Friday, June 7, 2013

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

In an earlier post I wrote about participating in the Literary Explorations Challenge and reading books from a variety of genres.  Going into it I knew horror would be one of the more difficult genres for me.  I have always equated horror with violence and bloodshed simply for the sake of it.  Maybe that is not a completely fair characterization of horror, I don't know.  In any case, with the goal of completing the Literary Explorations Challenge I was ready and willing to give horror a try.  Being a classic and as I understand it, one of the first of its kind, I chose Frankenstein as my introduction to the genre.  I ended up not enjoying the story all that much, but not for the reason I expected.

When I think of horror stories I imagine something grisly, bloody, and well horrible.  Not horrible as in bad writing, but horrible as in more terrifying that you really want to imagine.  What I don't associate with horror is boredom, and that is what best characterizes my experience reading Frankenstein.  The story begins with a series of letters.  The crazy part is that neither the author nor the intended reader of the letters is Frankenstein, the monster, or any other character directly related to the action.  No, the author of the letters is a sea captain writing to his sister about his voyage.  It is not until the fourth letter that the letter writer mentions discovering Victor Frankenstein on an ice covered island.  When Frankenstein finally entered the story, I thought, now we're getting to the good part.  Instead, I spent the next several dozen pages reading about Frankenstein's childhood, all the while wondering when the monster was going to show up.

I get why this is a classic.  I understand why graduate students have written pages and pages of dissertations about Frankenstein and why it might be taught in school.  The parallels of the biblical story of the creation of Adam (and Eve), the pursuit of knowledge no matter the cost, the power of nature, rejection and acceptance - all these themes (and probably more) are all there.  Still, I was so bored. 

I think I would have enjoyed this more if it were shorter.  There is so much that could be cut out (the correspondence in the beginning, for example).  The parts that were most interesting were when the monster was around - studying the poor family, trying to introduce himself to them, begging Frankenstein to make him a mate.  The rest was background that didn't need to be there.  It would have also helped if it were written more in the present and less in the past tense.  That the sea captain, and later Frankenstein, is telling us about something that happened in the past made the action seem even more muted.

Strangely, although I did not enjoy this as much as I hoped I am interested in trying something else from the horror genre.  Next time I will probably pick something more modern, perhaps a Stephen King novel.  I find him intimidating, but also intriguing.  Lately for some reason I keep hearing about him and gigantic books he's written.  I'm not sure which of his books to pick up first.  Any suggestions?

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