Frankenstein's Monster

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Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster, along with Elsa Lanchester, in Bride of Frankenstein

Frankenstein's monster (sometimes Frankenstein's creature or the Frankenstein monster) is a creature first appearing in Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. In the novel it has no name and is variously referred to as "the creature," "the fiend," or "the wretch." After the novel was adapted to film, the monster became best known in popular imagination as "Frankenstein". However this was incongruous with the original novel — Frankenstein was the name of the creature's creator, and not the monster itself.

In Shelley's novel


In the novel, Victor Frankenstein builds the creature through methods of science and/or alchemy which are not clearly described. Immediately upon bringing the creature to life, however, Frankenstein flees from it in horror and disavows his experiment. Abandoned, frightened, and completely unaware of who or what he is, the monster wanders through the wildnerness searching for someone who would understand and shelter him.

He finds brief solace by hiding out in the wood shed of a remote cabin inhabited by a large family. While they are unaware of his existence, he learns every part of their lives by eavesdropping on their conversations; he comes to think of them as his own family. He develops the power of speech from listening to the family teach their language to an Arabiandaughter-in-law, and very quickly becomes eloquent and well-mannered.

One day, he musters the courage to finally make his presence known. He introduces himself to the family's patriarch, their blind grandfather, and experiences kindness and acceptance for the first (and last) time, as the blind man can not see his "accursed ugliness," and so treats him as a friend. When the rest of the family returns, however, they are terrified of him and drive him away. Heartbroken, he renounces all of mankind and swears revenge on his creator, Frankenstein, for bringing him into the world.

The monster searches for Frankenstein relentlessly, guided by some papers which were in the pocket of the clothing he took from his creator's rooms. Upon arriving near Frankenstein's home town, he meets and tries to befriend a small boy, hoping that the innocent youth will not be prejudiced against him. The boy is instantly frightened and threatens to get his father—Monsieur Frankenstein—and thus the creature learns that the boy is related to his enemy. The creature kills him, and, in a further gesture of hatred against humanity, frames the murder on a girl sleeping nearby by pinning a locket on her person. The girl happens to be the Frankenstein family maid. She goes to the gallows because Frankenstein decides it would be futile to confess his experiment, as no one would believe him.

Intent on his own revenge, Frankenstein hunts the creature, and finds him in a remote ice cave. Here the monster tells Frankenstein his story and pleads with him to create a female creature so he can flee from humanity with one of his own kind. Frankenstein agrees, but relents just before finishing the mate, aghast at the possibility of creating a race of monsters. Enraged, the creature swears he will destroy everything Frankenstein holds dear.

He makes good on his promise by killing Victor's best friend and later on Frankenstein's wedding night, by killing his bride. With nothing left to live for, Frankenstein dedicates his life to hunting down and destroying his creation. He scours the country obsessively, unaware that his creation is stalking his every move. The search ends in the Arctic Circle when Frankenstein loses control of his dogsled and falls into ice cold water, contracting severe pneumonia. He is rescued by a ship exploring the region, and relates the entire story to its captain, Walton, before succumbing to his illness and dying. The creature boards the ship intent on taking his final revenge, but is overcome with grief and remorse upon finding Frankenstein dead, having lost the only family he has ever known. He pledges to travel to "the Northernmost extremity of the globe," and there commits suicide. Template:Endspoiler

Appearance

Few details of the creature's physical appearance are given in the original novel, except that he is about eight feet in height, has yellowish skin and eyes and flowing black hair, and is hideous.

The image of Frankenstein's monster in popular culture comes mostly from Boris Karloff's portrayal in the 1931 movie Frankenstein, as a lumbering, flat-headed giant with electrodes in his neck. Further interpretations have added green skin (because of Karloff's makeup, which was green so that it would show up better on the black and white film) and a characteristic scar across the forehead.

Personality

The creature is usually depicted as a loathsome fiend, a born murderer. However Victor in fact created a sensitive, emotional and gentle creature whose only aim is to share his life with another sentient being like himself, to love. It was only through the process of learning from mankind, through his negative experiences with other people, that he became "evil". He was taught to behave the way others expected of him, based on his hideous appearance. This is a subtle and important distinction that is usually lost in later translations of the work. Victor did not create a monster (except in his own mind); Victor created a gentle, intelligent sentient being. It was mankind that turned him into a monster. The creature believes people should judge him by his personality and not be prejudiced against him because he has an obscure look.

Other media

The monster and characters based upon him have starred in a number of movies, comic books, television shows, cartoons, and virtually every form of media and art—sometimes symbolically, other times as parody or satire. He has been portrayed by a number of actors, Karloff being the most famous. Of all the actors who have played him, critics have cited Robert De Niro's performance in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as arguably the most faithful.

As metaphor

As a metaphor the creature has often been portrayed representing various social, environmental, and psychological themes. Interpretations include the danger of man playing God and the dangers of toying with what you do not understand. This interpretation could possibly be of merit, as the novel was written just at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the critics of which claimed that scientists and businessmen were using the natural world in perverse, destructive ways. He has also been cited as a metaphor for personal responsibility; Victor Frankenstein errs in giving the creature life without consideration for the consequences, and is destroyed by his refusal to acknowledge and deal with his mistake.

Another metaphor involves the fears of a young woman author and the natural consequences of love: children. The creature was born good, all it wanted was to love another creature like its self, and to be loved by its creator. But it was the creature's encounters with other men that taught it to be evil. If the creature has a metaphor, it represents the natural fears of a mother to be. It was not science, or the act of creation, that made an evil creature; it was mankind who taught an otherwise good and innocent creature to be evil. Victor Frankenstein errs not in the act of creation (science), but in how he and others treat the creation, how it is "raised" (see Original sin).

In popular culture

  • Because in the book Frankenstein the monster was assembled from pieces of many different dead bodies, the phrase "Frankenstein's Monster" has entered the lexicon as a slang term for anything assembled haphazardly from originally disparate elements. Especially if those parts were previously discarded by others, for example, a car built from parts salvaged from many other cars. Similarly, for many years Eddie van Halen played a guitar built in such a manner which he called the "Frankenstrat".
  • Dr. Frank N. Furter's Eddie and Rocky in The Rocky Horror Picture Show are obvious parodies of Frankenstein's monster and have similar backstories in the film.
  • Lisa of the Weird Science film and television series was a sort of computer-generated Frankenstein monster, designed to be a toy for Gary and Wyatt. Though not technically undead, the method of her creation and her rebellious nature make constant references to the Frankenstein's monster. There is even an episode of the television show where Gary and Wyatt match their creation Lisa against Frankenstein's monster to see who has created the superior being.
  • Herman Munster of The Munsters looks almost identical to Boris Karloff's interpretation, and Lurch from The Addams Family betrays more than a passing resemblance.
  • The Incredible Hulk, the title character of a popular comic book series, was partially inspired by Frankenstein. He not only looks much like the typical version of Frankenstein's monster, but in the most enduring of different versions acts in a similarly brutish, volatile manner.
  • Franken Berry, a cereal and its same-name mascot, are named after the character. Its appearance is similar to the Monster but noticeably altered.
  • Radical enviornmentalists (and some European farmers) use the term frankenfood for genetically-engineered crops.
  • The movie Van Helsing features the Creature as part of a scheme to revive Dracula's dead children.
  • Scooby-Doo has a TV movie entitled "Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School", in which Scooby, Shaggy, and Scrappy-Doo meet the daughters of several monsters at "Miss Grimwood's School for Girls". One of the 'girl ghouls' (as they are called in the movie) is named Elsa Frankenteen, her father being Frankenteen Sr. Though both resemble the creature, Frankenteen Sr. is the best representation. 'Frankenteen' is also a portmanteau of 'Frankenstein' and 'teen' because Elsa is a teenager.
  • In many installments of the Castlevania video game series, Frankenstein's monster is featured as a boss or a regular enemy.
  • In the Darkstalkers video game series, the character Victor von Gerdenheim is based on Frankenstein's monster.

In the DC Comics Elseworlds format, there have been two adaptations of Frankenstein, featuring DC's most famous characters, Batman and Superman.

In Batman: The Castle of the Bat, Bruce Wayne fills the role of Victor Frankenstein, wishing to revive his deceased father. Having successfully done so, his creation becomes "The Bat-Man", a hulking figure in a rough analogue of the Batman costume who preys upon highwaymen, similar to the one who took the lives of the (this story's) parents of Bruce Wayne. Batman's butler Alfred Pennyworth is changed to a hunchbacked dwarf named Alfredo, filling the "Igor" role, and there is also a chimera, the result of combining a bat and a dog, a reference to Ace the Bat-Hound.

In The Superman Monster, Lex Luthor is Viktor Luther, the creator. He discovers the spacecraft that would have carried the infant Superman to Earth. Inside, however, is only the skeleton of a child. Using the Kryptonian technology, he is able to animate his (unintentionally) super-powered creature, which initially resembles Bizarro. The creature flees and is raised by the kindly couple Johann and Marta Kant. They name the creature Klaus, after their dead son. The story features the Lois Lane character becoming "The Bride" to Superman's Creature. The story is unclear as to whether the Bride also gains superpowers.

See also