Comment permalink

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Given its place in history, it is hard to avoid any references to this classic horror tale. Be it books, graphic novels, plays or movies, Frankenstein has been done to death. Of course, since it is a nifty trend-setter, this story never gets old. I must ask though – even though we're all familiar with the basic concept of Frankenstein, have any of us really read the book? The original one by Mary Shelley? Alright, so I have and thus that's how this review came about. And on a side note, early exposure to the original would also explain my love (and by that I mean completely normal, acceptable sort of love) for everything zombie-like. Just what is so great about the original that you can't experience in the numerous remakes and re-imaginings?

The basic plot of Frankenstein is well-known. A scientist creates a monster by infusing life into an undead body. This monster then runs around amok, killing off a bunch of people. Finally, there is a showdown between the creator and the monster. I said that's what is known about the story; it is not necessarily how the story unfolds. The concept is a common summary of Frankenstein with quite a bit of vital information left out or misinterpreted.

To begin with, the doctor, Victor Frankenstein, is obsessed with the idea of creating life. He has no intention of reanimating undead or devious plans to take over the world. It is a far cry from the way mad scientists are depicted in the future Frankenstein-based spin-offs. And, as pointed out by many, the doctor doesn't exactly use an Igor-like dead body that has been stitched together by other body parts.

However, his little project does fall by the wayside when he is successful in his attempts to create life. The monster looks nothing like other humans and the doctor tries to run away from what he has done. Admittedly, the creature is not evil. He tries hard to fit in and be accepted by people. At the very most, he attempts to understand who or what he is. Unfortunately, everyone is so frightened of his looks that they either flee or try to hurt him. Ultimately, this is what teaches the creature that he is evil; everyone acts as a mirror in order for him to make sense of what he is. To a large extent, the ostracizing and hatred brings out a cynical, angry side to the monster where he decides that he will never be accepted in this world.

That's when he starts wreaking revenge on the doctor, you know, the one who gave him life and refused to accept him later on. After all, he is the reason why the monster exists, isn't it? At this point, I should point out another flaw in the trail of remakes – the monster can speak and he does it brilliantly. It learns to read and some of the works it browses thorough are literary works. If intelligence and good articulation are marks of a sentient being, then the creature definitely passes the test. Hence, that is why it was so hard for the doctor to disagree with the creature when they confront each other later on. The monster describes injustices done against and argues his case with the doctor. It is hard not to feel sorry for the monster; it is harder still not to hate the doctor.

Well, the doctor and the creature make a deal. The former promises to flesh out a female companion for the monster and in return, the latter will leave him alone. The next chain of events are pretty horrific and that's when you end following the footsteps of the other as they seek revenge.

There are a few reasons why the content of this book is more cerebral than we give it credit for. Firstly, notice the undeniable parent-child relationship between the doctor and the monster. Notice how the latter desires approval and love of his creator in a way that is akin to seeking acceptance by a father? To this effect, a lot of critics have pointed out that it is rather fitting that the nameless creature was latter only known by his father's name. And while we are on the topic of the monster, note how Shelley comments on society as a possible cause of human vices. The monster goes off the straight and narrow largely due to the way he is treated by humans. In a way, the manner in which he is fought off as an 'other' has now been likened to the way people, in various timelines, have treated the poor, the illiterate and foreigners. Finally, there is the whole concept of birth itself. Sure, a lot of folks got upset about the whole man creating life and playing god theme within this book. But they seem to ignore the way Shelley has pointedly commented on the role of women as bearer of children. According to the invention of Frankenstein, a scientist could 'create' another human without needing a woman as a surrogate. It could very well be that either Shelley herself hated the idea of childbirth or she felt restricted by this limitation that they placed on woman.