Monday, January 06, 2014

Frankenstein's Monster Is the Greatest Character in Western Literature.

Let's start with cheerful hyperbole: I think Frankenstein's monster might be one of the greatest characters in western literature.

Not Doctor FrankensteinVictor Frankenstein is shallow and weak and self-involved, a fickle  narcissist who wallows in regret after he gets his friends and family killed. 

The monster holds everyone's attention.  

Admittedly, this is not because Frankenstein is well loved as a novel. The cultural love affair with the monster is shallow one, focused largely on his image in the moviesBut also, the idea of the monster is fascinating, the conceit that organic life is interoperable. That a scientist can take a bunch of spare human - parts and make a person as easily as you can make a starship by fitting Legos together. 

At its root, the idea that life can be manipulated satisfies insecurities about mortality and senescence. In this the novel Frankenstein was prescient: It is a goal of science to transplant or manufacture human organs in order to extend lifespan. 

But there is a strong element of neato/keen embodied in the monster as well. What would you do if you could effortlessly Lego-ize your body? If you could stitch on cool new replacement parts? Would you give yourself wings?  A wolf head? It is a heady power fantasy, but also artistic in its own merits. The religious art of the ancients often featured baroque chimera, gods with animal heads on human bodiesand the lego human-animal daughters of the Greek TitansSnake bodied Echidna, the winged lion Sphinx, the human/bird Harpies. The idea of lego-people has often been mined in pulp fiction, from the surgically created animal humans of The Island of Doctor Moreux to the horrific but humorous absurdism of Herbert West: Reanimator, wherein body parts get stuck together in bizarre combinations. Stories about the genetic combination of humans and animals fill the same niche, from Jurassic Park to Splice.  

This is why I loved the idea of the monster, tooMgrandmother gave me a copy of Frankenstein for my birthday, one yearI had asked for it. But I couldn't actually read it. Like the Lord of the Rings, it was too dry for my adolescent brain. I still loved the idea of the monster, the Karlofiann creature with bolts in its neck and thick sutures holding it together. I loved the idea of artificial mankind. Of manufactured mankind. 

But that's not the monster that made it into Frankenstein vs. the Titans.

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