With Halloween coming up, many Americans will be indulging in all things creepy and paranormal. But while most of us have heard of ghosts and goblins, not all of us know the entire mythos behind these creatures that go bump in the night. So, using my personal knowledge and the research of traditional texts and scholars, I plan to clarify this mythos all October long in celebration of Halloween.
Before I begin, let me say this loudly for the people in the back: Frankenstein is the scientist, not the monster! The monster is never given a name.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about the mythos behind the monster.
This monster came from a book relatively recently in our society. The famous gothic novel Frankenstein was written in 1818 by Mary Shelley, pioneering female author and godmother of the science fiction genre.
Almost everyone in western society knows this story in one form or another, but in case you haven’t, here’s a summary of the book (the best and darkest version of this story):
Reclusive and overly-ambitious scientist Victor Frankenstein uses ancient alchemic scientists and other unknown dark arts to reanimate a corpse while he’s in medical school. Then after his creation has come to life, Victor is terrified and essentially abandons the poor creature to fend for himself. As the monster gains more sentience, knowledge, and awareness, he grows angrier and angrier at his creator and at the world for his horrible outcasted lot in life. Unfortunately for Victor, this anger leads the monster to lash out violently against Victor’s friends and family, but instead of listening to his creation and easing his burden, Victor rejects his monster for his ugliness and their lives get worse.
Of all the monsters and ghouls of Halloween, Frankenstein’s monster is arguably the character with the most tragic backstory. His persona manages to stay relevant in popular society despite the 200 years passed because of Shelley’s pioneering storytelling.
Physically, the monster is gruesome to behold, but he doesn’t really resemble Boris Karloff. He is described as made of the body parts of various corpses and chemicals. His skin is clear, and his internal organs are visible to everyone. He is over eight feet tall when he’s born, but he has the mind of a newborn child who just wants to be loved by his creator.
Psychologically, the monster is more complex than most villains written in that time. At first, the monster is kind and innocent and enjoys living peacefully in nature. But after he learns how to talk, read and write, he gains enough sentience to reach out. Unlike the movie, the monster is a reasonably smart and reflective person who can hold intelligent conversations. However, everyone rejects him for how he looks, so the monster lives as an outcast who can never receive acceptance from anyone and lets this anger drive him to do horrible things just to lash out at Victor.
Meanwhile, his creator Victor Frankenstein can never see past his prejudice. He never seeks out his creation and maintains a cold distance from him while keeping his work a secret from his family and even his best friend. Then finally when Victor grants the monster’s request to make a wife for him, he destroys his monster’s mate midway because of how disgusted he feels when the monster comes by to check on his progress.
After that, the monster kills Victor’s new wife for revenge, and Victor dedicates the rest of his life to finding and killing his creation.
Eventually, a sea captain finds Victor stranded in the Arctic and gets the complete story from him. The story is recorded in the form of letters that this explorer is writing back to his sister during his expedition to the arctic which gives us this book.
After telling his life story, Victor begs the captain to help him to kill this monster, then he dies. After the monster comes aboard and has a brief conversation with the captain, the captain lets the monster leave to live in solitude in the Arctic. Tragically, that’s how the story ends.
This combination of in-depth writing, scathing social commentary, and forward-looking questions about scientific ethics are the reasons that Shelley’s work has withstood the test of time these past 200 years.
In popular culture, this monster remains a tragic figure and cautionary tale on the tragic side effects of unethical science and societal prejudice. He’s a monster created literally and figuratively by our own hands who has earned his spot among the Halloween icons.
That’s all for now, mythos fans. Tune in again for another clarification. Happy Halloween!