Monday, 27 April 2015

Revisiting Another Master of Horror: Mary Shelley

Boris Karloff as the Monster
Amazingly, Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus when she was nineteen years old, and it was published anonymously when she was twenty-one. The novel was influenced by the themes of the day, including experiments in galvanization: the use of electricity to re-animate the dead. John Milton's poem “Paradise Lost”, quoted by Shelley in the epigraph, also provides an important context in terms of the religious overtones of the novel and man's struggle to come to terms with his Creator. The sub-title “The Modern Prometheus” is also significant in terms of the Greek myth of Prometheus, whose attempt to enlighten mankind through the introduction of fire, often associated with scientific enlightenment, results in his punishment by the gods and his perpetual agony. In fact, the depth of background knowledge and reading that the original novel implies is quite astounding for someone so young.
We commonly associate Frankenstein's creation—who has no name in the novel—with repugnancy and horror. In the original novel, however, there are many other themes at play, including over-reaching ambition, moral ambiguity, guilt, responsibility, and abandonment. One is struck by the sorrow and regret in its tone as the narration unfolds. Victor Frankenstein is ambitious beyond reason, striving to be God-like in recreating life. It is the central irony of the novel that his monster destroys everyone Frankenstein loves, leaving him as empty, lifeless, and abandoned as his creation.
The Legacy of Frankenstein
Stephen King in his examination of horror fiction entitled Danse Macabre talks of the pervasive influence of the novel on the horror genre. There have been countless derivatives in various forms. An early stage version was produced as early as 1826, and theatric productions continue to this day. There have been innumerable film versions, perhaps the most memorable of monsters being portrayed by Boris Karloff, whose performance captured the creature's sorrow and alienation. The modern horror novelist Dean Koontz has written a series of novels based on the Frankenstein theme.
There have also been numerous comic tributes from Mel Brooks' classic, Young Frankenstein, to Tim Burton's Frankenweenie.   
Internet Resources
The novel is now in the public domain and is offered as a free download on many internet sites for new generations of readers to discover. For a list of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein sites, please see
(Adapted from an original post dated March 12, 2013)

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