Sunday, November 8, 2009

Frankenstein

By Mary Shelley

Even if you’ve never read Frankenstein, you know its story: man uses science to create something, then that creation runs amok. You’ve seen it over and over again, too, in the Terminator movies, in Jurassic Park, in The Matrix (and its abominable sequels) and I am Legend, not to mention the numerous Frankenstein movies including my favorite, Young Frankenstein. There are few books that have had such a far-reaching and lasting influence.

In spite of this, the book was a constant surprise. Most noticeably, there is no triumphant, “It’s alive!” moment in the book. On the contrary (spoiler ahead), Victor Frankenstein flees in terror the moment his creature takes its first breath, setting in motion all the tragic events that occur thereafter.

Therein lies my problem with this book, the reason that I did not give it five stars. The truth is, Frankenstein is a selfish coward and a hypocrite and I despised him throughout the book. The book was difficult for me to read, let alone enjoy, because I was struggling with anger and disgust almost from beginning to end. (If you want to know how I think Frankenstein should have behaved, simply watch Young Frankenstein!)

In spite of this, it is clear to me why Frankenstein is a classic. I’m no philosopher, but even I found myself considering some big questions. What makes us human? What is our relationship with God? Is science evil, or only when scientific advancement is pursued recklessly with little thought of morality or responsibility? These are issues that resonate with all of us.

Frankenstein's relevance, longevity, and influence definitely make it a five star classic, but it was a four star read for me.

9 comments:

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Great review! There is so much to think about in this novel, and so many people think of Frankenstein as the distilled, commercialized character that most people know of today. I read this in high school and would probably appreciate it much more now...

Lula O said...

I agree completely Stephanie. It was nothing like I thought it would be, but was mucho better than his counterpart, Dracula. I thought it all very poetic though. Definitely feeling the Shelley influence. It seems like now I read this in high school too!

Sigh, I sure did love Young Frankenstein though. Must borrow that soon!

Stephanie said...

I agree, A Bookshelf Monstrosity (love your name!). It's amazing just how wrong the media generally portrays Frankenstein. I was quite sympathetic to the monster in the book, actually.

Lula, I haven't read Dracula yet...and I'm so burned out on vampires, it may be awhile before I even try! (Wanna have a Young Frankenstein movie night?)

The Bradfords said...

That is one of the most oft quoted movies at my house (He vas my boyfriend!). Thanks to Mel Brooks, that's all the Frankenstein my children know. I am intrigued by your review though, Stephanie. For a good laugh you should go on NBC.com and see the spoof SNL did of Twilight last week. They changed it to be about Frankenstein monsters. It was hilarious.

Do you think Mary Shelly ever dreamed that there would be so much parody of the original story? That we would actually be laughing at Frankenstein's monster?

StephanieD said...

I actually love the story of how Frankenstein came to be - imagine Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron sitting around in Switzerland one night telling ghost stories - and this is what she came up with. I would have loved to have been there!

TheBlackSheep said...

I love Frankenstein, but I can see where your four star rating comes in. Even though he's rarely portrayed as such, he was a coward and the Monster was greatly to be pitied. Still, it is a good read with lots of food for thought.

Lula - Dracula scared the everlovin' out of me (yep, I'm a chicken at heart). I thought it was fascinating how scary Stoker made Dracula without ever resorting to a bunch of blood and guts scenes.

Stephanie said...

Suzette, I wonder that, too, about many authors. There are so many parodies nowadays (Lula's read most of them!) that I imagine there are many authors spinning in their graves.

StephanieD, that must have been an amazing get-together, but if I have been there, I would have been completely intimidated by all that genius (kind of like I am at my book club).

And BlackSheep, you have exposed my guilty secret: I like happy books with happy endings. Oh, a little conflict is okay, but I like to know that the book is going to end with a ride into the sunset. I make myself read books like this so my brain doesn't completely atrophy. :)

Rebecca Reid said...

I've heard so many people say they disliked Frankenstein so much! Many say that made them hate the book, but it sounds like it was still a satisfying read for you, even though you disliked him.

I'm glad it made you think of the big questions. That is, I think, why classics remain classics.

Stephanie said...

I agree, Rebecca! And frankly, if Victor Frankenstein had been a different kind of man, the book would have lost much or all of its impact. I'm going to keep reading classics (interspersed with a great deal of fluff, of course) because they are so relevant and thought-provoking.