When I heard 20th Century Fox was coming out with a movie based on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, I was pretty excited. Then I saw the cast and realized that Harry Potter, the Master Vampire from Dracula Untold, Mycroft, Moriarty, and Charles Xavier were all going to be playing parts in it and I got even more excited. And then I saw the trailer: Victor Frankenstein and was suddenly very unexcited.
Sure, it’s a cool trailer and I’ll probably end up seeing the movie at some point. And it’s very possible that I’ll enjoy it. But here’s the problem: Hollywood has been doing Frankenstein over and over (from Frankenstein to The Bride of Frankenstein to Son of Frankenstein to I, Frankenstein) and all of them completely miss everything that made the original story good. In fact, everything you know about Frankenstein is probably wrong. Here, let me point a few things out:
- The Monster is not named Frankenstein. Frankenstein is the scientist and the Monster doesn’t have a name.
- There is no Igor. Or hunchback. Or even a lab assistant. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein works entirely alone….That’s one of the things that makes him Frankenstein.
- Victor Frankenstein is not a good character or a hero or anything of the like. He has little to no redeemable qualities.
- The Monster is not blatantly evil. He actually had a lot of good in him before Frankenstein beats it out of him.
- The phrase “It’s alive!” never appears once in the entire novel. Which I’m still a bit bummed about, but hey. The rest of the novel makes up for it.
- Frankenstein is not a Monster vs Good Guys story. It happens to be much, much more than that:
Robert Walton captains a North Pole-bound ship that is unfortunate enough to get caught between sheets of ice. While waiting for the ice to thaw, Captain Walton and his crew catch sight of and rescue a weak and wasted man. His name is Victor Frankenstein and he has an unbelievable story to tell.
It’s a story of a young boy, raised up on papers written by alchemists, who chases after discovering the key to life. In college, he continues to pursue this goal, but it soon turns into an obsession. Pushing away his family and friends to spend days and nights studying and learning about life, he soon uncovers how to bring a being into existence. By robbing graves and stitching together different body parts (ew), he brings to life a hideous monster. A monster he can’t bear to look at, perhaps because it reflects himself.
It’s a story of a monster, shunned by its creator and all it encounters. Its heart is full of love, but rage is there also. Man has created it, though it had not asked to be brought into existence. And man has rejected it, though it had sought to endear itself. It would put aside all of its pain and anger for the love of another being, but, as that will never be the case, it chooses to take a different path: destroy the life of the man who destroyed its.
It’s a story of two creatures, each driven to despair by their searches for paradise: one striving for fame and the other for love. Both were beautiful to begin with and both fell in the end.
Frankenstein is a favorite of mine: a beautiful exploration of monsters and men and knowledge and conscience.
I’ve often wondered what kind of a person it takes to be able to write a story like this. Mary Shelley started writing Frankenstein when she was 18 and published it when she was 21 (I suddenly feel like an underachiever). I was curious as to how somebody so young can write so well about such sad, dark topics, so I looked it up.
Mary Shelley had three children by the time she was 21, all of which died prematurely. Her husband (whose first wife committed suicide at the time that he and Mary were conducting an extramarital affair) drowned after six years of marriage. She was ill for the last 10 years of her life before dying at the age of 51 from a brain tumor.
If anyone was qualified to write Frankenstein, it was Mary Shelley.
Her writing style is poetic and strong. She has the amazing talent of being able to write single sentences that hold more truth than countless other entire novels are capable of capturing. Her characters are a beautiful mix of raw human emotions, horrors that turn people into monsters, and choices that can keep man from doom.
The dialogue between Frankenstein and the Monster is always amazing and thought provoking. I could read this book over and over and come away with something new each time.
The story itself is told in a unique way: a collection of letters written from Captain Walton to his sister, chapters told by a reminiscing Frankenstein, sections of these chapters told by the Monster as he describes parts of his life to Frankenstein. It’s a mad stitching together of different stories (kind of like how the Monster was a stitching together of other’s body parts…not sure if that was intentional) and somehow it works.
Frankenstein was originally titled Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Which I think is awesome. If you know your Greek mythology, you may remember that Prometheus was the titan who stole fire from the Gods and brought it down to humans. This didn’t pan out well for Prometheus, who ended up chained to a rock and having his liver eaten each day. Frankenstein stole the keys of life from God and used it to create a being. This ended in the ruining of both his life and the life of his Monster.
Clearly, nobody gave Victor Frankenstein the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech, otherwise he may not have ended up choosing grave robbing and the stitching together of corpse body parts as a hobby. That’s gross, man. Just gross.
Nobody explained this same concept to the Monster, either. Both Frankenstein and the Monster destroyed many lives around them, both abusing the powers they were given in a mad scrabble after what they hoped would make them happy. Frankenstein was a monster from almost the beginning. The Monster became a beast only after allowing Frankenstein’s action to drag him down.
Mary Shelley’s novel is a very beautiful, layered story.
Which is why I was a bit disappointed to see that the new movie is going to take the usual monster smashing route that all of the other Frankenstein movies have taken. Not that I don’t love a good monster smashing movie. And I do enjoy Frankenstein movies….Boris Karloff is the man. But, for once, I’d like to see a film that at least attempts to capture the dark, beautiful story of fallen angels and abuse of power that was the original Frankenstein.
What do you think? Have you read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley? Do you think the new Victor Frankenstein movie will be able to capture its meaning? Leave your thoughts below!
Hannah Heath – bookworm and aspiring author