AWESOME-tober-fest 2009: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein book review
Today, I review the book that started it all, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley’s tale of the Frankenstein monster is perhaps one of the most classic and iconic horror tales of all time. Shelley’s book has spawned not only other books, but movies, TV shows, plays, satire and short stories. It’s a veritable horror franchise in and of itself. Her book, along with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, helped ground the incredibly popular Universal Monster stable of monster movies in the ’30s. Famously played by Boris Karloff in the Universal movies and by David Prowse (Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies) in the cult favorite Hammer films, the monstrous green, lumbering Frankenstein monster created by a mad scientist looking to create artificial life is what is most popularly known by the public at large. Is this basically what the original book is about? Are the events in the book different? Before this article, I had no idea.
Having never read the original Frankenstein novel by Shelley, I couldn’t answer that question. So I picked up the classic novel for this year’s AWESOME-tober-fest and read the original novel. I had no prior knowledge of Shelley’s book (other than it existed) and all of my imagery of Frankenstein and the monster pretty much come from the Universal movies as well as cheesy ’70s and ’80s adaptations like The Monster Squad, The Munsters and The Groovie Goolies. Let’s see how different the original novel is from the image burned into our collective pop consciousness.
Published in 1818, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is considered a horror classic. Having written the book when she was only 18, Shelley originally published the book anonymously. It wasn’t until 1831 that the book was first published with her name on it. The genesis of this novel began one night when Mary Shelley, her husband Percy and Lord Byron were at Byron’s villa telling ghost stories. They all decided they should each write their own supernatural story. Byron began to research a vampire story that would eventually be written by another author. Percy Shelley would die before he could write his story. Mary came up with her story after a vivid dream. Subsequently, hers would be the only one published as originally intended. The gist of the story centers on Victor Frankenstein and his creation of a monster from dead body parts.
I finished the book late this past August and, WOW, it is completely different story-wise than everything we think of Frankenstein. For the most part, this is a good thing because it kept the story fresh. The novel starts with a sailing vessel discovering a nearly dead Victor Frankenstein. The captain of the sailing vessel befriends Victor and eventually gets him to tell the tale of how he got way out in the far North. The rest of the book is told in flashback. You learn a lot about Victor and his family. You see Victor go off to school and become proficient in the “natural sciences”. Eventually, he discovers the secret of giving life to dead tissue. The process is not explained and, as a matter of fact, the actual “creation” of the creature is almost glossed over. After the creation, the monster disappears for several years. Victor runs into it again after discovering it murdered some of his family. At this point, the monster has learned how to speak intelligently. So, the monster tells of what’s happened to him the past year or two. So we are treated to a flashback within a flashback. I don’t want to give too much away because by this point the book is really good and rolls onto its final conclusion.
I was surprised how different the story is than what I was expecting. I really enjoyed it and I’m glad I finally read it. Seeing the monster evolve and learn how to speak and write as well as the rage it develops for man, and Victor Frankenstein specifically, is fascinating. This was a great Halloween read that I would encourage any horror fan to pickup. Part of my reluctance to start the book involved the language one normally encounters in “classic lit”. Shelley does use ornate, old-fashioned language structure, but it’s most certainly readable as opposed to the similar novel, Dracula by Bram Stoker which is an almost impossible read due to language as well as story problems. Now that I’ve read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, I see why this book is considered a classic.
Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.