary Shelley’s life, but in Frankenstein’s, was the former’s holiday near Geneva. After all, the meat of the novel takes place in that very city. While we can’t “prove” Frankenstein’s setting came from Mary’s holiday, there is much documentation of Mary, Lord Byron (only the most famous poet at the time), and Percy’s writing contest. The prompt? “Who can write the best horror story?” Frankenstein, or an iteration of it, was Mary’s answer.

Let’s get to the book now, shall we? The narrative is odd. Innovative and fresh, but unmistakably odd. I am not an expert on 19th century literature. But still, I doubt Frankenstein‘s having 3 different perspectives, each a secondhand account of the previous, was just par for the course.

The narrative is best explained in 5 parts:

Part 1 – Robert Walton.
The sea captain Robert Walton writes letters to loved ones back home. The entirety of the novel consists of these letters. Walton finds Dr. Victor Frankenstein in the frozen oceans of the Pacific. Victor, who is freezing, worn out, and extremely regretful tells Robert what he’s doing out there. And that is a long, painful story.

Part 2 – Victor Frankenstein.
Robert takes on the voice of Dr. Frankenstein, retelling his story secondhand. This chronicles the Dr.’s early life, culminating in the creation of the Creature.

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Part 3 – The Creature.
After chapters of paranoia and terror, Victor finally comes face-to-face with his Creation, and its got a lot to say to him. Here, Robert takes on the voice of Victor, taking on the voice of the Creature.

Part 4 – Victor again.
We return to Victor for the conclusion of the tale, ending with his searching the Pacific for the Creature and being picked up by Robert.

Part 5 – Robert again.
The true conclusion, narrated from Robert’s perspective in real-time. All of Robert’s doubts as to the truth of Victor’s story are squashed, and he is left to wonder what he should do with his newfound knowledge.

I’ll say again, this narrative is quite odd. But “odd” doesn’t mean “bad”.

Now for some fun facts.

Fun Fact #1: The Creature likes literature. His favorite book is Paradise Lost, because he relates to Lucifer.

Fun Fact #2: Frankenstein’s Monster is specifically called “The Creature” in narration, not “The Monster”. He only became a monster when others called him one. He is a nameless something created; nothing more, nothing less. This concept was so important to 19th century readers, that some stage adaptations listed him as “_______” in the playbills.

Fun Fact #3: The 1st edition of the novel was published anonymously.

Fun Fact #4: There is an actual Castle Frankenstein. Legend has it, a medieval alchemist used to conduct experiments in a tireless pursuit for the “Elixir of Life”. While there is no proof she visited this castle, many speculate Shelley took inspiration from both it and the Alchemist’s legend. For one, Frankenstein is a fairly distinctive name; for two, the castle is near the path Shelley and her companions traveled during their holiday.

Fun Fact #5: Frankenstein has the subtitle “The Modern Prometheus”. Dr. Frankenstein sees himself, and is portrayed, as having stepped into the territory of God/the gods by creating life. Stealing the proverbial fire, as it were. Such is one of the main themes of the novel. It’s also a great subject for philosophical discussions: How far should Man(kind) go? Should they fear horrific, tragic consequences the likes Dr. Frankenstein suffered?

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Fun Fact #6: Mary Shelley had at least one nightmare which directly influenced Frankenstein. Here’s a quote from the woman herself:

“I saw the pale student of the unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion…”

Fun fact #7: The iconic “It’s alive!” scene is a movie-only addition. In other words, we never find out how Victor brings the Creature to life. The 19th century had a lot of rumors about reanimation, and electrification was certainly a popular theory. Perhaps this is where the original movie got the idea. However, the book version of Dr. Frankenstein essentially says “I’m not telling, and shame on you for asking!”

In my opinion, keeping the means a mystery is genius. The method isn’t as important as the event itself; and keeping it a mystery adds to the mystique of the mad Dr.’s forbidden science.

I hope you enjoyed diving into Frankenstein. I know I did! And it totally has nothing to do with how much I related to the Creature in high school. I will end with one of my favorite quotes of his:

“There is love in me the likes of which you’ve never seen. There is rage in me the likes of which should never escape. If I am not satisfied in the one, I will indulge the other.”

A spooky tidings to you all!