Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Book #13 - Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)

I've started my next book on my canon odyssey...Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". I'm about 70 pages in so far, and it's been quite interesting. Frankenstein is such a cultural icon in this day and age. Everyone has a mental image of the monster (Boris Karloff with bolts coming out of his neck) and an image of Dr. Frankenstein (a mad genius in a lonely castle with his faithful assistant Igor, digging up graves to get body parts, and using the brain of a criminal psychopath). Well, surprisingly to me, the book has none of this. In fact, the book starts out describing a voyage of exploration to the North Pole, lead by Robert Walton. WTF?? Was that Tanquery martini I just had tainted in some way?? What does THIS have to do with Frankenstein? Well, the Robert Walton expedition runs into an ice flow, where they see some strange creature sledding across the ice in the distance. What was that? Then they run into another sled, carrying a half dead man across the ice. So they bring him on board, give him food and water, and put him under some blankets to get him warm. Finally, he confesses his tale to Robert Walton...and he's Doctor Frankenstein! OK, so now the book should start getting into familiar territory, yes? NO! First of all, Dr. Frankenstein is no doctor. He's just some college kid, who is fascinated with science and alchemy, a genius at science in fact, and decides he wants to create some life. So instead of the usual method of going to a local dance club and hitting on some loose women, he instead goes the harder route, building a lab in his apartment, stealing some body parts, and sewing together his monster. The monster awakes, Frankenstein screams and runs off, and then he doesn't see the monster again for months and months. Now that's unexpected. In fact, pages go by with no mention of the monster, except for Frankenstein's guilt over having created life. But then Frankenstein travels to his home in the Swiss mountains, only to find his little brother has been murdered by the monster, and the monster has also somehow framed the cleaning lady for the crime. The cleaning lady is found guilty and executed. This makes Dr. Frankenstein, who has not told anyone about the monster, feel really, really bad.

This book is whacking me upside the head by being so different in storyline to what I expected. That's great, and I love it, but as I said the movie version of the story is now so iconic that it's hard to get over. Also, Shelley uses a LOT of foreshadowing. As Frankenstein tells his story to Robert Walton, every other paragraph is like "And that's what sealed my doom" or "It was then that my downfall began". I mean, OK, we GET it! Back off a bit. And also, what's with the monster traveling to Frankenstein's home from his college town where the monster was created, and then killing Frankenstein's brother. That seems like a really big coincidence to me. But them maybe there's some backstory we haven't gotten yet that will explain this. Maybe I need to just shut up and continue reading. In fact, I think I will.


J.D. said...

Another of my favorites!

Shelley wrote this in response to a challenge from her husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron.

Hope you enjoy it!

Amateur Reader said...

In terms of plot and sometimes basic story-telling, you're absolutely right, "Frankenstein" is a mess. The first movie, with Igor and the lightning and whatnot, makes for a better horror story.

Shelley's "Frankenstein" has the status it does because the ideas are so rich, and because of the great monster.

Pacifist Viking said...

I like the frame story: Robert Walton is a foil for Frankenstein, consumed with some of the same desires (thus Frankenstein's story may be an attempt to offer him a lesson). Here are some of Walton's quotes I marked down the last time I read the book:

"I shall satiate my ardent curiosity...and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man."

"What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?"

"gladly sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. One man's life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought."

Sounds a lot like Frankenstein, right?

Robby Virus said...

That's a good point...Robert Walton, like Frankenstein, is indeed driven on by the pursuit of knowledge and curiosity. Yet when his ship's crew rebels, Walton gives in, turns around, and heads home. Ultimately he's not as madly obsessed as Frankenstein, and feels responsibility to his crew...and that's a good thing!

Felicia said...

Speaking of Walton not reaching his desire to reach the Northern part of earth. I thought it very interesting that Shelley sort of passed off that task to the creature saying that he would attend his own funeral up there.
I've wondered why she did that. my lit. teacher has no ideas and i was wondering if anyone else did.