Fighting my Frankenstein

Akshat Jiwan Sharma, Sat Aug 17 2013

This post contains spoilers on Frankenstein. Don't read any further if you are planning to or are reading the book.

A few weeks back I read James' review on Frankenstein and I have been thinking about the book ever since. I would have gone crazy if I did not write something about it and hence this post. I was 19 when I first read Frankenstein, the same age that Mary Shelly was when she wrote the book. I had heard about the book before but at that time I was not much interested in horror. The only horror story I read before it was Dracula which I quite enjoyed ( but the real reason I picked it up was because I am a big Castlevania fan and I had to know more about him). I picked up Frankenstein on a whim when I found it cheap on a book shop, along with a copy of The Time machine.

I distinctly remember that day. I was out with a friend giving him a hand with his bulky computer so that he could get it fixed. By the time we arrived at the book shop I was tired and it was almost dark. I stopped by due to habit (for some reason I always stop by book shops) and found that they were selling old classics cheap. So I bought myself The Time Machine. The shopkeeper said that for few extra bucks he would throw in a copy of Frankenstein. I took it even though I was sure that I would not read it any time soon.

I went home finished up The Time machine in a couple of days (it is not that long) and flipped through a few pages of Frankenstein. Any one who watches TV is probably aware of Frankenstein, the evil monster created by in lab with a battery powered by lighting. So I was intrigued when I learnt that that Frankenstein was actually the name of the protagonist. I flipped a few more pages trying to find how he created the monster and what he was called but reading through random pages did not make much sense to me. So I decided to read the book cover to cover.

The opening chapter is one of the best that I have read in any book. Even now remembering the scene while typing this post I can feel the thrill. It starts as a series of letters by a young Captain of a ship to his sister. The captain is on a journey to the North pole certain that glory awaits him there. At various stages in his journey he longs for his family and friends. In his last letter he is surrounded by sheet of ice with not much food left to make it through. The waters are turbulent in the night and he can sense the unrest among his crew members. They are tired of this expedition and want to get out of this place while the captain himself is keen on going further, a revolt is very likely . It is during this stage that the captain finds a man on a sledge atop an iceberg. He brings him to his ship. The man is very weak and has a high fever. Unless the captain aids him he would die. Therefore the captain arranges for his rest and keeps the curiosity of his men in check by forbidding them to disturb him. A few days later the sick man reveals himself as Victor Frankenstein and tells his tale.

At an early age Frankenstein leaves his home to study. He devotes himself completely to science. He develops an interest in living things and begins to explore questions like how life is created and what happens in death. Soon he discovers the formula for creating life. Mary Shelly never describes what this formula is. It is for this reason that I suppose that Frankenstein has able to live on even with scientific advancement, which is quite an achievement if we consider the fact that the story just 5 years shy of being 200 years old. This also explains the different interpretations that people have of the actual process of creation with lighting being used to animate the dead perhaps the most popular one. But in the process is not described. When Frankenstein is asked about it by the captain of the ship he refuses to divulge the secret.

Sick of his creation Frankenstein abandons it and leaves for his home. But the monster that he left behind tracks him down and kills the members of his family one by one. Enraged by the death of his loved ones Frankenstein chases the monster , following the hints of destruction that he leaves when he is spotted lying lifeless on the iceberg by the captain of the ship.

"Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be his world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow."

Anyway the formative years of Frankenstein are very similar to our own. We too spend a lot of time on our education and some of us even travel in quest of knowledge. Armed with that knowledge we aim to conquer the world. Who does not want to create life? Who does not want to master death? Or to put simply Who does not have a Frankenstein in them?

Just like Frankenstein it is common to hear or read anecdotes of people who spent too much time working and never got a chance to spend time with their family. Frankenstein warns that any knowledge that is acquired at the cost of separating you from your loved ones is not worth it.

Frankenstein has had an impact even on modern day games. If you have played Bioshock you can easily detect the underlying theme of the game (I am not saying that story is inspired by Frankenstein just that what Mary Shelly wrote was universal and is relevant even in our times). Andrew Rayan, the creator of Rapture is trapped by his own creation. Rapture is his monster.

Though the realization that what happened to Frankenstein can happen to any of us is scary but it is useful nonetheless. At 19 Frankenstein made a big impression on me. I started to question the things I was doing then. Even to this day I make it a point to set my priorities straight. I make it a point to keep my ambitions in check. I make it a point to fight my Frankenstein. The message is quite clear. Lost time can not be recovered. Making you self miserable to achieve your goals will not make you happy. On the contrary it may come to haunt you.


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