A Classic Monster Revisited
Horror stories illustrate
not how horrifying imaginary monsters can be,
but how horrible real humans can be.
I have to admit I’ve not read Frankenstein before, till I chanced upon ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Graphic Novel’ (illustrated by Frazer Irving, scripted by Gary Reed) at a public library. Ah! A comic version, that cuts to the chase – with fewer words and more descriptive pictures which tell many a thousand words. But that’s just me being lazy. I think Big ‘Frank’ is probably the father of all zombie fiction, except that he’s not really a zombie – because he learns to be mindful, and attempts to communicate. In fact, he tries to be human – more so than some humans. There are so many layers of reflections I have on the story, that I decide to only share the story here, lest you get distracted, while anticipating your personal interpretations (via comments) on the messages in the story. Here’s is my first ever attempt to summarise a classic novel…
The story begins with a severely traumatised Dr Victor Frankenstein (VF) rescued from the ice lands by a ship’s captain. He was trying to destroy a ‘demon’ – one that he created. He then recalls how he tried to ‘play God’ by creating a man from human parts. He had slogged hard and long over this, his supposedly ‘perfect creation’. As the book put it in his words, ‘I was to be master to my creation. Yet I was slave to it.’ In his attempt to animate the body, which convulsed and twisted, it struck him that it wasn’t human. He then flees in terror, only to receive news later, that his brother had been killed by his monster. To his further horror, their family servant was blamed and hanged for his death. VF feels even more guilt, for ‘causing’ the deaths of two.
VF retreats to the mountains to grieve. To his shock, Frank tracks him. In rage blinded by his ugliness, VF curses Frank. However, Frank begs him to hear him out, telling him that though he sees hatred in his master’s eyes, his tale should be known before judging him. VF is surprised by his intelligence as Frank relates… of how he awoke from ‘death’ in pain and confusion, which worsened when VF ran away, leaving him terribly cold and alone. Fearful of the city clamour, Frank escaped into the darkness of the forest. Everything was new to him, like a newborn babe, as he began to savour with his senses. Fretful of the cold of night, he was delighted to come across a small town, where he tried to make himself belong.
However, when he tried to speak, he could only make beastly sounds, and was chased away, after being called a monster – repeatedly. Running away, Frank encounters a hut in the woods, where he sought refuge. He gets to spy upon an attached house, through which he picked up the art of communication. Later, he comes to learn of history and religion too by listening and learning to read. Touched by the kindness and respect he saw the family engaged in, he wanted to belong. Secretly, he tried to help with chores, and was glad that he was able to bring some joy to them. Frank observes a love relationship blossoming and is awed by its power.
Frank realises he was different because he was not born, but created in a lab, and wonders if it was right that he’s called a monster. One day, he managed to pluck his courage to speak to the old blind man of the house, when he was alone. Talking for hours, Frank was moved to tears that he was accepted. Unfortunately, the rest of the family returned suddenly and he was again labelled a monster and chased away. Frank wonders what he had done to deserve such cruelty, before deciding that he would treat humans the way they have treated him – with hatred. Reading VF’s journal that he found, he reflected on the fact that VF was his creator, his father, yet it was him who first turned away from him.
Suddenly, it dawned upon Frank that he seems to have a purpose in life – to find VF. After again being ostracised despite saving a girl from drowning, he finally manages to return to VF’s house. Near it, he meets VF’s brother, who calls him a monster, In anger, Frank grabs him and asks why he hates him, thereupon discovering he was a Frankenstein family member. Deciding that since it was a Frankenstein who first turned away from him, it would be a Frankenstein who will feel the pain he felt, he strangles him, and uses a locket on him to frame their servant – one of their own kind. Though he felt guilt, he felt pride too, in having become a human by doing hurtful evil.
Hearing his above account, VF calls Frank a monster again. To that, Frank replies that he’s a monster that he, VF made, that he did not really wish to be evil, to live that way. VF yells that Frank does not deserve to live at all, that he regrets having made him. Frank replies that he made him anyway, while he, Frank, suffers for it. He then asks for a companion, after the creation of which he would leave VF’s world forever. Leaving for seclusion, VF tries his experiment again, this time without thrill of discovery, but fear of failure. He knew he could never create someone perfect. It then struck him that he might end up spawning a race of monstrous killers, and decided to destroy his second work. When Frank realises his ‘only’ chance of happiness was dashed, he promises VF that he will take away his happiness too – on his wedding night.
When VF returns home with some relief, he however got arrested. He was framed for killing his best friend, by Frank. He was eventually let off the hook, as he rushed to get married to his childhood sweetheart. Anticipating being murdered, he prepared himself to kill Frank on his wedding night instead. Distracted by his plans, his bride-to-be was killed instead. Frank’s intention was to take a bride’s life for the bride that he was deprived of, so that VF would suffer as he had suffered. Enraged, VF asks the authorities to hunt him down, but was regarded as a madman due to his accounts of what happened. His father then dies in anguish.
VF then tracks Frank in order to kill him. Revenge became his sole purpose in life. That’s when he realised he had become like Frank, a monster. Travelling on ice lands, he became stranded – which brings us back the beginning of the story. VF, still being driven by vengeance, became very sick. Though refusing to leave the ice lands with the ship, he slips into a coma and dies. The captain reflected on how VF had tried to create a human to show a way to end disease and maybe even death, though his creation brought about his own death. ‘His was a noble cause, but perhaps he went too far. After all, he was just a man… not God.’
Frank appears before VF’s body and the captain, explaining how he was made the way he was by VF, that all he ever wanted was acceptance by humans – by VF for instance. But now that VF is gone, he no longer had a purpose. Frank decides to walk out into the frozen lands till he could no longer walk, thereupon building a funeral pyre that wipe out all of VF’s creation that is him. As Frank leaps off the ship, the captain felt compassion for him. Frank was bigger, stronger, faster and perhaps more intellectual than most humans, yet he was made inferior because he was made by another human. Frank had wanted little in life, though his creator had wanted much. Both had failed. As the ship sailed away, the book ends with this line – ‘Leaving behind a creator and his creation, only death could bring them together.’
Just as we are monsters
of our own making,
we are buddhas of our own making.