Frankenstein, or Modern Prometheus

What could be better than writing about Frankenstein on Friday the 13th!!

It’s been decades since I last read Frankenstein, and in fact I’m not sure I actually ever did (at least not the whole thing). I think I had the greatest of intentions, but always ended up watching movie interpretations instead. And now that I have seen dozens of movies and with the original fresh in my head I am startled at how different the original is from all these Hollywood stories.

For one thing, there is no massive lightning storm that brings the creature to life. In fact, that aspect is left quite vague in the original story. The idea of Galvanism is presented as a way to reanimate the body, but there aren’t any details on how to actually make it happen. There is no pulsating generator, or conveyor that leads the body to the top of the castle as the storm approaches. Of course, it’s a really cool idea. Too bad Mary Shelley didn’t think to include it.

Secondly, Frankenstein’s creation is quite articulate and is able to speak and understand multiple languages. Not only is he able to talk to Frankenstein to ask for a companion and to explain his anger and depression at humanity, but when he watches the exiled family in the woods he is able to pick up their language. He’s even able to show remorse and regret to Walton once Victor has passed away.

Additionally, there is no driving the creature from town with torches and pitchforks. To be honest, the creature isn’t actually seen by more than two or three people. And there are a lot of other major differences, such as the story begins and ends in the region of the North Pole.

I guess that old black and white film really doesn’t do the story justice. From the many versions I’ve seen the Kenneth Branagh version seems to be the closest to the actual story, but there are plenty of liberties taken in that version too. I guess a story about grave robbing and trying to bring someone back from the death needed a little more spicing up to make it on film.

What I find interesting, depending on whom you read and what you believe, is that many parts of the Frankenstein story are actually true. There is some debate on the whole body snatching and sewing pieces together aspect (although there is quite a bit of evidence to support it happening), but the idea of Galvanism was certainly real and certainly believed by many to be capable of reanimating a body. It seems many experiments were done where electricity was passed through a corpse and the muscles would contract and move. We now know this really isn’t a big deal and is perfectly understandable, but a hundred years ago this was the first step towards bringing a body back to life. The rules surrounding medical experiments were a touch more lax back then however. Good thing we don’t do crazy stuff like that anymore…

Another amusing coincidence is that the Frankenstein legend and the seed of the vampire legend were both created on the same night or at least close to each other. If the legend is true, then while trying to entertain themselves during a very rainy and cold season Mary Shelley, who was a guest of Lord Byron, sat around the fire and crafted the beginning story of Frankenstein. With her husband’s help and encouragement she expanded the story and created the full length novel we know today. During this same time, Lord Byron came up with a fragment of a story about the vampire legend. This was then turned into the story, Vampyre, which is arguably the start of the vampire legend and of course would later lead to the short story Carmilla, which would then lead to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

It’s also fascinating how these writers would vacation together, work together and even help craft and mold the story simply because they wanted to see the idea come out. It wasn’t all about the publishing and movie rights, but that’s another discussion entirely.

If you haven’t read Frankenstein in awhile, or ever, it’s really worth going back and indulging in the original. The feature length movies we have now really don’t compare to how the original plays out. Plus, it’s getting close to Halloween, so there’s no better time to jump into the classics and surround yourself with old castles, grave robbing and a ill tempered creature bent on revenge. It’s good stuff!

You can grab the regular text from here:

You can listen to the audiobook here: (The audiobook is quite good. It’s not perfect, but it’s free and the imperfections don’t overshadow a good story.)

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