A Monster By Any Other Name

Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, is one of my favorite horror novels. As a teenager, it was both refreshing and surprising to read the book, when all I knew of it was the pop-culture imitations (inspired almost exclusively by Boris Karloff’s iconic portrayal). The creature within the pages was not a slow-witted, mindless beast, but rather a sensitive and compassionate man, whose unchecked rage and violence were the result of personal misery from ostracization. As I recall, the creature wasn’t even ugly, per se (nor green, for that matter). The description in the book referred to him as grotesquely beautiful, which I can only imagine as a beauty born of his unnatural creation.

That said, it was still Boris Karloff’sfrank-vintage-mugshot grotesque visage that inspired my clip art (in the same vein that the monsters of the Golden Era of Hollywood inspired my fascination with the horror genre). You can download a vector version of the art from iStockPhoto.com.

Did you know that the monstrous creation within Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus never had a name? It was certainly referred to as the monster, the creature, and even the devil, but she never gave the beast a definitive name of his own. Some suggest his name was Adam, based on the line from the novel spoken by the creature, “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel,” but even as you read that line, it’s clear the beast is merely drawing a correlation.

In early stage plays, the creature is billed as “_____,” and even in the Universal Picture’s 1931 movie “Frankenstein,” the character Boris Karloff famously portrayed was listed as “Unnamed.” But with nothing else to call him, those who knew only of the theatrical representation came to know the monster as Frankenstein. That’s pop culture for you.

However, if you happen to be fond of correcting people for referring to the beast as Frankenstein—“Frankenstein is the name of the doctor, not the monster”—or if you, yourself have been called out for misidentifying the beast, then you should be made aware of the following passage from Mary Shelley’s book. In chapter 16, during a conversation between the creature and Victor Frankenstein, the creature says, “I learned from your papers that you were my father, my creator; and to whom could I apply with more fitness than to him who had given me life?” Right there the monster refers to Victor as his father. And while it’s true that not all sons share their father’s surname, it’s safe to say that most men do, in fact, bear the name of their father before them. So the next time someone challenges you for referring to the creature as “Frankenstein,” you can dig this passage out of your memory bank and prove the nay-sayers wrong.

Being one of my favorite novels, I pull this out at least once every couple years and re-read it as the seasons start to change and Halloween approaches. I get something new out of it every time I read it, and each time, I’m inspired to create a new illustration to mirror my imaginings. I’m almost done reading Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, and once I’m finished, I believe The Modern Prometheus will be back on my list. Will I start referring to the creature as Adam Frankenstein? Probably not. But I’ll be sure to offer a viable argument for those who (as I once did) feel the need to correct the “less informed” for their misuse of the moniker “Frankenstein.” And yes, Jeremy Messersmith, I promise to stop correcting you now.

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