We all know the story of Frankenstein and many of us have seen the different films with the stiff arm monster with bolts in his next. I first read the fantastic tale by Mary Shelley when I was in college and was surprised by how much this 19th century novel felt like a modern thriller. And in many respects it is a modern story showing how much humans have accomplished in the world of medicine and science, while also asking the question of how much is too much. Can humans accomplish too much through science? It is hard to believe that Shelley wrote it when she was only in her early 20’s in 1818.
When I was young and I first saw the 1931 film with Boris Karloff, who also did the voice of the narrator and the Grinch in the original cartoon of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as the monster I always thought that the monster was named Frankenstein. As I have grown older and have reread Frankenstein as well as other additions to the legend, I come to understand that the monster is named Frankenstein. What is so great about this story is there are two monsters and there are two victims. Both Victor Frankenstein and his creation are villains in the story as they explore the new limits of human understanding of life and death.
Like vampires and Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster have been recreated in dozens of films (Son of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Horror of Frankenstein, Lady Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein. There have also been numerous books written about the monster and his maker.
First, there is The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Achroyd. This was my first Peter Ackroyd novel and from I have heard from others I need to read more, but first things first. This was a great book I read for Halloween two years ago and I have never forgotten it. He has taken the wondrous tale and transplanted it with modern day knowledge in the world of science from the 19th century. With the power of hindsight he has remade, though loyally as you can see, this story with the background of history during one of the most amazing times of scientific discovery, which you can read about in The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes. To list some of his historical characters you will find Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley and my personal favorite, Humphrey Davy.
I know that many people will think that this book sounds like the remake of the film Cape Fear, and though I admit I felt the same when I read about this book, I will tell you that this book respects Mary Shelley as it builds on what she has done in such a way that makes this book special in its own respect. For more about this book here is a review from the New York Times.
Second, there is This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel. This is a fun story that follows the life of Victor Frankenstein when he was only in his 16th year. I admit that I have often wondered what kind of life Frankenstein lived before we first meet him in Shelley’s story. What type of childhood did this mad genius have? Who were his parents and who were friends? Did he have any siblings? Oppel took on the challenge to create the young adult life of Victor in the form of a young adult story. Like Achroyd, Oppel respected what Shelley created. When you read his story you can see the hints of the future as you know how this young man will die. For more about this story, click here.
I have no problem with authors using their imagination and telling the story of how a remarkable literary character came to be, as long as it is done well. My first experience with such a story came not that long ago when I read Finn by Jon Clinch, which tells the story of Huckleberry Finn’s father. (Another story I highly recommend.) To me this is why we have imagination and why authors write. It is the very best stories that stay with us and make us think, thereby inspiring others into imagining the story expanded into an entire world. Why are Frankenstein and Dracula remade and retold into hundreds of different stories in both books and films? Because they are the two best gothic novels ever written.
Frankenstein is one of the most iconic Halloween characters that has no doubt inspired other horror stories. Please tell me about what you like to read for Halloween.