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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Book Review

When I was a lad in college, we were assigned to read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I really thought I knew the story. I was wrong. I wasn’t one of those crazies who thought that Frankenstein was the name of the monster, rather than a monster created by Dr. Frankenstein, but I was still not quite in the know like I thought I was. For instance, I had no idea the book had an alternate title: The Modern Prometheus.

As a child I received a huge collection of condensed classics for children. Each book was about 45 pages long and had several illustrations per page. There was still more text than pictures, but just barely. That book, combined with the various movie treatments and the Halloween costumes I saw each year, told the Frankenstein story I knew. Good as that version was, this was much better.

If you are one of the people, like I was, who wonders what a North Pole exploration team has to do with the story, the book might bear re-reading.

Plot summary of Frankenstein

Now, the core elements I remembered of the story are in Mary Shelley’s book–they just aren’t the real substance of the book. I had memories of Victor Frankenstein cobbling together a hideous melange of body parts, the birth by electricity, the mania, the full moons, and was not disappointed to find that my memories hadn’t betrayed me. But there is more to the story.

The story in brief: Victor creates a new being and gives it life. But then he decides it is an ugly monster and shuns it. The monster thinks this is quite lame, once it learns to read, write, and think critically, and eventually makes life even more difficult for the doctor.

I can read Frankenstein as pulp, horror, a philosophy book, an adventure story, and could probably find a few other categories if I had to. But luckily I’m done with my English degree and don’t have to anymore.

Mary Shelley

One of the most fascinating things to me about Frankenstein is its author. Mary Godwin (she later married Byron Shelley) apparently hadn’t heard that in the early 1800s, proper young ladies didn’t spend their time writing horrific stories about hunchbacks, neck-bolts, murder, revenge, and grave-robbing. I’m glad she hadn’t, especially since there are so many wonderful female horror writers who owe a debt to this story.

The book was originally intended to be a short story, but got longer, and longer, and more ambitious. People interested in going farther into the intellectual depths of the book can start with the Greek Titan Prometheus, Adam the first man, and read some good old Paradise Lost to start drawing parallels and uncovering the novel’s many themes.

It’s really good, not to get too technical about it. Halloween is almost here. I’m sure at least one little “frankenstein” is going to come knock on my door, and when they tell me they are Frankenstein, maybe I’ll correct them this year.

And if you’re looking for an urban gothic tale after this, I highly recommend High Cotton by Joe R. Lansdale.

Josh

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ami October 27, 2010, 2:06 pm

    Does this mean that the Mel Brooks Young Frankenstein movie version of the monster rings truer to the original than the Boris Karloff version?

  • Ryan Carty October 27, 2010, 3:28 pm

    Perhaps my all time favorite book. I read it every other year.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 27, 2010, 4:22 pm

      Ryan, if you had to pick one thing you love about it, what would it be?

    • Todd October 28, 2010, 9:04 am

      Frankenstein and Dracula should be on anybody’s list that enjoys the genre. These are classics.

      Mary Shelly was an interesting lady to boot.

  • cinderkeys October 30, 2010, 1:45 am

    It’s been a long time since I read Frankenstein, but I remember the thing that stuck with me. Victor Frankenstein’s tragic error wasn’t in playing God and creating the monster. The tragic error was rejecting and abandoning his creation.

    The theological implications are interesting, if you feel like having fun drawing parallels. 🙂