We’ve all seen the movies, with the hulking, shambling monster, a sin against nature, moaning and grunting and raising hell until the villagers with torches and pitchforks bring him down. It turns out that those Frankenstein movies have about as much to do with the original work as the movie I, Robot had to do with the original work. Which is to say, it’s pretty much the opposite.
When Mary Shelley wrote her seminal story, she made a monster that is big and powerful, but also swift, dexterous, and above all articulate.
The monster is condemned by one thing only: he is so ugly, so unspeakably hideous, that every human, even his creator, cry out in horror and shun his company. So ugly that at one point he is cast out by people he’s been secretly helping for a year, once they get a look at him.
He’s a little pissed off about that. Does that justify the evil he perpetrates? The monster argues quite eloquently that it does. His is the voice of the outcast: If you will not treat me fairly then I shall wage war upon your kind. Dr. Frankenstein is almost convinced that he should help the creature.
Did I enjoy the read? Really… it was ok, but not great. I finished it, though it hardly gripped me. Shelley loves her some English language, but ultimately I think the language owned her, rather than the other way around. All the characters spoke in long paragraphs of high-falutin’ language that ultimately wore me down. Surely at least one of the people in the story could have had a different voice.
Though I did have to laugh at the biggest “as you know Bob” I have ever read. An “as you know bob” is a part of the story where one character tells another something they both already know, for the benefit of the reader. In this case, there’s a letter from Frankenstein’s sweetie that says, “allow me to spend a few pages telling you about the person who lived in our house for five years that you used to love but may have forgotten.” She even tells Frankenstein how he used to laugh at the girl’s jokes. In case he couldn’t remember. Wow.
Functionally there were parts of the novel I couldn’t swallow as well. People not acting like actual people. An assumption that people born to wealth are inherently more interesting, even after they’ve fallen on hard times. Then there’s the part where a guy lives in close proximity to a family for an extended period without being detected, even while he was actively helping them. If chopped wood appears in your woodpile each morning, might you not watch one night to see who your benefactor is?
The good thing about this story is that, unlike the countless derivatives, it is not a simple “man’s creation turns on him” tale. In this one, the creator turns on his creation first. Because it’s ugly. Culpability for the evil that ensues is shared. The well-spoken monster gives the creator plenty of chances to make things right—in the eyes of the monster. In the end, when the hatred that has sustained him loses its focus, the monster knows that it is time to go.
No villagers with flaming torches and pitchforks here.
The more I think about it, the more I think Hollywood is ripe for this story, the way it was originally written. “the bad guy is really the good guy!” is a staple now. The tragic fallen, the victim of society and all that. Shelley was ahead of her time, and now is her time for a Hollywood resurgence. A good screen adaptation could do Shelley the favor of giving characters distinct voices and trimming the long-winded passages as well.