Look Closer: Frankenstein

To celebrate the release of the BabyLit Frankenstein Build and Play app, we take a look at the cultural memory of The Modern Prometheus myth.

As I walk the streets and shops this time of year, I see images of what has come to be known only as Frankenstein all around; they tend to look the same: a large green monster wearing a ragged suit with bolts shoved into the sides of his head. Ask around. When people hear “Frankenstein” that is the first image that arrives for most, and there’s a good reason: the Frankenstein film is a great monster movie that taps into some primal fears. Boris Karloff and director James Whale did a fantastic job of giving that image a life that is deeply rooted in our culture.

But something bothers me about that image, which gets to the heart of the difference between Mary Shelley’s novel and the film adaptation.

The images that we see around Halloween invite us to forget that the creature is really a confused and frightened newborn trying to navigate a world that he doesn’t understand. And he is no monster. In the novel, the creature saves a little girl from drowning, while in the film he drowns a little girl (a scene that was cut from most screenings during its theatrical release). In the novel, the creature teaches himself to read and speak, where he is reduced to grunting in the film. In the movie, the creature receives a criminal’s brain in a shoehorned attempt to explain his murders, but in Shelley’s book, he is reacting to his alienation, forced loneliness, and the refusal of the doctor to reason with him.

The distinction is crucial in answering two questions: Did Dr. Frankenstein create a monster or a man? And: What does it mean to be a monster?

Personally, I’m far more afraid of the doctor than the creature, because the doctor is driven by misplaced grief, obsession and a need to control while the creature seeks love and acceptance. Most of the time, love and acceptance are pretty easy to provide.

We hope you’ll take some time to build a creature of your own, and that you will give him all the love, play, and new outfits that he can stand.