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Book cover for Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Penguin Classics: New York, 2003; originally published in 1818.

Before I begin this review, I want you to think of everything you think you know about Frankenstein. What comes to mind even when I think of Frankenstein is the classic depiction from the old horror movies. The insane doctor with a German accent screaming, “It’s alive!” as lightning lights up the sky and magically brings his new friend to life. A hideous monster who speaks in broken English. In the book, none of that happened. The lightning thing never happened; Victor never said, “It’s alive!”; and the monster was, according to Victor, quite attractive (with the exception of his somewhat unsettling eyes, but I’ll get to that later). Rather than the science fiction horror story of the silver screen, the original book was actually a profound and grim commentary on the dangers of unethical science.

The novel, written by Mary Shelley in 1818, opens with Captain Robert Walton aboard a ship drifting through the North Pole. He spots none other than Victor Frankenstein, stranded on the ice and looking very displeased indeed. He takes Victor on board and, naturally, wants some context as to why this scientist is stranded in the middle of the North Pole. Victor launches into an exhaustive life story told in excruciating detail from the very beginning.

Victor, born in Italy to a German family and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, is a brilliant scientist who grew up reading the works of outdated alchemists and scientists. This motivates him to get a real education and pursue science as a career. This whole bit bored me to tears, and I’m sure it will do the same for you, so I’m going to skip on to the juicy part: Fast forward to years later. Victor has dropped out of college (no, he was not a doctor, not even close) and decided that he’s going to go dig up some graves, stitch some body parts together, and bring his new creation to life. Grave robbing and playing god. Classic midlife crisis.

To someone like Victor, this is a completely normal thought process. Victor does indeed bring this creation to life, though it’s never said how (screenwriters had to make up the lightning thing all on their own). He also never says, “It’s alive!” His reaction is more of an “Oh, cool.”

Contrary to the classic Hollywood nightmare, said monster is actually very beautiful. The monster’s only fault is that he has terrifying eyes. Victor is, in fact, so afraid of the monster’s eyes that he declares the experiment a failure, ditches the monster, and leaves the monster to his own devices. Deadbeat dad of the century right there.

The monster wanders out into the world, curious and kind and eager to learn. The monster soon finds out, however, that people are afraid of him. He is naturally confused and scared and runs into the forests of the Swiss Alps. There he is lost, wandering around and discovering the world for the first time, given that he’s basically a giant baby.

The monster learns to speak by listening in on a rural family in the Alps. He begins to understand that all his misfortunes are caused by Victor, the one person who was supposed to take care of him. From there, the monster decides to seek revenge on his creator. I won’t spoil the rest!

Victor, out of arrogance and disregard for anyone but himself, brought the monster to life without regard for the consequences of his actions. When this backfired, instead of accepting responsibility for his mistake and either killing the monster or raising him properly, he hightails it out of Switzerland and leaves the monster to fend for itself rather than face what he has done.

Victor isn’t a mad scientist, nor is he a hero. He is someone whose life fell into ruin because he only thought about himself; he let his ego dictate his work. To all the people who say “Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster”—in this story, there are two monsters. And one of them is indeed named Frankenstein.

Calci Wolfe Reviewer of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Valentine Wulf, 13
Seattle, WA