Sunday, May 15, 2016


All of us know the story of Frankenstein -- or do we? Some of our collective memories come from the James Whale film of 1931, which introduced Boris Karloff as the Monster, or its descendants and parodies, such as Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein of 1974. Every year at Halloween, there are any number of young monsters at our door, and the image is deeply ingrained into our popular culture. From Frankenberry cereal to Herman Munster; from Edward Scissorhands to the Terminator, the image of a terrifying man-made man seems to haunt our technological era.

But how many know the story of the original novel? Written by Mary Shelley when she was only eighteen years old, and published anonymously in 1818, it gives us a very different "monster," one who can talk eloquently, argue philosophy, and revel in the poetry of Milton. It also gives us a rather different Victor Frankenstein, a haunted, romantic soul whose quest was inspired by Albertus Magnus and Cornelius Agrippa. It's a story which has never fully been brought to film or television, and thus a surprise to many of its readers.

One of the most fascinating episodes in the book is where the Creature stumbles upon a lost valise with several old books:
One night, during my accustomed visit to the neighbouring wood, where I collected my own food, and brought home firing for my protectors, I found on the ground a leathern portmanteau, containing several articles of dress and some books. I eagerly seized the prize, and returned with it to my hovel. Fortunately the books were written in the language the elements of which I had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch's Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter. The possession of these treasures gave me extreme delight; I now continually studied and exercised my mind upon these histories, whilst my friends were employed in their ordinary occupations.
And so, we too can peer over the Creature's shoulder, since John Milton's Paradise Lost, the Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans by Plutarch, and the Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe are all readily available to our eyes.  In addition, we can also now read Volney's Ruins of Empire -- the book used in the schoolroom where the Creature got his learning -- online.

Yet given the sad fate of the Creature, it is hard not to wonder what his life might have been like if there had been different books in that fabled valise. So: if you had the power, what three books would you put within the creature's grasp, and why?

1 comment:

  1. I have to say, because I have never read Frankenstein before, I did not know what to expect. It’s true, we all have these ideas of who the monster is supposed to be, or what he is supposed to look like. He may physically look like a monster, and at times act like one, but he has a brain and is capable of learning and adapting with the world around him. He used those books he found to learn and develop as a character, forming his own identity. If I were to give three more books to the creature, I would give him some that were a little bit different. My first choice would be Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The creature was obsessed with seeing how the people from the cottage lived. He liked their family dynamic, and their comfortable way of living. He studied their personalities and their day to day responsibilities and actions. Little Women is basically the same story of the people he was observing, it’s about the March family, a group of sisters who are constantly looking out for one another. The story illustrates them growing up and letting their true personalities shine through. I feel that the creature would be touched by this book and would relate it back to the family he watched from the cottage. The monster has the mind of a child. He is selfish and constantly expects to get what he wants, resulting in the killing spree of many of Victor’s family members and loved ones. This books ideals and themes of not having too much pride, being who you are, keeping loved ones close, and being humble and kind would be perfect for him to learn from.
    The next book I would choose would be the classic fairytale of Beauty and the Beast by Madame de Villeneuve. The tale, as many people know is about a father who loses all of his riches, forcing his children to leave the lavish life they lived before and moving to a new place in poverty. All of his children complain, except for his daughter Belle. On a journey to find his riches, he gets in trouble with the beast, and has to send Belle off with him. Belle at first is scared by him, he looks like a monster. But the more she gets to know the Beast, the more she sees how kind and generous he is. He gives her a beautiful life with anything she could ever dream of. Even when Belle gets the opportunity to go home, she decides to come back and see her Beast. She loves him when he is “ugly”, which causes him to transform mentally and physically into a handsome prince. I think Frankenstein could learn from this tale, because the moral of the story is that appearances are not everything, and that it is what is on the inside that counts the most. He needs a major confidence boost and this tale could help him grow as a character.
    The final works I would like the creature to have would be the Book of Genesis. This part of the bible speaks about the creation of Adam and Eve and the temptations that come with living on this Earth. It speaks about how God created the Earth and the types of things he placed on it for Adam and Eve to live off of. I think it would be interesting for the monster to read one way that people believe life started, and how committing sins can hurt others. The creature was built in a lab by Victor, made scientifically. Adam and Eve were also made by a higher figure, God. They were not conceived by natural childbirth, and either was the creature. In Genesis, they are filled with temptations and Eve ultimately takes a bite from the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and makes it so that people can sin on this Earth. Christians believe that God died for our sins, and I think the creature would find this interesting. He needs a new perspective on life, and needs to understand that not every action needs a reaction. He killed many innocent people just because he was angry at Victor for not getting what he wanted, making him fit into the “monster” Victor thinks he is.
    From all three of these books, the creature could really learn something about the morals and beliefs one could have about life, and would ultimately give him a new perspective.