Seriously, can we all just take a minute to bow down to Mary Shelley?
I’ve been re-reading Frankenstein. Yeah, I do that. All of you horror fans get it. It’s not a terribly long read, but this little book packs such a punch that I am in awe of her skills every single time.
I first read Frankenstein when I was probably way too young to process it. All of you bookworms out there I am sure can relate. You had a teacher/parent/relative who wanted to challenge you, and it worked. But revisiting some of these classics as adults, it is pretty amazing what we get out of it the second time. Moby Dick was an amazing adventure tale, and Ahab was a huge hero! You kind of don’t catch on to the obsessive part of him that was willing to throw everyone else into the drink for a chance to take down his giant nemesis until you have a little life experience and understand what a sociopath is.
Similarily, with Frankenstein, I was probably about eleven years old when I first read it. Parts of it scared the bejeezus out of me. The bleakness of the arctic that the novel starts in provides the reader such a sense of foreboding that by the time Frankenstein’s monster emerges from the snow, I was so ready for it. I remember not knowing what to expect, but that the scene was set for something horrifying, awful and amazing to happen.
I was IN.
Until that point, my primary source of horror had been the likes of Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine, with just the right amount of Stephen King mixed in. I had read other classic literature, but more along the adventure type. I had done some of the classic sci-fi, and had just discovered H. G. Wells. But Mary Shelley was my first foray into literary horror, and I was hooked.
Reading the story as an adult is when you get a sense of just how heartbreaking it is. When read from a kids perspective it’s all about the setting; kids read it as if they’re watching a classic monster movie. But when you add in the elements of the story that speak to us about our humanity, a whole new layer of philosophical horror is added to the story. After all, who was the real monster: the created being, or the creator who failed to foresee the consequences of (and to) his creation?
The staying power of this novel is incredible. The fact that it remains relevant today is a testament to Mary Shelley’s talent. The evolution of our knowledge of science and biology since the publication of Frankenstein has led to continued moral, ethical, and philosophical debate that makes this book essential reading even today. Aside from the applications of this woeful story to consequences of everything from cloning to artificial intelligence, it continues to provide the counterpoint of the argument: that emotional intelligence and scientific intelligence need to work well together, not separately.
I have talked to people about classics like Frankenstein before, and have discovered a downside to Shelley’s work being so iconic: a lot of people think that they don’t NEED to read it because the story is so well known. Please please PLEASE do yourself a favour and read this if you haven’t. Her writing alone is so engaging and feels very real…you are instantly pulled into the story. On top of that, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein at the insane age of 19! She was staying at someone’s home and the weather was bad, so they were inside a lot. Several writers and philosphers, including Lord Byron, were there, and they decided to tell each other scary stories to pass the time. Frankenstein was the result.
A lot of people say that it is amazing that a woman in that time wrote something so amazing. To me, I find it amazing that ANYONE wrote something that would become such a relevant look at the nature of humanity two hundred years later. There are plently of classics out there that we enjoy today, but not as many of them still feel as fresh and relatable as Frankenstein. The fact that it has become a basis of comparison for philosophical horror is definitely well-deserved.
If you haven’t read it, do so immediately. If you have, dust off your copy and give it another go…you just might see it differently.