Oddly, this seminal classic is way more chick book than sci fi – it must be 75% descriptions of landscapes and how people feel about things, 24% journeys and adventures, and maybe 1% science. The entire description, such as it is, of the making of the monster is about 2 pages long, with maybe another 5 devoted to the protagonist learning some science – and that’s it. Science doesn’t really figure into it otherwise. Like Star Trek’s Heisenberg Compensater, it Just Works.
There’s nothing wrong about that – Ray Bradbury wrote some classic stories similarly lean on science. And it is an amazing outpouring of creative genius for anyone, let alone someone 18 years old, to come up with the idea of a non-magical man-made monster and make a compelling story about it. So it is in many ways a commendable story, and I’m sure it was mind-blowing back in the early 1800s, when nothing like it had ever been seen before outside myth and fairy-tale. As true Sci Fi, It differs from fantasy in that, other than a world altered by science, the setting is true to life within the normal rules.
I complained earlier about the failure of Shelly to provide sufficient handwavium to account for the monster being a genius and an athletic superman, and for coming off the reanimation table totally healed so that he didn’t pop a bunch of sutures the moment he stood up, scream in agony and collapse into a pile of component parts. But these are minor complaints. Mrs Darwin points out a much more disturbing feature of the story: Frankenstein’s near total amorality. Throughout the story, between scenes where he’s expressing florid love of his family and friends, he pretty much treats them like dirt unless he needs something from them. He’s a self-absorbed jerk, who goes away to college and can’t be bothered to write his family a letter to let them know he’s alive despite their pleading letters to him. He creates a monster, then promptly abandons it when it proves too ugly (?!). He never seems to realize he’s responsible for it and what it does – until it starts killing people. Or rather – worse – he sort of recognizes his duty, but it’s just so ugly! boo hoo hoo!
When he does run into the monster, after he has come to strongly suspect that it is responsible for at least 2 deaths, he is not prepared to either take control or kill it. Nope: long weepy discussion, and an agreement to build it the Wife of Frankenstein. Now, at least, after the monster has confessed to murder, Frankenstein must recognize his duty to subdue it or kill it – right? But no – after he agrees to create Mrs. Monster in order to spare the world the rage of Mr. Monster, he takes a scenic tour of England and Scotland via Germany, dilly-dallies for months on end, sets up a lab in Scotland and finally chickens out: what if the missus is as bad or worse than hubby? What if they decide to go on a monstrous killing spree? What it they make babies, and create a race of violent monsters? (Shelly is a proto-Lamarckian, evidently)
Why did none of these considerations occur to him during the last year or so?
Having partially assembled the next monster on a almost deserted Scottish island, Frankenstein gets cold feet. He can’t go through with it. So he lays a careful trap, and enlists the aide of 3 hunters and the police and… Nah, just kidding – in a fit of passion, he hacks up the body as the monster watches from the window.
Now the monster shifts to Plan B (the monster makes and executes solid plans; the protagonist is spun like a top by every whiff of passion, helpless against his feelings, unable to think 5 minutes ahead. Hmmm.) He will torture Frankenstein for the rest of his life, starting by slowly killing off everyone he loves.
Who could have foreseen that? Actually, anyone who read the middle chapters of the book, wherein the monster spells out his plans in great detail to Frankenstein. So, NOW, FINALLY, does Frankenstein decide to avoid all his friends and family in order to spare them while he comes up with a plan to kill the monster? Certainly, he would not just pretend nothing happened and go about his life in exquisite Romantic limp-wristed torment and just sort of hope the monster doesn’t, you know, start killing people. OK, sure, he kills his best friend next, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t go home to marry his fiance and just hope the monster doesn’t carry out his threat WHICH HE MAKES IN BOLD FACED ALL CAPS to kill her on their wedding night.
Which is exactly what he does.
The monster kills his bride on his wedding night. Frankenstein’s aged father dies of grief as a result. NOW Frankenstein decides he must kill it. NOW? Now that everyone he love is dead, murdered by the monster he made? Now? He of course fails, in a truly epic limp-wristed Romantic fashion that I’m sure is deeply meaningful.
The scary part is that all this makes perfect sense if you read about Shelly’s personal life, which I did. Infidelities leading to suicides, pregnancies resulting from affairs, families destroyed left and right, open-ish marriages, molested domestic help, fleeing to other countries to get away from creditors who seem less than completely sympathetic to the results of unbridled passions when they take the form of being a deadbeat. All the while believing that she and her crowd were somehow blazing a trail to the Future, wherein non-violent vegetarians make love, not war – over the dead bodies and ruined lives of their victims. The Shellys and their crowd did in fact creates monsters and turn them loose, and refuse to take responsibility for the results.