Of all the characters in English literature, Frankenstein has got to be the most grotesque. Hollywood in 1931 made him out to be a giant, blood-chilling, green-skinned drone with black stitches crawling on his arms and nothing but a metal peg to keep his head and neck attached.
On Halloween, he shows up in the WalMart costume aisles and at the front door asking for tricks and treats.
But Hollywood got Frankenstein a bit wrong. First, Frankenstein Mary Shelley’s 1818 manuscript is the creator of the monster, not the monster itself. Second, he’s not a mindless monster — in fact, his vibrant, troubled spirit is what ultimately spells his demise.
The story goes something like this: Young Victor Frankenstein leaves his loving family in Geneva, Switzerland to pursue a college education. He throws himself into the sciences, fascinated by the medieval books he’s read that suggest it may be possible to create life in an inanimate object. So he experiments, gathering body parts from morgues and stitching them together to create a whole human being. Somehow, he puts the spark of life into that creature.
But immediately, Victor Frankenstein is appalled by his creation. He is giant and hideous, and Victor runs away from him, hoping this life form will just disappear.
Despite his horrific appearance and lack of language, the nameless monster has a tender heart. He traipses into the woods one day and happens upon a cottage tucked deep in the forest. From a distance, he watches the family inside — a blind father and his son and daughter. The DeLacey family teaches him everything about love, kindness and civility. He even learns words and sentences and finally language from the pleasant trio.
It’s the perfect character development for a monster. Though poor, his role models serve each other and love each other. He aches for their company, but knows that his ghastly appearance would only frighten them away. So from afar, he serves the family, gathering wood in the middle of the night and stacking it by the outhouse to make their chores easier and earn their favor.
One day, the monster makes himself vulnerable. When the children leave to run an errand, he knocks on the door and approaches the blind old father to tell him the story. The father hears the monster’s tale, the monster’s love for the family, the monster’s need for community.
But just before he vows to help, his children walk in, aghast at the monster. They chase him away, giving him no time to explain his story, in an effort to save their father from certain destruction.
The monster is heartbroken. He’s despised by a family he’s come to love. He’s abandoned by his creator. He’s left yearning for love with no hope of reciprocation.
He begs Victor Frankenstein to make him a bride — an artificial woman just as ugly as himself — so he’ll have some sort of a companion. But Victor can’t bring himself to do it — he’s ashamed and embarrassed that he created a grotesque creature. He’s unforgiving the moment he finds that the powerful monster has accidentally killed two people close to him.
The rest of the story is the tragic tale of growing angst in the hearts of both Victor and his creature. Victor tries to kill him. The monster tries to persuade Victor to build him a companion. Both lead lives of torment.
The real horror of the story is not the monster — it’s Victor’s response to the monster. Because it’s precisely what God could have done but didn’t do.
God created man perfectly to his liking, but man used his free will to chase a destructive path of sin. God could have opted to discard his human creations, but instead he set up a way for those creatures to be fixed and restored.
God could have told us that after so much sin, we were too far gone. But he relented. Even better, he engages with us not only to bring joy into our lives, but to develop goodness within us, to make us into people who are loving and giving and productive members of society.
Victor is a nice guy, but he’s a lousy creator and a nightmarish imitation of God. He’s self-absorbed and self-indulgent and refuses to meet the needs of his creation even when he is almighty to do so.