We sometimes forget, because familiarity negates it, that Frankenstein’s monster is supposed to be scary.
I’m talking specifically about the Boris Karloff monster from the first three Universal films, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and (my favorite) Son of Frankenstein. I suppose the later films with other performers as the monster (Lon Chaney, Glenn Strange, Bela Lugosi, etc.) could also be considered scary, but they bring none of Karloff’s soul pain to the part. They just copy the makeup.
Many years ago, a friend gave me a collectible figure of the monster from Son of Frankenstein, delightfully swinging Lionel Atwill’s wooden arm. And suddenly, my daughter (whose internet nickname is the Siren) is afraid of it. Now, this Frankenstein collectible has been literally on the same shelf for her entire life, but thanks to one of her little friends pointing it out, now she’s afraid of it. I tried to explain to her that it was just, essentially, a toy, but some fears resist rational thought. And you can never, ever dispel them by simply saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
So that night, as her bedtime story, I told her the tale of Frankenstein from Mary Shelly’s novel.
Because I was telling it from memory, rather than reading it, I could place the emphasis where I wanted. And in this case, I stressed the monster’s loneliness, pointing out that people in the story reacted the same way she did to his appearance, without making any effort to learn about the kind of person he was. I pointed out that Victor, essentially the monster’s father, had failed to teach the creature any of the most basic human skills, or even give him a name. Alone, unloved, untaught, he was forced to find his own way in the world.
And thanks to the recent tragedy in our own family, telling it this way brought me to tears. Since she’s seen me cry a lot in the last few weeks, she immediately hugged me and encouraged, “Think a happy thought, Dad!”
The next day, she came home from school and showed me the Frankenstein picture book that she drew. It’s only three pages, but it tells a whole story. In it, the monster is lonely until he finally finds a friend (a Girl Scout), after which he smiles.
She plans to continue their adventures, and I can’t wait. We also read a children’s version of Frankenstein. And I hope she never forgets the lesson in compassion that’s at the heart of the Frankenstein story.
(quote in the title from the novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.)