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It's 1778, and the young explorer Robert Walton is stuck on his ship in the North Pole.
One morning, he sees a large, monstrous figure driving a sled across the ice.
No, it's not a Yeti or a bear (on a sled?)...
What Young Walton just saw was Frankenstein's monster.
Wait a minute...
Frankenstein in the North Pole?
Let's start by getting the facts straight.
This is Frankenstein, this isn't.
This is Doctor Victor Frankenstein, and this is his creature.
He doesn't have a first name or a last one.
And, yes, that morning he was the one riding across the ice of the Arctic...
But let's start at the beginning!
This is Mary Shelley, the powerful mind behind the story of Frankenstein.
This is her husband, the poet Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron, on a rainy night in 1816,
the year without a summer.
The eruption of Mount Tambora created a massive climate change that year, making the days
dark, gloomy and extremely cold.
What better time to make up a gothic story?
It was exactly then during a night of ghost stories that Mary began to create what would
become the story of Frankenstein and his creature.
Dr. Frankenstein is a brilliant scientist obsessed with human nature and the possibility
of creating life and protecting humans from death...
Here he is while he is studying how to create a new being that is stronger and healthier
than the common mortal.
The experiment works, but the new being is ungainly, extremely strong and has a bad temper...
so bad he steals his creator's journal and runs away in the night.
The creature hides near the house of some peasants, and moved by generosity he starts
helping them anonymously and unselfishly.
Being ugly doesn't mean being bad, right?
Well, the family of peasants didn't really see it that way... and they rewarded his efforts
by chasing him off with a barrage of harsh words.
At his first chance, the creature, understandably enraged, commits a horrible crime, killing
Dr. Frankenstein's younger brother... and then he disappears into thin air.
Sometime later he re-encounters his creator, confesses everything and makes a strange request
(well, not that strange!): “Create a woman for me so I will have someone who will accept
me as I am.”
At first, Victor acquiesces but then decides he won't create another ugly creature that
could go on to create even more little ugly creatures
...so this time it's Victor who is on the run.
The monster doesn't forgive him: in Ireland he kills Victor's best friend, and Victor
is accused of his murder.
Once acquitted, Victor goes back to Switzerland determined to do two things: end it with the
monster and to marry his fiancée Elizabeth.
But soon after the wedding, just as Victor was looking for him,
the monster kills his young bride
"You have denied me my wedding night - I will be with you on yours!"
At this point, overcome with grief,
Frankenstein senior dies too.
Now, for Victor Frankenstein all of this is too much.
His pursuit of the creature becomes desperate and... run here, run there ...
... guess where they ended up?
Right, the North Pole.
Victor collapses... he catches pneumonia and dies after having told Walton his story.
But where is the creature?
Not very far, in fact...
Walton discovers him at his creator's bedside.
He mourns over his friend/enemy and gives an astonished Walton a life lesson...
“I have good dispositions; my life has been hitherto harmless and in some degree beneficial;
but a fatal prejudice clouds their eyes, and where they ought to see a feeling and kind
friend, they behold only a detestable monster.”
... before vanishing forever, vowing to kill himself in the cold of the Arctic.
The end...
Well, not exactly...
Actually, we're really just at the beginning
After some initial reluctance, the story of Frankenstein and his creature began to win
over popular culture, as demonstrated by the numerous adaptations, interpretations and
imitations of Shelley's work up until today:
in film, the first silent movie about Frankenstein was made in 1910, followed by Boris Karloff's
portrayal, perhaps the most famous film version of the creature, and countless other examples
everyone remembers: the Addams Family, The Munsters, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Frankenstein Jr...
The timeless philosophical and existential questions contained in the story of Frankenstein
are one of the reasons of its success...
Can man, with the help of science, overcome the limits of life and death?
Can man himself become a creator?
Or is he destined to end up like Prometheus (alluded to by Mary Shelley in the book's
subtitle), punished by Zeus for having gone too far?
Is human nature good, like Rousseau believed?
And are institutions, laws and prejudices what force people towards evil, as Mary Shelley's
father William Godwin argued?
As the creature says: “Shall I respect man when he condemns me?
Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and instead of injury I would bestow
every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance"
That's a rather deep thought for a creature we're used to thinking of as cold and definitely
not brilliant.
But certainly fitting for the complex and problematic creature Mary Shelley imagined
one cold night of the year without a summer.
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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (in 7 minutes!)

155 Folder Collection
Li Chia Hung published on June 15, 2019
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