Frankenstein: Lost But Not Forgotten
Frankenstein. Years ago the story’s classic monster could have caused young kids to run to their moms and grown adults to sleep with the lights on. Today however, Frankenstein’s reputation for terror and chaos has been replaced by a bumbling fool.
Frankenstein’s character was first introduced to the public in 1818, when it was published anonymously. It wasn’t until the second edition was released in France in 1823 that the author’s name, Mary Shelley, was included on the cover. Because many modern editions have dropped the novel’s subtitle, most don’t know that the whole title of the novel wasn’t “Frankenstein.” Older editions of the novel were actually titled Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
Reception of the novel was mixed when it was first released, partially because of the dark nature of the story and the unknown identify of the author. The book didn’t gain proper recognition until decades after its release. Over 100 years later however, film allowed more to become familiar with the grizzly monster. But through all it’s adaptations, Frankenstein (the mad scientist in the novel), soon became synonymous with the monster itself, instead of referring to his creator.
The novel inspired dozens of movies—from horror classics like 1931’s Frankenstein, and 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein, to comedies like 1974’s Young Frankenstein, and action-adventure films like 2014’s I, Frankenstein. While early films represented the creature as Shelley had originally intended, over the years, the comedy representations have softened Frankenstein’s appearance.
Adding to the change in perception, some of the comedies have even been turned into live theatre plays. Mel Brooks’ satire Young Frankenstein just premiered at the Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto, California.
But perhaps the media most responsible for Frankenstein’s image change was The Munsters, a sitcom from the 1960s where the Frankenstein character, (Herman Munster, played by Fred Gwynne) more closely represented “Lenny” from Of Mice and Men, than the horrific monster from the novel.
While production companies may have been eager to reinvent the Frankenstein storyline for cinema over the years, game developers have been less enthusiastic. Although there have been some games created—including the low-rated Frankenstein, Through the Eyes of the Monster, and the little known SEGA Genesis game, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein—none have been very successful. However, as action games take a backseat, online gaming has continued to have success using the fun, light-hearted image of the Frankenstein character. Betfair’s Arcade site just released a new game, Dr. Frantic and the Lab of Loot, a slot title wi
th a cartoon Frankenstein theme. It may not inflict terror into the hearts of players like the original character was supposed to, but fans of the novel can at least be happy that the character is living on in some form through modern entertainment.
It has been almost 200 years since Frankenstein frightened readers all over the world. His character might be more goof than gore nowadays, but at least fans looking for a scare can revisit the classic novel and relish in the fact that at least that will never change.
Having grown up with the current, goofier incarnations of Frankenstein, I was completely blown away when I finally did pick up the original source material lately. What an incredibly gorgeous book. I’ve been feeling that more people have been wanting to return to its original gothic nature, and I couldn’t be happier to see a revival of Shelley’s original tale. It easily earned a spot on my favorite books list.
totally agree. The early Universal films were extremely gratifying as well. Just a suggestion: pick up the Universal monster Blu-ray pack, which has like 7-8 of the originals (Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, Invisible Man, etc., etc.) – it’s gorgeous, and there’s some amazing insight in the collection. One of the best purchases I’ve made in years.
The Universal Phantom of the Opera was one of my favorite movies growing up, but I haven’t seen many of the others (though I do love the Hammer Draculas!). I should really get around to that some day.
I’ve been reading more and more about Frankenstein these days on blogs and Facebook comments. 2018 marks the bicentennial of Frankenstein (https://asunews.asu.edu/20130305_frankenstein) and Arizona State University has already announced its celebration plans. People forget, or overlook, that Mary Shelley also wrote a number of short stories. Some of my favorites: Transformation, The Invisible Girl, The Mortal Immortal. I personally would like to see Mary Shelley’s short stories get more attention. I’ve read several of her biographies. What a life!
Great piece Matt. I love that monster! I grew up a fan of those old school monsters, but not because of their original beauty, rather, because of that awesome movie “The Monster Squad.” So yeah, my version of the monster was a goofier version, but I was always a fan. This is cool though, and I think never mind how little he’s taken seriously nowadays or how popular he is, “Frankenstein” is still a household name and it’s been almost 200 years!