Brilliant, tragic Victor Frankenstein! He dared to usurp the role of God, galvanizing a haphazard assortment of body parts into a creation of his own. Obviously, he did not think this through very carefully. Frankenstein paid dearly for his hubris, not only during the course of Mary Shelley’s novel, but forever after. His terrible creation, in the end, stole his very identity.
Shelley gives the monster no name at all, which allows the reader to envision any sort of private horror. But after the 1931 release of Universal Picture’s Frankenstein, the image of Boris Karloff with his flat head, bolted neck and miniature clothing became the prototype for the monster. The movies also contributed to name confusion that persists to this day. For example, in the 1935 movie, Bride of Frankenstein, a diabolical doctor creates a woman for the monster, whom he introduces as, “The Bride of Frankenstein!”
Certainly, then, it’s hard to blame subsequent generations of Frankensteins for adopting the misnomer. From Abbott & Costello to Scooby-Doo, the term “Frankenstein” generally refers to the monster, not the doctor. Nevertheless, the story of the scientist who used electricity to animate inert matter, is still fascinating. As part of the Frankenstein Day celebration, here are a few books that build upon Mary Shelley’s imaginative story.
Young Adult Books
The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein Series by Kenneth Oppel
Welcome to the youthful mind of Victor Frankenstein. It’s a turbulent place, with greed and fury wrestling against the finer elements of loyalty, valor, and love. Unlike Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this Victor has a twin brother, Konrad. He is still in love with Elizabeth, who is his cousin in Oppel’s version. Victor is quickly established in the first book, This Dark Endeavor (a 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection) as the evil twin. But it is Victor, who, in a harrowing scene, makes a tremendous sacrifice for Konrad’s life. The second book, Such Wicked Intent, further illustrates Victor’s efforts to free himself from his dark obsessions. Nevertheless, he is drawn closer to forbidden knowledge, as if destiny offers him no other path.
Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn
Victor Frankenstein fathered twin daughters, Giselle and Ingrid, and abandoned them immediately after their birth. In his mind this was a kindness, for he was still pursued by his monster, and wanted to protect his daughters from that horror. The girls did not learn the identity of their father until his frozen body was retrieved from the Arctic. As his heirs, they became owners of Castle Frankenstein, with its laboratories and hidden passages. The apples, however, don’t fall too far from the tree. Giselle and Ingrid soon find their own dark obsessions sheltered within the walls of the castle.
This twenty-first century adaptation of the Frankenstein story casts Victor Frankenstein as a teen-aged computer wizard. His goal is to create a chatbot, forming its intelligence from the Internet itself. Inevitably, Victor’s bot starts demonstrating an evil persona of its own. This is Black’s second book in the iMonsters series, following iDracula. As with the Dracula story, iFrankenstein is told completely through virtual communication: texts, emails, chats, blogs, and web images — a clever treatment that should appeal to tech-savvy readers.
Thin and sickly, fifteen-year-old Billy barely survives by picking pockets on the grimy streets of nineteenth century London. One foggy January night, he encounters a giant with a violent temper. Overhearing men refer to the giant as the “creature,” Billy begins calling the giant, “Mr. Creecher.” Turns out Mr. Creecher is on a vendetta. He’s tracking down one Victor Frankenstein, who owes Mr. Creecher a bride. A darkly humorous, quick read.
Angelmonster by Veronica Bennett
The romance of Mary Godwin and Percy Shelley was scandalous from the start. Shelley, a married man expecting a second child, became wildly infatuated with sixteen-year-old Mary, an intelligent girl raised by her liberal-thinking father. The story follows Mary from the thrill of first love to the recurrent nightmares that inspired Mary’s literary masterpiece, Frankenstein. While this is a fictional account with no claims to biography, the truth of Mary Shelley’s life reveals tragedy beyond imagining.
Frankenstein: A Cultural History by Susan Tyler Hitchcock
More scholarly than its colorful cover indicates, veteran author and collector of Frankenstenia Hitchcock crafts a careful history of the story and the monster we have come to call Frankenstein. Beginning with a comprehensive analysis of Shelley’s life and the original story, Hitchcock traces the introduction of elements that have become standard, such as Boris Karloff’s definitive portrayal and the insertion of the child accidentally killed by the monster. The degree of humanity in the monster, and the degree of evil in Frankenstein, are also interesting variations. A must-read for devoted fans.
Here’s a twist: Victor Frankenstein relates episodes of his friendship with Percy Bysshe Shelley. They meet in college. Shelley is credited with stirring the imagination of the relegious Frankenstein, challenging him with the lack of scientific proof that God is necessary for the creation of life. In a neat tour-de-force, real people in Percy Shelley’s life, including Lord Byron and Mary Shelley herself, intermingle with Mary’s invented Frankenstein characters.
In this case, the “father” is James Whale, the real-life movie director of the films Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Bram fictionalizes Whale’s glamorous life that included movie stars, wealth, and, inevitably, a tragic death. The 1998 movie Gods & Monsters, which won Ian McKellen a Best Actor Oscar, is based on this book.
What happens to the monster after the creator has died? This is the novel that tackles the question. Basically a sequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, O’Keefe, a masterful writer, creates a novel that stands alone, although knowledge of the original work certainly enhances the reading.
Few characters beg illustration as much as Frankenstein’s monster. There are a number of excellent versions to choose from, most of them with an abridgment of the original text. A few of the many choices are shown below. Click on the covers for more information.
Have I missed your favorite? Please share these in the comment fields below!
– Diane Colson, currently reading Night Film by Marisha Pessl and listening to Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal, narrated by W. Morgan Sheppard