In a recent New York Times Book Review article, Zoe Lescaze reviews Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years, by Christopher Frayling. Frayling, says Lescaze, traces the descent of the Frankenstein story, originally written as a novel by Mary Shelley in 1818. The story of a human monster who is created by a hubristic scientist has been slowly degraded and cheapened over the years so that the original meaning of the story has been all but buried.
In today’s world in which the dark and the monstrous seem to dominate much of our entertainment world—and in which Halloween sometimes seems to have come close to superseding Christmas as our nation’s most popular holiday—we would do well to remember Mary Shelley’s original Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus
Doctor Frankenstein, in his reckless attempt to create life, has the most unfortunate thing happen: He succeeds. And the monster he creates is all he hoped—namely, human. Frankenstein’s monster has a soul and yet he is so monstrous that he is cast out of society and hunted. Eventually he confronts his human maker, and Dr. Frankenstein himself is forced to confront what he has done. As a result, his own suffering approaches that of the monster’s.
Forget the cheap version of this story recreated by Hollywood. The book itself is a prophetic allegory of the destruction man can wreak when he uses technology for evil ends—evil ends that at first appear to be good.
As Freyling writes, “In the age of stem cells, genetic engineering, cloning, three-parent babies, and cryogenic attempts at resurrection, the ‘real creation myth is “Frankenstein.”‘”
So as you hand out candy to zombies dressed in overwrought costumes tonight, use the opportunity to remind yourself of one of the great modern novels, one that is too often cast as a shallow horror story. It would do us good, if we would heed its warnings.