Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
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Cannonball Read V: Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

By Tyburn Blossom | Book Reviews | October 23, 2013 | Comments ()


A couple of years ago, I decided that if I’m going to be influenced by someone’s work, maybe I should get that influence directly. For some reason, I expected this to be a much greater chore than it has been. Turns out there’s often a good reason a work is considered a beloved classic.

I blame school for this perception. Making children read great works they don’t yet have the life experience or patience to enjoy should be a crime. I read Frankenstein in high school, and I sort of enjoyed it in that it was nothing like I expected, but the real horror of it definitely went right by me. It’s a good thing my parents gave me access to a lot of books that I enjoyed-I read (and continue to happily read) a lot of trashy, fluffy books, but I think without learning how to read for pleasure, I never could have moved on to Dracula and Frankenstein and the works of Lovecraft and others.

If everything you know about Frankenstein was absorbed through movies and other media, everything you know is wrong. Well, unless you can bring up the bit about how “Frankenstein refers to the creature’s creator, while the monster himself is just the monster, or the creature, or the fiend, etc.

The hardest part is often adjusting to the writing style, and Frankenstein was no exception. The story is framed in letters from a brother to a sister, maybe to be delivered, maybe not, depending on whether the brother in question survives his daring trip to the north pole to hopefully discover important properties about magnetism and make a name for himself. He makes a bit of a point of wishing for a friend to share in his adventure, and if you’re really eager to hear about the monster, there’s a lot of wading through this gentleman’s story ahead of you. While their ship is frozen into the ocean and everyone is sitting around waiting either for the ice to break up for for everyone to die, the crew spots an enormous figure driving a sled and dogs in the distance. Shortly thereafter, the ice breaks. The crew finds and rescues a man on the ice, and our captain finds his wished-for friend.

This is, of course, Victor Frankenstein. After a bit of recovery, he does his best to discourage the captain from letting his ambition get the better of him, and eventually decides to share his story, which is dutifully recorded.

I’m not sure there’s much I can add to the whole discussion about the work. If you’re patient enough to stick with the slim volume, you’ll be rewarded with a chilling little tale that has survived the test of time.

I particularly enjoy how the monster came into being. Picture a mad scientist. Even though the modern mad scientist owes a debt to Victor Frankenstein, when he created the monster, he was a student. He made the monster in the spare room of his apartment. I almost wouldn’t be surprised if this is the sort of thing that’s happened a couple of times. For extra fun, once you’re finished with it, pick up HP Lovecraft’s Herbert West: Reanimator.

(Header image by David Plunkert via Frankensteinia.)

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it, and for more of Tyburn Blossom’s reviews, check out The Everyday Alchemist.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through
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in this this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • One of my favorite books in high school. What amazes me is how it is such a perfect allegory for man's desperate attempts to harness nature and how that works so long after its release.

  • BWeaves

    I decided, about 20 or 30 years ago, to also read the classic horror stories. I loved Dracula. It was the first epistolary novel I'd ever read.

    However, I hated Frankenstein. I kept reminding myself that it was written by a teenager who was doing a contest with her friends to write the best horror story, and that she wrote it from a dream she had.

    I think the idea was great, but I hated the execution. Where Dracula has relatively short letters and entries in journals, Frankenstein is told in long winded chapters that go on and on. Again, it is told in the epistolary manner of letters between the Captain, who finds Victor Frankenstein, and the Captain's sister. But in the middle you get Victor's long, long, woe is me story. There is no description of HOW the monster is created, just that it is, and Victor is horrified and abandons it. Then you get a long, long, woe is me story from the monster's point of view about how he survived.

    I'm always amazed that the first movie version was so good (for its time), in that it had to invent a completely different plot.

    It's definitely worth reading. I just wouldn't read it again.

  • BlackRabbit

    I'd agree that Dracula is a more entertaining and better-constructed story than Frankenstein, true.

  • BlackRabbit

    I love this story, but for some reason I can never hear the name without Marty Feldman's voice instantly saying "Fronkensteen". Small price to pay, I suppose. Open question: who's been the best monster?

  • Nobody has ever done it better than Karloff.

  • BlackRabbit

    Agreed. A good one to check out is Frankenstein Unbound by Roger Corman. it has Raul Julia, Bridget Fonda and John Hurt in it too, and the monster is played by Nick Brimble. It's actually pretty good, and I like the look of the monster in it too. Also great poster design.

  • BWeaves

    Karloff owns it. Everyone else just knocks off Karloff.

    Actors who try to actually do the book version of the monster fail for the same reason the book fails. There's no description in the book as to how the monster is created.

  • Has to be Karloff. No, he wasn't the best idea of what the book imagines, but he's so towering (literally and figuratively) over anyone else's version.

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