August 30, 2007

#01-014: Frankenstein: A Modern Horror Story

Frankenstein's monster from a film

Note: The 19th century was an age of great novels. Many of the genres we enjoy reading today--fantasy, romance, detective stories, Gothic horror, and more--either started or became popular in the "Victorian Age." In this lesson, we'll talk about one of the greatest.

For another version of this story, see Lesson #08-049.

Get Ready: Do you like scary movies? What is the scariest movie you've ever seen?

The English writer Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, born in 1797, is mainly remembered for one book she wrote when she was 19: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. She wrote it in a contest between herself, her husband (the poet Percy Bysse Shelley), and their friends.

You may have seen a flat-headed giant, with bolts on his neck and scars on his face, tromping across a movie screen, or perhaps dancing away at a Halloween party. "Ah," you said, "Frankenstein!"

But in fact you were "so close": this is not Frankenstein, but "Frankenstein's monster." The creature never has a name, but is called after the "mad scientist" who created him.

The story, told in many movies as well as the novel itself, is this: Doctor Victor Frankenstein plans to take parts of dead people and sew them together. Then he will bring the "man" he has created back to life by giving it an electric shock.

The plan succeeds. But instead of the beautiful thing he imagined, the creature is ugly and frightening. He calls it many names, including monster, fiend, and devil. When he rejects it, the creature runs away and seeks revenge on the doctor. The rest of the novel shows the complex relationship between the creator and the creature, the man and the monster. You might even say, the "father" and the "child"!

The word "monster" has several meanings. It can mean "something very big"; a uniquely American sporting event where giant trucks crash into each other is called "a monster truck rally." Another meaning is a badly-shaped animal or plant. And a third is an evil person; many Western people call Adolf Hitler "a monster." Frankenstein's monster is, in fact, all of these.

The last meaning is interesting, because many readers think Victor Frankenstein broke the moral law either by making the creature, or by rejecting his creation. So, many ask, "Who is the real monster?"

Another interpretation involves the subtitle: "The Modern Prometheus." In one version of the classical myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. So the novel may be a warning about the dangers of unknown technology.

However you interpret it, this entry in a long-ago contest is still very popular today. Mary Shelley might have been surprised to learn that, as Victor Frankenstein said when the creature first awoke: "It's alive!"


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. revenge
  2. fiend
  3. interpretation
  4. rejecting
  5. complex
  6. mad scientist
  7. subtitle
  8. scars
  9. creature
  10. tromping

  1. the second name of a book or movie
  2. a way of understanding something (like a book or movie)
  3. marks left on the skin after a wound heals
  4. an act of getting even
  5. an inventor who violates the moral law
  6. walking heavily
  7. not accepting; pushing away
  8. an evil spirit; demon
  9. difficult; not straightforward
  10. a living thing, especially one that has been "made"

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for Submitted for August 30, 2007

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. h; 3. b; 4. g; 5. i; 6. e; 7. a; 8. c; 9. j; 10. f