January 1, 2018 marked the 200th birthday of one of the most famous works of literature in the English language, created by Mary Shelley, which some discredited that a ‘girl’ could create such a masterpiece, lasting, influencing, and encouraging so many countless avenues to explore in many disciplines of education ideally medical but extending to philosophy and theology. However, Shelley did pen a fantastic story which nitpicks on parenting, and the questionable action ‘if it can be should one actually do it’, it’s often an afterthought in medicine, for example the harvesting of organs (transplant) lend urban legends – harmless, but also an entire black market which exploits the poor and enrich the powerful. Therefore, with so many articles and books written about Frankenstein how could one more make any difference, well has a Horror Historian and lover of horror cinema and literature, I figure I need to provide my contribution, on the final day of 2018 and consummate the importance of Frankenstein, the book, in a year celebrating 200 glorious years, and ready to keep experimenting well into the future. A side note this article focuses on the book and not the movie, as it was made in 1931 and will need wait until 2031 just to reach 100-years old, a mere 13-years away.
As many know the basis for the movie is the same, they might not know the foundation for the creation of the tale, it started with a ghost-story writing competition, occurring on a stormy night in June 1816, between Mary, her husband Percy Bysshe, and their friend Lord Byron. The topic perfectly situated Mary, who already had a cursed life on March 6, 1815, when at the age of 17, she lost her premature baby daughter, she noted that her dead baby haunted her for months, what we now determined as postpartum depression. Later, recalled in dreams possessing the abilities to bring her daughter back to life. Truly everything about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) enhances the visual creations to aid the reader with our imagination to capture the laboratory and more importantly Dr. Frankenstein’s intent on becoming his own God.
In there lies the true aspect of the story of Frankenstein his personal existentialism, the meaningless limitations society placing on themselves, bound by morals and religion versus the progress of science and technology. In others words, has science excelled too fast, too far knowledge always sought, experimentation needed to prove any hypothesis, but does it creep into the realm of godly powers and in fact, Dr. Frankenstein recreating life, becomes his mocking of the Lord. In the story, a surge of electricity flowing through the body to breathe life, but worth noting the doctor consults with no one, their opinions, discussions, one vital word absent in his world, oversight. Recalling for those unaware there’s no lab assistant, that was movie studios invention (not a bad one), however even then the henchman was treated more as a mindless slave than a confidant. This aspect plays out wonderfully similar in Day of the Dead (1985) with the character Dr. Logan name calling by Captain Rhodes as Frankenstein. Reflecting on this character he works alone, doing disgusting things to the corpses and ignores everyone else. No oversight leads to horrible conclusions. Even today, science tries to jump the mortal wall, understanding death, extending life, like a vampire, and the novel excels in this with subtle notes to divine existence.
In 1926, Fritz Jahr, coined a new phrase ‘bioethics’ which in essence questions arises from the same Frankenstein question presented in the novel, how far is too far in both life and in death, when is the right moment to let go of dreams and love ones. As technology advances, no way to stop it in any industry, medical most frightening at times, filled with promise and trepidation, herein affecting the entire human race, and yet perhaps overall it’s our fate as society to understand the limitations of free will and death itself. Dr. Frankenstein ignores all the morals and values, and in the end a very bad parent, taking no responsible for his creation. After all if you fast forward to today, and in cinema Get Out embarks on this method in transference of the brain into that of another person, a form of body snatchers, however always eluding what of the soul. Why it’s never truly mentioned mainly because Doctors often reject prayers, rituals, and even religion, the medical field especially surgeons and some researchers think of themselves as God; after all in Malice (1993) Alec Baldwin said he is God.
An interesting aspect from the story of Frankenstein, lies in the area of theology, namely most think of God giving life, however herein, the doctor creates life, but one aspect overlook, in God’s creation the birth of a soul and the doctor’s creation termed a Monster, because it’s without a soul. As medicine continues to advance, the transplanting of skin, limbs, and even facial, soon the breakthroughs likely coming in forms of fixing injured spinal cords and to perhaps absurd measure of transplanting a brain. Once again if one can, should society do that, look at the genetic made babies, removing traits that some deemed objectionable, while others defend with noble intent of curing defects, once more inferring with God’s design, an aspect copied into many films such as Gattaca (1997). A truly boggling myriad of problems, and concerns, all of it discussed, and presented in the novel, thereby allowing further discussions among many different types of readers.
Ever since author Mary Shelley warned both the readers and the society in general of the increasing dangers of unbound science noting that eventually the knowledge could contain life-altering outcomes. These aspects are influenced in many movies, from the Terminator franchise to Body Parts (1991) and especially the Re-Animator series.
As 2018 marks the 200th anniversary, I coincidently found both a book and magazine that noted the 150th, among them a Life Magazine with Boris Karloff on the cover and then a rare copy of fiction novel by Paul E. Fairman, called The Frankenstein Wheel (which was part of the Frankenstein Horror Series, who has a page dedicated to Mary Shelley. In addition Life magazine published a 200th press cover, but once again used a photo of the monster from Frankenstein (1931). It only goes to show that most people don’t realize that the real mother of the monster indeed was none other than Mary. Therefore, whether you have seen the original from 1910, to classic of 1931 or even the comedic genius entry of Young Frankenstein (1974) from Mel Books and Gene Wilder, one thing remains true the title name transcending both the literary and cinematic world and part of the lexicon of general society.
Lastly, many horror fans, may not know of Mary Shelley’s lasting contribution to the realm of the genre, but that many identify the title Frankenstein to the monster than the doctor. Universal Studios made this a fact through their marketing, changing the monster to the star and granting him the namesake of Frankenstein, besides most identify Boris Karloff in this role but can’t name who portrayed the doctor, which was Colin Clive.
Simply stated the controversy of the statements in the novel will fuel the fiery debate for years to come, as over 300 editions of the novel published with various artwork on the covers and translated into multiple languages, leading to and at least 100 films, hundreds of comic books and academic books and even music contains references from Helloween. Thank you Mary Shelley for your novel which encourages me to read more horror novels.