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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

I am a big fan of the fantastic. I love magic. When it comes to stories, I'm willing to believe anything, as long as—get this—it's believable. What I mean by this is that I'm willing to accept a hero on a flying carpet, a planet ruled by ducks, or a society which wages wars over Bedazzlers and Flowbees, but what I'm not willing to accept is poorly developed characters without an ounce of recognizable human traits and no rationale as to why they are this way.

Such a story is Frankenstein.  I can put all logic aside and accept the fact that young Frankenstein has created his own sentient being.  Smart guy.  But why does smart guy run from his creation?  Why does smart guy not worry about his loosened “monster” for two years?  Why is smart guy not able to put any of the pieces together until it's too late, each and every time?  Because that would disturb the drama of the piece.  You see, if the author let the character act as he would in a rational universe given the intelligence the man had, the story would have been utterly different.

And if the “monster” spoke in broken sentences, possessed a very limited vocabulary, and acted as something other than Frankenstein's double, then the story wouldn't make any of the same points.  Each and every character served the story's purpose—Henry may as well have been wearing a red shirt from the beginning because it was obvious the second he joined the “away mission” he was a goner.

Pulling from distant recollections, I believe the films I have seen are more believable and human than Shelley's original work.  Sure they lack the symbolism and prose of the novel, but they make a hell of a lot more sense.

I'm willing to put aside the long rants and the clumsy narrative devise—they're characteristic of the time period.  I'm willing to believe in the unlikelihood of Frankenstein's project and that Elizabeth was actually in love with her cousin, the dolt.  But I cannot ignore the absurdity of how a man intelligent enough to create life can be so incredibly dumb.  He's not even afraid of the “monster;” he runs purely because it is “ugly,” a trait he apparently didn't notice while it was being made, before he injected it with life.

I get Shelley's points and can understand why this is called a classic.  But why is it acceptable for so-called classics to ignore rationale (Frankenstein) or story (The Catcher in the Rye) or quality (1984) just because they make a good point or do something different?  I expect more.