Frankenstein Galvanized is a repackaging of Mary Shelley’s original 1818 Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus together with a selection of modern essays that examine some of the themes and characters in the work.
I last read Frankenstein about 40 years ago and have seen at least 20 film and TV versions and sequels (some very bad indeed) since, so I thought it was about time to get reacquainted with the original. Shelley’s story opens in the wastes of the Arctic where explorer Robert Walton rescues the half dead Victor Frankenstein from the icy wastes. Frankenstein goes on to relate how he is in pursuit of his creation, a man he has stitched together from the remnants of the dissecting chamber and the gibbet. A devil that has sought revenge for Frankenstein’s refusal to make him a mate by killing everyone he loves.
After almost 200 years, Frankenstein still has the ability to render the odd shock:
‘by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated his limbs.’
Like a lot of early 19th century novels the narrative within Frankenstein does tend to ramble on a bit with nothing much happening and Shelley’s text may seem a bit tame from a modern perspective, but what you can’t get away from is how Frankenstein has shaped and influenced the horror genre ever since. Sure stories about ghosts and ghouls were nothing new when Victor Frankenstein’s creation took his first shuddering steps, but what I find so interesting about the book is that it was published at a time when relationships toward the supernatural were rapidly changing.
It’s worth remembering that the final execution for witchcraft in the British Isles (Janet Horne burnt to death in Dornoch, Scotland) had only taken place in 1727, but the influence of new-fangled science was by the end of the 18th century rapidly consigning such long held fears of black magic, enchantment and ghosts to the pages of Gothic fiction and fairy tales. In the 1780s Luigi Galvani made a dead frog’s leg muscles contract when he gave it a jolt from an electric current, and his account of this strange new phenomena was part of Percy and Mary Shelley’s holiday reading material when they joined Lord Byron and his doctor at the Villa Diodati in that fateful summer of 1816.
When Byron suggested a ghost story writing competition, Mary seized upon the idea of reanimating the stitched together creature and the driving force behind the reanimation of the monster was a scientist. A scientist with the ability to bring life, something that up until then had only been in the gift of God. This scientist is the direct ancestor of every crazed scientist within the horror and science fiction genres ever since, while the monster’s footprints lead directly to the Incredible Hulk and the killer cyborgs of The Terminator. Brian Aldiss was quite right when, in his history of science fiction Billion Year Spree, he described Frankenstein as the first true science fiction novel and along with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, it’s also one of the influential and important horror novels ever written.
Of course the other demon child of that night by Lake Geneva was The Vampyre by Dr John Polidori, who’s protagonist, the aristocratic Lord Ruthven, is a direct ancestor of that better known blue blood Count Dracula.
So spare a thought for a rapidly changing world when you read the original Frankenstein.
Frankenstein Galvanized is edited by Claire Bazin and is published by Red Rattle Books.
Coincidentally Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein and The Evil of Frankenstein have just been remastered for Blu-Ray release this month.
If you enjoy Frankenstein try the following books and films (if you can track them down):
Frankenstein’s Bride by Hilary Bailey – Now more familiar as an author of family sagas Bailey wrote this sequel to Frankenstein back in 1995. The lady monster is a real er monster!
Frankenstein Unbound by Brian Aldiss – A 21st century politician is transported back to 19th century Switzerland and meets both Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein. This was filmed by Roger Corman in 1990 with Raul Julia as Frankenstein and Bridget Fonda as Mary Shelley.
Gothic (1986) screenplay by Stephen Volk – What can I say, the Shelleys go to stay with Lord Byron in a film directed by Ken Russell. Things get a freaky.
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here