During my pre-teen years before interest in boys, I read “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. At that age, it disappointed me. It was boring. Who wants a talking monster? Instead of a “Baron Frankenstein” like in the Peter Cushing films I was used to, (yes, post-Karloff, I know, blasphemy) it had a young Victor Frankenstein. Nothing matched! I tossed the paperback in a corner somewhere. When the TV-film “Frankenstein: The True Story,” aired, I found pulling Jane Seymour’s head off at a party a turnoff.
Decades later, I’ve re-visited this classic novel considered by some to be ahead of its time or the frontrunner of many fantasy/horror stories today. First, it’s written in the “frame” style where a narrator begins and ends the story, with the middle told by another person. (“Heart of Darkness” also is done this way). This makes for a laborious read, so it takes an interested reader to take the time to absorb the story, not the other way around. Books written like this to me do not “hook” a reader easily.
But the labor of the read is worth it. For a story about a dangerous, homicidal monster, it contains almost no action. The smart and talented Victor Frankenstein wanted to figure out a way to cure all disease. In his passion for good deeds, he created something not meant for this world, a creature with no grounds of divinity and shunned by his creator and humanity. Frankenstein narrates how the fiend destroyed his life by killing those he loved the most. His emotional story is about the regret and sadness while reflecting on the consequences of his actions.
My favorite part of the story now is the narration by the creature. (Amazing what a few decades do for reading). He was intelligent, horrifying in appearance, super-human in strength, and shared a flaw with his creator: Good cannot be made from evil. As he felt he needed vindication, he felt tremendous sorrow when his creator died and no longer wanted to live.
When I think about monster stories since, so many features can be found in this classic. What hit me the most is how emotional and tragic this story is. Fantasy fans, the classics are always with us. Sometimes it’s worth a look in the past to see how far we’ve come.