What is it with classic horror authors and their need to impress? Whilst Mathew Lewis penned the bloody, gothic classic The Monk before he turned twenty, Mary Shelley went one better with Frankenstein, writing the novel at eighteen years old and having it put into print by the time she was twenty.
And like The Monk what a novel it is. Frankenstein has become a game-changer to the point that today it is as recognisable brand-wise as Coca-Cola, Apple Computers, and even its literary-spawned counterpart Dracula.
There is one caveat to this familiarity, as a quick trip to Google Images will show you, and that’s that the monster of the book is often wrongly attributed with the name of his actual creator (thanks in part to the success of James Whale’s classic 1930′s motion picture series).
The novel follows the angst-ridden existence of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who through his pursuit of knowledge discovers how to imbue dead matter with life. The result of his endeavours is a creation which once completed far from fills the creator with pride and passion at his work, and actually disgusts him causing him to abandon it.
The monster, filled with new emotions, confused at this new existence and angry at his abandonment sets of on what it is to become a murderous trail across the land.
Soon it becomes apparent to the maverick scientist the danger of his setting his creation upon the world. His own brother is slain by the monster, and another framed as the monster places evidence associated with the crime upon an innocent (this pattern of framing happens more than once in the novel). Basement scientists beware: there can be a definite result to your alchemical meddlings.
Frankenstein catches up with his monster who then recounts his life experiences to Victor; he tells of how his appearance is so scary to others he cannot interact with humans, and is forced to live on the fringe of society.
The monster pleads with his creator to assist him by making him a female companion, with whom he can retreat from the world and live in some semblance of happiness. Victor concurs with the request, but ultimately retreats from his obligation, fearing that doing such a thing might ultimately result in the spawning of a race of beings that could cause no end of trouble.
The resulting outcome sees the monster’s creator seek to become his destroyer, and the stage is set for a showdown which itself raises questions the nature of creation and scientific responsibility.
The passage of time has also far from dampened the effects of the themes raised in Frankenstein; if anything the topics raised in the novel are more relevant today than ever before, in a scientifically advanced world where progress in cloning and similar technologies underline with greater emphasis the novel’s themes of propriety, responsibility and morality. This is a horror classic of the first water.