I just finished reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley—the classic tale of a man who gives life to a monster. I guess it’s the prototypical mad scientist story. Those two sentences pretty much sum up my total knowledge of the book prior to reading it, so I had a few surprises lined up: (Warning: mild spoilers)
- Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the monster, isn’t your typical mad scientist. He’s very social, rather young, mentally balanced, and generally happy.
- The monster is initially a monster only by way of his hideous appearence; he is described as being very intelligent, kind, and patient, and only becomes a true monster because he can’t stand that everyone he meets is frightened and disgusted by the way he looks. Victor Frankenstein himself starts off by running away from the newly created monster, and doesn’t even consider the question of his mental qualities until years later, when it’s far too late.
- The book intentionally glosses over the entire process of the monster’s creation. It mentions body parts from dead people—I think—but even electricity isn’t mentioned. This is because Frankenstein is telling his story to a man who rescued him from a sheet of ice, and he doesn’t want to risk anyone following in his scientific footsteps.
I get the sense that the book’s argument is that Frankenstein was foolish to try to play God, and was made to suffer for it—at least that’s what he himself seems to believe. But it seems to me that the only real problem was that he completely abandoned a newborn being instead of taking care of him; as I said, the monster was initially very benign. In other words, the problem isn’t that Frankenstein tries to play God and fails, it’s that he fails to even try being a parent.
As a science fiction-minded reader, it also bothered me that the scientist Frankenstein never even considered a technological solution to his problems. He developed the process of creating a mentally perfect but physically flawed sentient being in just a few years—who’s to say what a few years further research could’ve accomplished?
Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the book, but I did feel much more sorry for the monster than for Victor Frankenstein.