One of the things I enjoyed most about This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel is the new layers of context it gave to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — even giving me new appreciation for a book I hadn’t really liked much before. Reading This Dark Endeavor actually got me digging out my old copy of Frankenstein — willingly! So to that end, we thought a little look at the original text was in order.
It all started with a dare …
This is actually one of my favorite “origin” stories in literature; that is to say, the story behind why Mary Shelley started writing Frankenstein in the first place!
She was actually chatting with three writer friends one evening in 1816: her lover/future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori. During this conversation (in which they discussed topics like the occult and alchemy), the four of them decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. After dreaming about a scientist driven made by his own creation, Shelly began writing Frankenstein. (Out of this same dare, it’s worth noting that Polidori wrote the book Vampyre … yes, one of the first vampire stories and predating Dracula by more than 70 years!)
Not so fast, Boris Karloff
When most people think of Frankenstein, the have the classic image of Boris Karloff from the 1931 film version: green face, bolts in the neck, stitches across the forehead. But that movie — and in fact, pretty much all film adaptations — are a far cry from the original text. In fact, though it was considered a horror novel at the time, by today’s standards, Frankenstein is less about horror and more about social commentary.
The story of Frankenstein is told in three parts — as a story within a story. It begins with a narrative from one Captain Walton, who has set out in search of the North Pole. During his expedition, he encounters a deranged Victor Frankenstein — who then launches his own narrative about how he came to be in this very spot.
Throughout the narrative, Frankenstein tells the story of his upbringing in Geneva, his study of science and alchemy, and how personal tragedy lead him to become obsessed with the idea of reanimating dead matter. That is to say, bringing the dead back to life. The story goes on to include his monstrous creation — Frankenstein’s monster — his abandonment of the creature, and how things spiral out of control beyond that. (You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out what happens next!)
The story concludes once again with Captain Walton’s narrative, and his own encounter with the monster.
Read Frankenstein for free
Frankenstein is now in the public domain, which means — while you can buy published copies, you can also legally read it for free online. Google Books has an ebook version you can download for your e-reader, or a version that can be read online.
For the comments: Have you read Frankenstein? Share your thoughts below!