Saturday, October 11, 2008

Book Look Review "Frankenstein"

By Mary Shelley

I enjoyed an illustrated version of the old classic “Frankenstein” as part of Monster Book Fest for October. That’s right; there is an illustrated edition at the library which is really terrific. It is part of the Whole Story series of classics that bring some of these best-loved tales to life with annotations on each page. The text is complete and unabridged but the illustration, maps and photographs explain the culture and customs to those of us reading about 1818 in 2008. Understanding the context of the era greatly enriches the reading of a classic and I plan to seek out more from this series.

Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” when she was only eighteen years old. One rainy night around the fireplace while vacationing on Lake Geneva Switzerland with artists and authors, Mary and the other guests were challenged to write a ghost story. Following a conversation about whether inanimate objects could be brought to life, she had a dream about a young scientist who creates a monster. I don’t know what this group was drinking that evening, but Mary’s nightmare soon became ours for the next 200 years.

Young Master Frankenstein, our mentally unstable and emotionally tortured lead character, has a burning passion to use electricity unwisely. Since little was known about this powerful element of nature it does seem unwise to monkey around with it – especially while still a college student. Like all young men of this age group Frank just went ahead without much planning ahead and gathered dead body parts. After connecting the limbs and ligaments, (I am picturing the ads for the “Body Worlds” exhibit currently on display in Salt Lake City) he zapped the very tall, really ugly human has-been with electricity. Oops - a gigantic mistake. What does he do about it? Frankenstein runs away in horror and has a mental breakdown for a few months while the creature roams about the Swiss countryside.

Of course the miserable creature with no name follows Frank and after several months of murder and mayhem, asks him to create a mate for him. You guessed it – Bride of Frankenstein. The creature is lonely. He wants to be happy and he knows the story of Adam and Eve now so he asks his creator for the same deal.

Mary Shelley has written a monster story that holds up through time. The enduring theme of loneliness and the need for love for all creatures creates pity in her readers. The more powerful theme, that is still current and newsworthy today, is man’s desire to dominate nature through scientific experimentation. Is cloning a good idea? Should we be manipulating DNA? Frankenstein would advise: “Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.”

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