BY SEAN CLARK
This book has been chosen as a Great Read.
Author: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
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Everyone knows of Frankenstein (or Frankenstein’s monster to be more precise). The grotesque creature is practically part of our cultural consciousness. The image that probably comes to mind for most is that of the square headed, green skinned monster made famous by Boris Karloff. There are bolts protruding from its neck and it ambles, moaning and grunting, arms outstretched like a zombie. The original monster, conceived by Shelley in that famous summer writing contest between friends, was much the opposite of Frankenstein’s monster as we think of him today; brilliant, tortured, and lonely, the Creature’s pathos is one of the finest explorations of humanity in literature.
Though the Creature’s character is the defining strength of the story, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (as it was originally subtitled) is one of the very best examples of good old fashioned story telling in the Gothic tradition. Shelley spins a brilliant yarn, and you’ll be unable to avoid the feeling when reading the book that someone is telling you this story to wile the hours in a power outage–and it’s one of those stories that’ll will make you want to have the power stay out until it’s finished.
Shelley’s creature is articulate and learned, and the profound depth of emotion it shows will be shocking to readers expecting a creature more like Karloff’s. The story is told from 3 points of view, each offering a unique angle on the monstrous events unfolding. The Creature’s sections are especially gripping, and it’s near impossible not to be taken in by the compassion and sadness it displays as it yearns for the acceptance it is doomed to lack. When it asks its “father” to give him a companion:
I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species and have the same defects. This being you must create.
Victor Frankenstein, horrified of his actions and of what he has already created, refuses. The novel is an aberration of the Genesis story, and a profound commentary on the human condition.
If you’ve never read Frankenstein, I very much recommend you do so. Virtually anyone who likes to read fiction will enjoy this book. If you haven’t read it in a while, consider this a reminder to go back and revisit this wonderful book. Although, if you want to wait until the summer’s over and the autumn winds are rattling the windows, I won’t begrudge you that. (Also, for the record: the best Frankestein movie–and more faithful than you might think–is Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein. Sorry Karloff fans.)