Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley is hailed as the first real science-fiction novel. Following Dr. Victor Frankenstein, it chronicles Frankenstein’s journey to create life and his clash with his creation after he succeeds. Touching on themes of ambition, lost of innocence, revenge, humanity, responsibility and creattion, Frankenstein is a dense but very worthwhile classic of its genre. However, it unfortunately has been largely displaced in the popular consciousness by its film adaptations. To celebrate its publication anniversary, here are five facts about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and its many differences to work that adapted its spooky tale.
1. The Framing Device
The original novel uses a framing device to tell its story. Captain Walton, a sailor in the arctic, picks up Victor Frankenstein on the ice and brings him aboard his ship. There, Frankenstein tells the tale of how he got here, turning the entire book into one long flashback. The Creature confronts Captain Walton at the end, vowing it will destroy itself via funeral pyre. However, Captain Walton is a character who is very rarely adapted, the framing device being almost entirely omitted from films based on or inspired by the book.
2. There was no Igor
Dr. Frankenstein’s hunchbacked assistant, Igor, is purely a creation of popular culture. In the original novel, Frankenstein worked entirely alone, creating the monster in a hidden room at his college. He kept the experiment entirely secret and had no outside help at all. The character of an assistant first appeared in 1931’s Frankenstein film in the form of Fritz, before being codified, ironically enough, by Mel Brook’s spoof film Son of Frankenstein.
3. The Monster Speaks
The Monster is a very different character from the mute, lumbering brute that was made famous in the Universal Horror films. Although he begins as a borderline feral creature after his ‘birth’, the Monster slowly learns language and reasoning over the course of the novel. He becomes extremely intelligent and articulate, often spending pages contemplating his unnatural existence. He even learns how to make clothes and uses weapons to defend himself as he survives in the wilderness. Compared to his film counterpart, he’s a wholly different beast.
4. The Creation is Offscreen
Doubtlessly one of the most famous in cinema is the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. Everything about it is iconic, from the slab the monster rests upon to the flashing laboratory equipment to the bolt of lightning that brings him to life to Frankenstein proclaiming “Its alive, its alive!” But the sequence in question actually isn’t in the original novel! Yes, the creation of the Monster in the book is entirely offscreen and left to the reader’s imagination. Oddly, this makes it more compelling to the imagination…how did Frankenstein do it? We’ll never know but it certainly makes good food for thought.
5. Frankenstein Dies
In the novel, Victor Frankenstein pays for his hubris. After trekking the Monster to the Arctic, he collapses on the ice and is rescued by Captain Walton. But it is too late for him and after telling the Captain his story, he expires. Subsequent adaptations have spared Frankenstein his untimely demise, doubtlessly to keep a relatively happy ending.
What are your favorite moments from the book that didn’t make it to the screen?
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