Hello, boys and girls, and welcome to Week Two of Nerd Cactus’ October-ween Horror Special! For the rest of this month (three Fridays including this one), we’ll be pairing some of literature’s classic horror tales. Last week, we dove into Dorian Gray and his self-inflicted death by painting; this week, I’m taking one for the team and presenting Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. And by taking one for the team, I mean…I do not like this novel. It’s a classic…it’s completely obligatory for this special Nerd Cactus event…but I hate it.
Many novels have something to say. They’re a warning or a celebration or a Christian allegory featuring a talking lion that I felt completely betrayed by when I reached an advanced enough age to realize that C.S. Lewis was basically preaching to me. It’s not the message I have a problem with, really; it’s how heavy-handed that message is. And I think Shelley went a little too far along Proselytizer Lane with this one. This is not to say that I cannot recognize its merits; there are some who say Mary Shelley basically invented science fiction and, of course, the Creature has withstood the rigors of time to become an icon of horror. Granted, I think it’s mostly because of the movie–Boris Karloff is forever burned into the collective mind of humanity–but still…Shelley deserves some credit. I just do not like reading the book.
I promise not to let that interfere with my description, though, because I am a professional. An amateur pretending to be professional, at any rate. Fake it ’til you make it, folks.
Let’s dive in.
Mary Shelley was hanging out with some friends when they decided to have a competition over who could write the best horror story. This is what happens when you’re friends with Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori, I guess. I need friends
like these. It took Mary Shelley a few days to come up with the idea that eventually became Frankenstein, but I’d say she totally won that bet. (Polidori is a close second, however, for “The Vampyre”, which was the first published vampire story in English.) Lady writers FTW!
The story of the novel has significant differences from the movie. See if you can spot them.
The novel begins with a frame narrative featuring Captain Walton, a failed writer who has set out for the North Pole in order to become famous. (Nowadays, he’d probably put out a sex tape, but this is a different time.) The entire novel is written in epistolary form, meaning it’s presented as a series of letters; in this case, they’re between Walton and his sister. As they’re sailing, Walton first sees a giant driving a dogsled and then they rescue a half-frozen dude who decides to school Walton on the sin of over-ambition. His name is
Macbeth Victor Frankenstein.
Victor decides to tell Walton his story. He’s a scientist, he’s in love with the girl his family adopted, and, oh yeah, he learns how to impart life to non-living matter. And what’s a scientifically-minded young man to do when he discovers something like that? Uh…play God, of course (which is…duh duh DUUHHHHH…the moral of the story). Victor decides he’s going to use the techniques he’s discovered to create a body using inanimate matter. He wants his creature to be beautiful, but because he is forced to work in the large scale, the Creature comes out hideously deformed (pretty much the only thing Karloff’s version has in common with this one). Victor, disgusted, runs away; the Creature, meanwhile, develops a horrible case of abandonment issues and disappears. They do not meet again until the Creature murders Victor’s brother.
Let’s get something straight before we move on: The Creature is not the villain. Or, rather, he is not the only villain. Victor and his Adam are mirrors of one another (this point is made painfully obvious in the endcap when the Creature’s speech is almost identical to Victor’s), repulsed and repulsive. The Creature does awful things–AWFUL THINGS–but really all he wants is a Bride so he can live out his life in peace. Seriously…he wants to go live in the wilderness and never see anyone again. Like many, he thinks people are awful. But he kills pretty much everyone in Victor’s life in vengeance, which of course is going to cause people to be scared of him. Like I said, the story’s pretty heavy-handed with the message.
Victor agrees to create the Bride, but changes his mind and destroys her as the Creature watches. In return, the Creature kills his friend and chokes his wife (that orphan Victor fell in love with at the beginning) to death. Victor’s father dies of the sadness and Victor vows revenge. Instead, he ends up dying on Walton’s ship. Walton then finds the Creature mourning his Creator; the Creature vows to burn himself on his own pyre and Walton takes off. The Creature is never seen again.
A bit different than the movie, yeah? Did I mention the Creature is really eloquent and teaches himself to read? He isn’t the near-dumb, lumbering monster of Karloff, which is what has infiltrated the collective consciousness. Nor is he the cobbled together, abnormal-brain-having collection of parts. He is a monster, yes, because of his behavior, but so is Victor for creating and then abandoning him in the instant of his birth. How much of the monstrous nature of the Creature is inherent in him because of his unnatural birth and how much is as a result of how he is treated? Prometheus, as seen in the subtitle, is the Titan who, in the Roman version of the myth, created humanity from mud and clay; in this, Victor can be seen as creating life from non-living matter. In the Greek myth, Prometheus steals fire for humanity and is punished for it; there are some who believe Shelley thought of Prometheus as a villain for this, because fire led to eating meat. (Eating cooked meat is also the reason we evolved into a species capable of questioning the morality of eating meat, of course, but Shelley wouldn’t know that.)
In the end, the Creature and his Creator are mirrors of one another, monster and victim both and ultimately unable to escape the other. I admit, though…I like the movie better. Not the least of which is because, without Whale, we would never have Young Frankenstein, and that movie is a masterpiece.
So…what to drink with a novel such a this? I did some research and found out…there’s actually a drink called the Corpse Reviver! Apparently, it’s a bit of a hair-of-the-dog drink, but…how could I resist a drink such as that? It’s practically perfect (in every way…wait. No. Different story.) for this book! Granted, it’s a bit…complex, but not terribly so. And there’s a version where you can eliminate the dash of Absinthe and change the gin out for bourbon! Mmm…bourbon. OK, here you go:
1 part Gin
1 part lemon juice
1 part Cointreau
1 part Kina Lillet (Kina is hard to find, so you can substitute the Lillet Blanc and add a bit of bitters.)
1 dash of Absinthe
Shake the ingredients in a mixer with ice, then strain into a cocktail glass. You can either include the Absinthe in the shaker or swirl it around the cup to create a coating. Either way seems cool. For the bourbon version, just substitute the gin for bourbon and eliminate the Absinthe. If you choose to add a dash of bitters to the Lillet Blanc, eliminate this for the bourbon version, as well.
OK! I GOT THROUGH IT! You guys…I haven’t read this book in years because I don’t like it. I literally skimmed through it over dinner yesterday. I feel so proud. Look at me. Anyway, that’s it. Tomorrow, we Shakespeare! Let’s see what A manages to pull out. It might be a bit late, though, because I’m seeing her show tomorrow and we’re going out afterwards. No Corpse Revivers for me, though. I’ll stick to scotch.
Buy the book:
Buy the booze:
Lillet Blanc- http://www.totalwine.com/wine/white-wine/bordeaux-blend/lillet-blanc/p/2692750?s=906&igrules=true