It’s hard to use the words “classic” and “horror” without also mentioning Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
Since it’s the day before Halloween, I feel like I should write about something a little spooky. I don’t read a lot of horror, mostly because I usually read late at night and sometimes I like to try to sleep afterwards. I’ve read a few of the classics, though, and it’s hard to use the words “classic” and “horror” without also mentioning Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
I could analyze “Frankenstein” in many contexts, from the role of women in the book to the story’s role in the history of horror and science fiction. In the end, though, what I like most about “Frankenstein” is that no matter which way you examine it, it’s just plain weird. Shelley had issues, and she wasn’t at all shy about using them to produce an impressively creepy story
Your Cliff’s Notes are likely to inform you that some of the central themes of “Frankenstein” are “science versus nature” or “the misappropriation of creation,” but between the really big words and the nebulous concepts, these ideas are vastly misleading.
What this type of analysis assumes is that by creating his monster, Frankenstein abused some mysterious power of science in order to yield a twisted, terrible result. My concise response to this is simply “science doesn’t work that way, and Shelley knew it.” Chemistry is not alchemy; math is not magic. This was just as true when the book was written as it is now.
What works for me instead is the idea that science is a way of observing nature. Shelley used Frankenstein the scientist to examine the makings of life and humanity in excruciating detail, and in the process discovered some things that none of us are really comfortable seeing. In his own words, Frankenstein admits “It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn ... whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man ...”
The problem, then, isn’t that he creates evil, but that he gets a good, hard look at it in places where he least expects it. The idea that scary, disturbing things lurk around in everyday relationships is an enduringly creepy one. If Frankenstein’s creature were simply a monster to be slain, the book wouldn’t have nearly so much punch. But it turns out that the makings of a monster have little to do with the physical structure of life, and everything to do with human thought and behavior.
Just as there’s more to Frankenstein’s monster than cells and numbers, there’s more to Shelley’s masterpiece than elements of literary analysis. The book is spooky, fascinating and well worth reading. If you need a little extra scare after trick-or-treating, “Frankenstein” is a great place to find it.