Movie Monsters in Literature: Frankenstein

With Halloween quickly approaching, we have monsters on our minds. Several creepy creatures have become prevalent in modern culture after evolving from roots in classic literature or ancient indigenous belief. In this Oct. 27-31 series, Movie Monsters in Literature, we feature one of our favorite beastly brutes each day and examine their origins and influence in literature, film, and popular culture.

Frankenstein’s Monster

The story of Frankenstein’s Monster was conceived and first popularized by Mary Shelley in 1818. After a group of her friends, including her husband Percy Shelley, initiated a competition challenging participants to write the best horror story, Shelley commenced writing what is widely considered the first work of science fiction. While Shelley’s story is original, her childhood (her mother died in childbirth and altercations with her stepmother caused her to be estranged from her father for a time) and her travels around Europe greatly influenced her writing. Mary Shelley once traveled the Rhine River in Germany when she was told about Frankenstein Castle and the alchemist who once performed experiments there.

Mary Shelley’s book follows the protagonist, Dr. Frankenstein, whose lifelong interest in science leads him to create a nearly eight foot tall monster. Dr. Frankenstein then rejects his creation whom he commonly refers to as “creature,” “fiend,” “vile insect,” “it,” and other undesirable names. The monster, abandoned by his master, learns to speak and read by eavesdropping on a family who lived in the same woods where he resided. When the monster approaches the family, they disregard his friendly advances, become frightened and flee. Dejected, the monster burns their cottage to the ground and in an irreconcilable fit of rage, eradicates everything that Dr. Frankenstein loves.

The story of Frankenstein’s Monster, a reading requirement in many high schools across the country, has been adapted innumerable times in literature, film, and Halloween costumes and it is now common for the monster to be referred to as Frankenstein.

Adaptations of Shelley’s tale include Dean Koontz’ novels, where Frankenstein resides in modern-day New Orleans (for mature readers) and Jim Benton’s Franny K. Stein series about a female mad scientist who is sure to entertain younger readers.

Films featuring Frankenstein’s Monster:

Disney’s Frankenweenie, rated PG (2012)          

This Tim Burton stop motion film is fun for all ages and a great way to introduce the story of Frankenstein to younger kids. While the more comprehensive story lines are original to Burton and are based on his childhood and the relationship he had with his dog, the grander plot mirrors Shelley’s narrative as it follows a scientist who resurrects the dead.

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Young Frankenstein, rated PG (1974)

Young Frankenstein has earned several accolades, including placing 13th on the American Film Institute‘s list of the 100 funniest American movies and being selected for preservation in the Library of Congress National Film Registry after being deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the United States National Film Preservation Board. Despite it’s status among film lovers, and its PG rating, parents should decide for themselves if the innuendos in this movie are appropriate for their children. Mel Brooks’ comical spin on the Shelley’s novel makes the classic horror flick accessible to a whole new audience.

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Frankenstein, unrated (1931)

For the most accurate portrayal of the 1818 novel, check out the 1931 feature film, Frankenstein. Dubbed as “The greatest horror the screen has ever known,” Frankenstein can be a reward for students who have mastered an understanding of the book of the same name, or as a spooky treat for Halloween thrill seekers.

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Cultural References:

While Frankenstein’s monster can be found going door-to-door on Halloween, parodies can be found year round in film, on television, and on toy store shelves.

  • In the 1968 Beatles movie, Yellow Submarine, Frankenstein makes a cameo appearance in which he drinks a potion and becomes John Lennon.
  • Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands portrays many parallels to the 1931 flick and Shelley’s masterpiece as the title character is created by a scientist and is, inevitably, run out of town for his frightful appearance.
  • Another modern twist is 1985’s teen comedy Weird Science in which two high school students, who are inspired by the horror classic, create an idealistic girlfriend.
  • Disney’s animated protagonist, Stitch, from the Lilo & Stitch feature film and television series, was somewhat influenced by Frankenstein’s creation. The alien Stitch who, unlike Shelley’s monster was initially evil and turned good, was brought to life by an eccentric scientist and the use of electricity. While Stitch’s moral compass moves in reverse to Frankenstein’s monster, Stitch’s strength and childlike curiosity mirrors that of the classic monster.
  • Monster High, a cartoon and Barbie-esque Mattel doll, features Frankie Stein, a female monster with similar features and traits to Frankenstein’s monster.

For more Halloween fun or to learn about other books that were made into movies, be sure to peruse Learning Liftoff  and share your feedback below.

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