I do know that for the sympathy of one living being,
I would make peace with all.
I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine
and rage the likes of which you would not believe.
If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.
— Frankenstein’s Monster
The Monster Myth of Frankenstein
Frankenstein’s monster is one of the best-known fictional fiends ever created. But in the 1818 novel, Frankenstein, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the monster is at first gentle, almost childlike. He was much more eloquent than the beast played by Boris Karloff in the 1931 movie of the same name.
Indeed Victor Frankenstein’s creation is initially an object of pity who is given life and then abandoned and disavowed by his horrified creator. Uncertain who or what he is, he wanders the countryside and eventually learns to speak by spying on a peasant family as they tried to teach English to a relative. And he learns to speak remarkably well.
Interestingly, the novel, which Shelley wrote when she was just 20 years old, was an instant hit that resulted in numerous adaptations for the stage. It premiered in London in 1823, just five years after the book’s initial publication. The first movie version was a 10-minute short produced in 1910 by Thomas Edison’s film company. It starred Charles Ogle as the pitiful monster and was long listed by the American Film Institute as one of the “most culturally and historically significant lost films”.
The 1931 Universal Studios version, undoubtedly the best known to moviegoers, was based more on a 1927 theatrical adaptation by Peggy Webling than on Mary Shelley’s book. Almost all subsequent film versions continued to portray the monster as an inarticulate brute. Only a handful have made an attempt to stay true to the novel in portraying the creature as intelligent and sensitive.
Over the years, the story of Frankenstein’s mad science project has been the source material for hundreds of movies. The monster duked it out with a werewolf in Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1943). He chucked it up with comedians in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein , and even encountered cartoon varmints in Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein (1999). Peter Boyle played the creature for laughs in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974) which was later adapted into a successful Broadway play.
Frankenstein’s monster has become a ubiquitous feature in American popular culture. But if you want to enjoy the story in its purest form read Shelley’s novel. You’ll find it a less horrific experience than many of the aforementioned movies.
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