I don’t have a joke to go with that headline.
I recently rewatched Young Frankenstein, the Mel Brooks comedy. I’d seen it once before, when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure that it was the first film version of the Frankenstein story that I had seen. I hadn’t yet seen any of the Universal Frankenstein movies so I missed the references. I didn’t know why it was in black and white. I didn’t understand what was up with Madeline Kahn’s hair at the end. This time, having seen all those films and having read the novel I really appreciated the movie.
What I appreciated most is that this was the first and, as far as I know, only film version of the story in which Doctor Frankenstein is a good father.
Despite claims to contrary, the novel: Frankenstein or A Modern Prometheus is not about a scientist who suffers because he played God and created life. Nope. The novel is about what happens to an arrogant man who refuses to take responsibility for the life that he has created. Frankenstein is the story of a bad parent. Victor Frankenstein makes a creature, brings it to life, is horrified by the results, and faints. When he awakes the creature is gone. Frankenstein spends the next three years hoping that the creature wandered off and died. He never looks for it. He never tells anyone what he has done. He just carries on his life. Until the creature comes back into that life, angry and hurt and demanding that Frankenstein love him. And Frankenstein refuses to love the creature. And Frankenstein refuses to take responsibility for the creature. And Frankenstein faints a lot.
Both play and film adaptations of the story have downplayed the bad parent theme. The creature is usually portrayed as speechless brute and Frankenstein is usually shown as an obsessed scientist. In Young Frankenstein Frederick Frankenstein may be an obsessed scientist but he also cares about his creature. Unlike the Frankenstein of the novel, he never gives up on his creation. He never walks away. He realizes that he made mistakes in the process of building his creature so he tries to make improvements. This Frankenstein is a good and generous man. And eventually he succeeds not only in improving the creature but in convincing the torch wielding mob that the creature is worthy of their sympathy as well.
When I was a kid this movie was a weird black and white thing that was mostly funny because it was so weird. Seeing it again last month, after decades of seeing rampaging monsters and the monomaniacal scientists who created them, I had a contented smile on my face. Finally a good doctor. Finally the creature got a happy ending.
Thank you Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder.
Cyclone slammed the door. She grabbed a chair from the kitchen and wedged it under the knob. Only then did she look at me. Her eyes displayed a mix of fury and disbelief. She smelled of earth and mulch. Judging by the stains on her clothes she appeared to have been wrestling in the mud.
She snapped, “What the hell is with you and monsters? I wasn’t even looking for one today and there it was, out to kill me!”
I rubbed my eyes and drank another slurp of tea. I said, “I would suggest that dealing with monsters was a family tradition but, fortunately, most of the family seems to have avoided going into the monster business. It appears that only a select few of us are so lucky.”
Merlin Petersen tapped his cane on the hard, dry earth. He said, “My father bought that thing when I was just a kid. I must have been about ten years old. I figured that it was just another gaff. We had tent full of them. A feegee mermaid, a two-headed snake, a shrunken head, a cow with five legs, things like that. None of it was special. Only the snake and the cow were real. It came in this locked iron box with big thick glass windows on the front and side so you could get a good look at the thing. One night, after we’d had the thing for about a year, Benny Wicker, one of the other regular carny kids, dared me to let him touch it. So we waited until everyone had turned in or was too drunk to be paying attention and we snuck into the tent. Picking the lock was easy. He said he just wanted to touch it but the stupid little prick lied to me. He stabbed it in the hand with his pocketknife.”
Petersen was quiet for almost a minute. “There’s no big finish to this story. It took a deep breath and opened its eyes. For just a second or two. It barely moved. But we knew it saw us and we were sure that it would know us again if it ever decided to start walking around. I slammed that door shut so damned fast. Benny never went near the freak tent again. The next night I snuck back in and filled the lock with airplane glue.”
Eddie swung his huge fist. It connected with and collapsed Armbruster’s jaw with a hideous wet crunch. Blood and teeth spurted from his mouth as he staggered back, screaming. He dropped to his knees, his hands scratching at the floor as if he were trying to recover his missing ivories. Eddie delivered a kick to Armbruster’s chest. The sound of splintering ribs accompanied his flight across the room. His passage stopped at the concrete wall. Other than a burble as he attempted to cough up blood, the man made no sound.
Cyclone unsheathed her blades. I hefted my hammer. It felt good to have company.
The hand prints on wall were tiny, as if made by a toddler or a baby. It was difficult to tell with what they were made. I touched a half dozen of them with my left little finger. They were sticky. I held my finger beneath my nose. The substance was yellowish black and smelled rancid. There seemed to be enough variety in size and shape to the prints that I guessed they were made by at least four, perhaps more … infants? I closed my eyes and sniffed at my finger again. Rot. Fungus. Mold. And the distinctive chemical smell I’d come to recognize from the laboratories of members of the Prometheus Sodality. Perhaps the creatures that made the prints had once been human babies. Now they were something far less helpless and, apparently, quite dangerous. And they were loose in Northampton.
The sound of the plane’s engine lingered for some time after it passed out of sight beyond the mountains. I busied myself building a fire and making myself a pot of tea.
I was preparing my second cup when I heard the hushed sound of heavy paws. Without turning around I said, “Hello Archie.”
The manticore sauntered past my left shoulder and settled himself on the other side of the fire. He gave me one of his many many toothed smiles. “Hello Rose. Thank you for coming. I hope my message did not interrupt anything important?”
I returned his smile. I said, “The road has been my home for so long now that I don’t think interruptions are possible. One must have a routine for it to be broken. I simply have the next place to go. That I can spend time with old friends makes the destination more desirable.”
Podovkin’s flesh had a yellowish, waxy appearance to it. He had a burnt sugar chemical smell about him but I could not tell if he had brought it with him or if it emanated from him. “Miss Taylor. You look as unchanged as ever. Would that I could express pleasure at seeing you again.”
His face barely moved when he spoke. Only his eyes had their former vitality.
I said, “Would that I could express surprise at finding you here. I had thought you dead. But you have been dead more once already, have you not?”