Category: Frankenstein: The Novel vs. the Myth


Lightning strikes the top of a tall dark tower, and within the monstrous creature opens its eyes. The creator cackles and eagerly approaches. Of course, the creature escapes and demolishes a city. By the time I began reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I had all but relinquished these faulty images. The thing I still could not expect, however, was that the creature would go on to, y’know, kill the scientist’s whole family.

Now, I do not seek to defend Victor Frankenstein’s many character flaws (his egotism, his aversion to taking responsibility) and I recognize that narrator bias deserves major consideration. However, I cannot help but feel for Victor because I cannot imagine behaving any better.

Far from a scientist bent on world conquest, Victor is a bright and promising college student who wants to “pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation” (Shelley 53). Sure, the language is somewhat dramatic, but this doesn’t sound far off from the pursuit of anyone interested in the sciences.

Unfortunately, his creature looks repulsive, and for Victor, “breathless horror and disgust filled [his] heart” (61). (Couldn’t he see how hideous this creature was before he brought it to life? But I digress.) For his lack of caring (but not only that), death upon death upon death ensues in Victor’s life. Like him or not, the suffering this young man endures is brutal.

Yes, the Victor Frankenstein I know may certainly have unkempt hair and a wild look in his eyes, but more than that he is a brokenhearted man sickened by his own foolish actions. He tells Walton, “I — I have lost every thing, and cannot begin life anew” (38). And this, at least, I believe.

(Interestingly enough, the image above is not of Victor at all but Frederick Frankenstein, Victor’s grandson in the 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein. Off on so many levels.)


“Life, do you hear me? Give my creation life!”

Gene Wilder’s, well, wild invocation in Mel Brooks’s “Young Frankenstein,” added to the crazed look on his face helped establish the insanity of Frankenstein’s character in the movie. This of course follows the same mythos that the general public knows the story by: insane Dr. Frankenstein becomes an engineer of human life, attempting to create an artificial being. In at least two movie adaptations, he is assisted by a hunchbacked Igor and together they are successful, with the iconic “It’s alive!” being heard in both that I am familiar with. Then the stories diverge, with the common one ending with a final confrontation where the monster is burned to death. The 1994 movie is the closest to being an accurate representation of the book, with only a few plot points diverging.

There are elements of the true story within the commonly known version (though, how else would it still remain a version of the story), but they are incredibly stretched to adapt to the entertainment world. The original story’s main character is a man who is often depressed and/or ill, and a weak main character is rarely a boon for movies or pop stories. It is justifiable, then, to inject Frankenstein with more oomph – in the form of a mad scientist persona that makes him much more interesting than a fearful and almost paranoid man. In addition to this, it wouldn’t be as interesting of a movie if the prime antagonist isn’t evil, simply misunderstood and lonely. Yes, he is spiteful and vengeful, but these alone do not make a good villain for pop films, where morality is generally required to be very black and white.

In many senses, it is unfortunate that people are only familiar with these “inaccurate” versions of the story. But i am content to enjoy Mary Shelley’s version and let others seek the original story if they so desire.

hojoMad scientists are not about the messy work. What would be the point of killing off innocent people when you have the ability to create something that can do the dirty work for you? This is how I perceived the idea and the creation of the creature in the mind of Victor Frankenstein before reading the book. I believed that, like any normal evil genius, Frankenstein created the large male creature to terrorize Europe through the killing of several individuals. The creature was just a tool for executing the plans that Frankenstein had so carefully planned out. The real story however, crushed every hope I had of Victor becoming the next big villain.

There are so many facets to the story that have collectively destroyed my perception of Frankenstein and his creature. The biggest misconception I had was that Frankenstein and the creature were on the same page as it came to their plans. I waited so patiently for the evil laugh to spill out of Frankenstein’s mouth after his weapon was brought to life but instead I received squeals of panic. The creature and the creator were at no point on the same team and the Victor made sure the creature knew. This created a massive rift in my ideas because the creature was no longer a weapon for Frankenstein in my mind; the creature was a mistake.

The second issue I picked up on as it came to my ideas was that in order to create a killing machine that machine should not have the ability to feel. Feelings like remorse for example, affect those who do things and in this case, negative things. By creating a monster that had the ability to feel emotions, the monster was not designed to be a cold hard killer. While it is true that the monster killed several people, his reasons for those killings were entrenched in his rage for his creator who had neglected him. He did not kill because he was told to but because his emotions, a very human quality, got the most of him. Frankenstein never intended to create an evil monster because he himself was not evil, so the monster was given human emotion. No weapon of destruction should have emotions because they would then feel bad about the destruction and this is how the creature feels at the end of the novel.

Perceptions are made by everyone daily. It is a part of our lives. This example of my shattered reality however, brings to light the saying that one should not judge a book by its cover. In this case of this actual book, I used what I commonly see in other stories to determine the relationship between Frankenstein and his creature and the book proved me otherwise.

Young Frankenstein

Before reading the novel, I thought the story went something like this: a nameless mad scientist works in a lab. His creation lies lifeless, strapped to a metal table. A little, hooded, hunchbacked attendant assists the scientist (Igor, was his name?). “Yes, master. Of course, master,” he says. He pulls a switch, sending volts of electricity through the creation, probably electrocuting himself as well in the process. It is dark and stormy outside. Lightning flashes and thunder clashes. The creature, Frankenstein, rises stiffly from the table, breaking the straps as it moves. “It’s alive! It’s alive!” the mad scientist yells gleefully. His eyes are wide and gleaming as he approaches his creation. More lightning. Before the scientist can speak, or maybe after he gives an order, the creature knocks him aside. Then the creature attacks Igor, or it trashes the lab. Whatever the creature does next, the actions show that the creature is violent and unable to be controlled, and that creating it was a mistake.

Needless to say, that isn’t exactly what happens in the novel. For starters, Victor Frankenstein, before he made the creature, at least, was not a mad scientist. He was a college student. His studies led him to research the cause of life. It was after his discovery of how to create life that he animated the creature. Instead of an insane scientist, the book portrays a relatively rational scientist who genuinely wanted to improve people’s lives. It’s only after the creation scene that his sanity starts to whither.

The creation scene in the novel contrasts starkly with what I thought happened. Victor works alone. Where did Igor come from, anyway? When the creature comes to life, Victor immediately backs away in horror. He is not at all excited or ecstatic like I thought the scientist was. This is what surprised me the most: that Victor was immediately terrified of the creature. I had always thought that the creature had done something fear-worthy. He’d killed some people (which he does later, but at the point of his creation he has done nothing). He had attacked Victor; he burned some buildings, destroyed some property (which, again, he does do later). I didn’t think that some green guy with bolts in his neck who moved like his arms and legs were stiff planks was all that scary. The moment the creature opens his eyes, however, Victor high-tails it out of there. The creature’s mere appearance inspired fear and hate. The creature hadn’t had a moment to act, to reveal his nature, and already he was judged.

Before reading, I also thought that the creature was mindless, mindlessly bent towards violence. However, the creature is intelligent. He becomes proficient in a language in a month or two. He has his own hopes and desires. He wanted to be able to be a part of society, at one point. Reading the novel has shown me that Frankenstein is about much more than a mad scientist’s experiment.

(photo from: )

When I first read Frankenstein in high school, what struck me most about the novel was that the monster is not named Frankenstein, indeed, he has no name at all. After reading it a second time, what has struck me now is that Frankenstein is not about the monster. It is not about Victor Frankenstein. It is not about Clerval, or Elizabeth, or Felix and Safie. Frankenstein is, on a deeper level, about the way personal histories intertwine, the way the lives of people far removed from each other, ultimately culminate in one story. It’s about interrelation, not a monster.

Boris Karloff Frankenstein (1931)

The frame narrative sets the story up to cause characters removed from each other to affect one another. If Mary Shelley had chosen to write Frankenstein without the addition of the creature’s encounters at the cottage, discovering language, and Felix and Safie’s story, we would only know the flat story of Frankenstein. His creature would be an auxiliary character to further Victor’s development. What Shelley gives us instead, is a tale woven from separate angles. The creatures journey and intellectual growth change the readers perception of the character, and in turn, the reader’s perception of Victor. The purpose of the nested stories is to show that they are all essential to the understanding of the narrative; each story, from the inside out, changes the way the next layer is told, approached by the reader, or understood. The story is not really about a monster. The story is about people, and the ways in which our lives radiate out from ourselves to affect each other.

The initial thing that a lot of people, including myself, seem to notice when they read Frankenstein, is that the novel is named after the scientist rather than his monstrous creation. The identity of Frankenstein seems to be the first preconception that is vanquished when one actually reads the book.

Our culture is inundated with references to the hideous abomination that is called Frankenstein, from it being used as an argument against any controversial scientific advances, or as a potential Halloween costume. This is what comes to mind when we think of Frankenstein, this green, sub-human, destructive creature, very different from the eloquent, intelligent, deeply emotional being that is depicted in Shelley’s novel. Not only have we gotten the identity of Frankenstein wrong, we have completely changed his character too.  This is a very odd and huge misconception for an entire society to have, and after reading the book it seems incredible that it hasn’t been corrected.

I think its because we have forgotten, or maybe would like to forget, that this story is not about the Creature but about its creator. If it was simply about the Creature the novel could be passed off as a horror story and warning to think on the repercussions of an act before going through with it, and this is indeed how I thought of it before reading it. The depiction of Frankenstein as a lumbering, dim monster also makes the horror story more convincing than having the more disconcerting, very human, reality. However, the novel is truly about Frankenstein the creator, and is much darker, as it is a discussion of the arrogance of a man who brings himself to the same level as ‘God’ by bestowing life, and finds only loneliness and a burdened soul in that ultimate power. The arrogance may be subconscious but it raises questions as to the arrogance residing in each one of us. The picture below is of the Dr. Frankenstein from a modern TV show called Once Upon A Time. In this show magic and the like is very common, but even in that environment Dr. Frankenstein’s power to bring people back to life is treated as extraordinary and God-like. I chose this picture because you can see Frankenstein’s complete confidence in his abilities and his arrogance in his almost disdainful expression, and also see the supernatural power that is held in his hand.


Boris Karloff Frankenstein (1931)

The myth of Frankenstein has long been a vague and hazy concept to me. Recollections from my first introductions to the monster produce a green, ghoulish figure; slow of speech and mind. Never bothering to actually read the classic novel, I accepted the general view of an evil zombie. If you had actually asked for a summary of the novel, I would have presented a simplistic tale comprising of a dark night, some lightning and a brain-dead zombie. However, upon completing the novel I was bewildered. Literally everything that I had believed about the “Frankenstein” had been turned on its head. How modern art had mangled this depiction so thoroughly was beyond me.

Firstly, the monster was not even called Frankenstein, a rather surprising misnomer. Rather, its creator  Victor Frankenstein, was the original bearer of the name. Throughout the novel, the creature was named in terms such as ‘fiend’, ‘daemon’ and other similar titles. He never actually adopts a name, adding to the foreign mystique of the creature. Secondly, the actual representation I had held of the creature was also negated by the novel. I had pictured a lumbering, stiff moron complete with droopy eyes and a speech impediment. This was the exact opposite, with Shelley portraying a lithe, supple creature of gigantic proportions. He possessed a striking physique, with all the limitations of a normal human having been removed. His devilish speed and agility gave him almost an invincible air, as he flitted in and out of scenes, tormenting Frankenstein.His mental aspect was also another twist in my readings. The creature was the polar opposite of the dull-witted monster so popular with the public today. He entered the living world bereft of knowledge and language yet masters both with incredible speed. Indeed, the monster compares his learning to another character, a Turkish woman by the name of Safie, who has little knowledge of French. He easily outstrips her learning and by the time he returns to his creator, he is not only fluent in French but has become a sophisticated and eloquent speaker. His ability to express his emotions (which seem more complex and deeper than any other character in the book), is astounding and gives credit to his godlike makeup.

The stereotype of “Frankenstein” could not be further from the true depiction. The fact that the popular image has strayed so far from the novel’s portrayal is both perplexing and amazing. Furthermore, the acceptance of the public s popular stereotype continues due to the ignorance that surrounds this classic novel. I for one would have remained blissfully unaware of this inaccurate and in my opinion butchered stereotype, had I not been prompted to read the novel.

A Child’s Toy?


I cannot reconcile the chilling melancholy I felt while reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with the green plastic figurines found in the children’s toy aisle. I find it so peculiar and rather unsettling that such a complex literary figure would be considered an acceptable amusement for children. The story itself, which requires a high level of emotional and intellectual maturity for comprehension, is evidently not appropriate material for the young children who dress in the monster’s likeness for Halloween. I believe Frankenstein’s somewhat comical, grotesque appearance in children’s toys and cartoons testifies to our culture’s subconscious efforts to obscure the true terror that the monster incites by attributing the cause of fear to his brutish form and threatening manners. Frankenstein is not scary because he is a monster. Frankenstein is scary because he is human. He expresses, in such an eloquent and thoughtful manner, the desires and emotions we recognize as our own: compassion, loneliness, and the desires for acceptance or companionship. The sense of familiarity toward a being of such dissimilar origin and demeanor is what disturbs us most. So, we impose a stereotype on the monster as a beast inferior in both manner and physicality, bearing no intellectual resemblance to humans, in order to avoid confrontation with this truth, that Frankenstein might be just as, or perhaps even more, human than we are.

Source for the image:


Before I ever read the actual Frankenstein novel, I had no real exposure to the story outside of Halloween, Scooby-Doo, and maybe a few other various encounters I might have had during my childhood. After reading the novel in full, a number of stereotypes I previously believed to be true have been shattered. The biggest difference between my previous views of the story and what I now know to be the truth is the representation of Victor Frankenstein and the circumstances surrounding the creation of the monster.


Before reading the novel, I had always kind of assumed that the creator of ‘Frankenstein’ was simply a deranged mad scientist, looking to impart on the world a horrible creation and cause mayhem. After reading the story, I was surprised to learn that not only was this ‘mad scientist’ actually the namesake of the novel, but his original intentions in creating what became his monster were actually rooted in good.


I never really considered that as a possibility. In my head, I always had the image of this nefarious scientist tinkering away in some awful dungeon of a basement somewhere, assisted by his henchman, cackling away as his creation came to life as lightening lit up his lair and scary organ music played. The picture above kind of represents that stereotype, which I know now is quite off-base.


In reality, Mary Shelley’s vision of Victor Frankenstein was that of an innocent, well meaning, and brilliant scientist who set out on a quest to further the development of humanity and better society as a whole. Unfortunately, his experiment backfires horribly – but it was certainly not by his own design that the Monster came to be what it ends up being. That, to me, is the biggest myth that actually reading the novel dispelled.


Source for image:

Due next Thursday (1/15) by noon on this blog site, write your first blog post on the following question: How does your reading of Mary Shelley’s novel challenge your preconception or stereotype of the Frankenstein myth?  Choose ONE image below (or your own image) that best represents the stereotype called into question by your reading of the novel.  Post your blog under the category “Frankenstein: The Novel vs. the Myth” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags before submitting your post.

Students can find their own Frankenstein image in the link “Vanderbilt Creative Commons,” located in the lower right sidebar under “Online Resources.”



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