Of Course There’s a Frankenstein Monster (Color)

And here’s the color version of yesterday’s Frankenstein monster. He’s got a little more green in him than I generally give my Frankensteins. I grew up with Herman Munster and the ubiquitous Universal Frankenstein and, however cool those characters are (or are not), I tend to react against them when I draw a Frankenstein.

As I understand it, the Universal Frankenstein wasn’t meant to be green. All of the original Universal Frankenstein movies were filmed in black and white. The makeup that Boris Karloff wore in the first films was green because it photographed as a sickly shade of grey. Color publicity photos and green shaded versions of the monster in later promotional material fixed his color as green in the public’s imagination.

The world is full of square headed green Frankies. I don’t need to add to the number. Mary Shelley’s version was a very different monster. There have been many different interpretations of the creature on stage and screen and comic book page in the last 180+ years. And I like different.

Of Course There’s a Frankenstein Monster (Black and White)

Here’s the black and white original version of my requisite Frankenstein Monster. It would be difficult for me to design a portfolio site without including a Frankenstein or two. He got a place on the first Skookworks.com banner.

I’m still in the process of figuring out how I want to arrange the galleries at Skookworks. I’m not sure if I want to have a specific Frankenstein gallery or if I should include him in a general Monsters gallery. Heck, I’m not sure yet if I want a general Monsters gallery.

Thinking, thinking.

Frankenstein on the Bus

So I’m commuting again and so I’ve got time to read. I’m expecting to be reading textbooks when school starts again next week but in the meantime I’m trying to make it through a stack of recently borrowed library books.

The Secret Laboratory Journals of Victor Frankenstein by Jeremy Kay

This one is a breezy cliff notes adaptation of the original Frankenstein. It’s a “reproduction” of Victor’s journals, handwriting, sketches, bills to tradesmen and all. As with most adaptations of the story, the account of the creation of the monster is greatly expanded. Kay also adds in the characters of Franz and Praetorius as Frankenstein’s partners in monster building. Frankenstein comes off as less self centered and the Monster more evil in this version.

The Bride of Frankenstein by Elizabeth Hand.

The copy I’ve got is subtitled Pandora’s Bride but that text is missing on the image I swiped from Amazon. This sequel to The Bride of Frankenstein film is never boring. The Bride saves Dr. Praetorius from the destruction of Frankenstein’s laboratory and off they journey into a movie fairy tale version of 1920’s Germany. It’s pure pulp. Henry Frankenstein and his Monster are both in hot pursuit. Pandora (as the Bride names herself) encounters an array of real historic figures and characters from M, Metropolis, The Blue Angel, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and probably other films I don’t recognize. I’d read another story with these characters if Hand were to write one.

Victor Frankenstein’s Sister… er … Bride

I suspect that Frankenstein has endured so long for two reasons.

One, it’s a simple story. A person can relate the plot and theme to another person in the space of a paragraph.

Two, the story is complex enough that that paragraph can be a very different one each time. It all depends on the reader/writer.

I’ve heard plenty of times that the theme of the story is the dangers of Presumption, of Man daring to play God.

Rubbish. Frankenstein is an admonition to be a good parent, to take responsibility for the things one creates. The mistake that Frankenstein makes is not in creating the Creature but in abandoning him when he fails to be the beautiful thing that Frankenstein thought he had built. Yes, the Creature is a killer. He’s a dangerous being. And maybe he would have been if Frankenstein had “raised” him with love and attention. But he didn’t. He was a self centered, self pitying, self deluded coward.

But that’s my version. Part of the fun of watching the different movie adaptations and reading various sequels is experiencing other versions of the story.

I’ve just finished The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Theodore Roszak. It’s probably the last Frankenstein story I’ll be reading for a while. Without my daily commute I no longer have the time or inclination to read that I once did.

As with most of the other Frankenstein sequels I’ve read, Memoirs changes the events of the original novel to fit the story the current author wants to tell. Gone are little William, Justine and Henry Clerval. Victor’s brother, Ernest, remains but so little attention is paid to him that he seems like a character that the author forgot to write out of his final draft.

The story purports to be the edited diaries of Elizabeth Frankenstein, a foundling adopted by the Frankensteins. The diaries have been collected and edited by Robert Walton, the explorer who encountered Frankenstein at the North Pole. In his search for the truth of Frankenstein’s story Walton has researched the Frankenstein family and interviewed surviving witnesses to the events. Walton footnotes the diaries for historic context and to give his stuffy opinion of all the perverted and obviously unlikely things that Elizabeth does. This from a guy who got all crushed out on starving crazy man who brought a patchwork corpse to life? Pot? Say hello to kettle.

In Memoirs Elizabeth has been adopted in part so that she can be the eventual wife of Victor. Caroline, Victor’s mother, is an adept in a women’s mystery cult and believes Victor to have the potential to be a mighty alchemist. As children Elizabeth and Victor are trained in the alchemic mysteries with the intention of them eventually performing a Chymical Marriage that will somehow heal the world. Needless to say things don’t work out as planned.

I wasn’t bored but I can’t say was engaged either. If this hadn’t been a library book that I’d run out of renewals for I would have set it aside for more exciting fare. It’s hard for me to hang on to a feeling of suspense when I know when and how the main character ends up dead. Except for a short sequence where Elizabeth runs off and lives feral for a few months the girl is mostly at the mercy of and a tool in the plans of others – her adopted mother, Seraphina the wise woman, young Victor and finally the Creature.

Part of what kept me reading was the hope that the novel would have a different end than the original. Frankenstein was perfectly capable of lying to Walton. Maybe Elizabeth was going to run off with the Creature and Victor killed her to prevent it. Or something. Given that Roszak had left out three of the original novels most significant characters I was willing to let him give the story a new ending.

Nope. Elizabeth ends up with her throat crushed here as well. I’m sorry if that’s a spoiler. If you’ve read the original novel it shouldn’t be

The book has its moments. The setting of late 18th Century Europe with its upheavals in scientific, philosophical and political thought helps to ground the story and gave me some more historical context for the culture at the time the original novel was written. Victor remains an ass but Elizabeth’s views of him allows me to have sympathy for this version of him. The Creature strongly resembles Shelley’s version even if he’s not the nimble demon of the original. That lets me have more good will for the book than I might otherwise.

I am left wondering though. In Memoirs we get a good account of Victor’s medical training at Inglestodt. We read his descriptions of the dissection of cadavers including those of pregnant women. While medical science at the time hadn’t quite worked out the whole sperm-and-eggs-and-chromosomes-combine-to-make-a-baby thing it did understand that the baby needed a womb in which to grow. The reason that Victor destroys the Mate that the Creature has begged for is that Victor doesn’t want to take the chance that the Creatures will breed little evil Creatures. So why doesn’t he just leave out the womb when he makes the Mate? The Creature probably wouldn’t have known. Not if Victor included the other parts.

Oh. Right. Victor Frankenstein is a brilliant chemist and scientist but he’s still a self involved, myopic ass.

Another Bride

Frankenstein’s Bride by Hilary Bailey is the third sequel to the Frankenstein novel by Mary Shelley that I’ve read recently. This one is a sort of alternate world sequel to the novel. It’s narrated by Jonathon Goodall, a wealthy young man interested in languages who becomes friends with Victor Frankenstein in London and then becomes involved in Frankenstein’s attempts to teach a mute singer (no, that’s not a typo) to speak.

I can understand titling the book Frankenstein’s Bride for marketing purposes but I think it serves the story poorly. The story seems to be trying to be a mystery. “Frankenstein in London” would have perhaps been a better title. It still references the good doctor without other parts of the plot becoming obvious.

This isn’t a direct sequel. It takes place a few years after the events of the original but concerns events that happened differently here than in said original.

Bailey gets the character of Frankenstein right. He’s a vain, self-involved obsessive who only gets more so as the story progresses.

The monster himself appears little and when he does he seems to be more the dumb brute of the films than the articulate demon of the novel.

The narrator, Goodall, is pleasant enough fellow to spend time with, a good chap who tries to do the right thing. And fails. Otherwise we wouldn’t have much of a story.

Now I want to read about the monster’s adventures in Australia.

A Relentless Pursuit

The second sequel to Frankenstein that I’ve read recently was Frankenstein’s Monster by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe. It was nice contrast to A Monster’s Notes. Stuff happened. Lots of stuff. There’s a plot, passionate characters, crazed villains, pursuits, assaults, burning houses and surprise twists (that I sort of guessed but I’m not the best audience to try to surprise).

Even better O’Keefe was clearly trying to write a sequel to Shelley’s actual novel rather than the Frankenstein story. If you have to ask what the difference is you probably haven’t read the novel. Or you’re not me.

It’s a decade after Frankenstein died on Walton’s ship and Walton has been pursuing Frankenstein’s creation ever since. The novel is narrated by the creature through the journals he obsessively writes. (He also obsessively steals books, a touch I quite liked.) After a disastrous encounter with Walton in Venice the creature turns to England with the intension of revenging himself on his tormentor by destroying Walton’s family. And then things get complicated.

This was my favorite of the Frankenstein sequels and take offs I’ve read. O’Keefe is faithful to the event’s of the original and any changes can be considered to be simply events or details that Frankenstein left out of his original tale rather than alterations of that tale. The monster is still a sympathetic character and yet still likely to kill innocent people out of his fits of rages and feelings of isolation.

Notes on the Monster’s Notes

My obsession with variations of the Frankenstein story continues. I’ve checked four Frankenstein (the novel) sequels out of the library in the last few months.

The first of these – A Monster’s Notes by Laurie Sheck – is one I just couldn’t finish. If I’d owned the book I’m sure I would have gotten around to it eventually. I’ve had books that I’ve taken months to finish. Something about them just didn’t engage me or I made the mistake of starting another book before I’d finished the first one. And that lead to another book and …

Anyway. A Monster’s Notes. I wasn’t the right audience for this one. If I hadn’t already read Frankenstein I wouldn’t have a sense of the protagonist. He’d just be someone wandering on the ice telling vignettes and factoids about life and discovery and hardship at polar cap. Not stories of his own life and discovery and hardship – random snippets and stories of the European explorers and sailors who braved the ice and blundered up north and how they suffered and sometimes survived.

At the same time the creature has visions of Mary Shelley’s sister Claire writing letters to various members of their circle.

I was reading the book on my bus commute to the Day Job. And I kept getting sidetracked by other books that I carrying with me. I’d read a few pages. Look out the window. Decide that I needed something more exciting to engage me and out would come pretty much anything else. I renewed the book once but decided that a second renewal for another 3 weeks wouldn’t be enough to have me finish.

I might have been more fascinated if I were more familiar with the lives of Mary Shelley and her circle. Out of context I didn’t get enough information from the letters to have a handle on the people writing them or the people they were writing to.

The book jacket asks, “What if Mary Shelley had not invented Frankensteins monster but had met him when she was a girl of eight, sitting by her mothers grave, and he came to her unbidden? What if their secret bond left her forever changed, obsessed with the strange being whom she had discovered at a time of need? What if he were still alive in the twenty-first century?”

And perhaps the book answers that question in it’s second half. I’m afraid I didn’t make it that far.