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Frankenstein: Overview and History

Frankenstein: Overview and History

Frankenstein is a mythical creature that has become a popular cultural icon. The creature was created by Mary Shelley in her 1818 novel, “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”. The novel tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment.

The creature is often portrayed as a monstrous and terrifying figure, but in Shelley’s novel, he is depicted as a complex and sympathetic character. The creature is created as a result of Victor Frankenstein’s obsession with creating life, and he is abandoned by his creator shortly after his creation. The creature is left to fend for himself and is forced to confront the harsh realities of the world on his own. Despite his appearance, the creature is intelligent and sensitive, and he longs for acceptance and understanding from those around him.

Origins of the Frankenstein Myth

Literary Beginnings

The Frankenstein myth originated from the 1818 novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” by Mary Shelley. The novel tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. The novel was an instant success and has since become a classic in the horror genre. It has been adapted into numerous films, plays, and other forms of media over the years.

Cultural Influences

The Frankenstein myth has had a significant cultural impact since its creation. The novel has been used as a parable to discuss various ethical and scientific issues, such as the dangers of playing God and the consequences of scientific experimentation. The story has also influenced popular culture, with the character of Frankenstein’s monster becoming one of the most well-known monsters in the history of motion pictures. The myth has also spawned numerous adaptations and spin-offs, including the popular “Young Frankenstein” comedy film and the “Frankenstein Chronicles” television series.

The literary and cultural impact of the Frankenstein myth has made it a lasting part of popular culture. Its influence can be seen in various forms of media, from horror films to science fiction novels. The myth’s themes of scientific experimentation, ethical dilemmas, and the dangers of playing God continue to resonate with audiences today.

The Creature’s Description

Physical Appearance

The creature in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is famously depicted as a grotesque and monstrous being. He is described as eight feet tall and having yellow skin that barely conceals the muscles and blood vessels underneath. His hair is jet black and his teeth are described as “pearly white” but “of a size and shape such as I had never seen before.” His eyes are also yellow and sunken, giving him a frightening appearance. Overall, the creature is described as being physically imposing and terrifying.

Character Traits

Despite his frightening appearance, the creature is not inherently evil or malicious. He is portrayed as being initially innocent and curious about the world around him. However, his experiences with rejection and isolation lead him to become bitter and vengeful. He is highly intelligent and capable of complex emotions, which makes his eventual turn towards violence and destruction all the more tragic. Ultimately, the creature is a complex and multi-dimensional character that defies easy categorization.

Frankenstein in Literature

Mary Shelley’s Novel

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel written by Mary Shelley in 1818. The story follows Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was 18, and the first edition was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818, when she was 20. The novel is considered one of the earliest works of science fiction and Gothic literature, and it has had a profound influence on popular culture.

The novel explores themes of creation, responsibility, and the consequences of ambition. It also examines the human condition, as the creature struggles to find acceptance and meaning in a world that rejects him. Shelley’s use of multiple narrators and shifting perspectives adds to the complexity of the novel and allows for a nuanced exploration of the themes.

Subsequent Adaptations

Since its publication, Frankenstein has been adapted into numerous films, plays, and other works of art. These adaptations have often taken liberties with the original story, but they have also helped to keep the story relevant and engaging for new generations.

Some notable adaptations include the 1931 film Frankenstein, directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff as the creature. This film helped to establish the iconic image of the creature as a hulking, green-skinned monster with bolts in his neck. Other adaptations have explored different aspects of the story, such as the 1994 film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which focuses on the relationship between Victor Frankenstein and his fiancée Elizabeth.

Overall, Frankenstein has had a lasting impact on literature and popular culture. Its themes and characters continue to resonate with readers and viewers today, making it a timeless work of fiction.

Frankenstein in Media

Cinematic Interpretations

Frankenstein has been adapted into several movies since its publication. The first sound adaptation of the story was produced by Universal Pictures in 1931, directed by James Whale, and starred Boris Karloff as the creature. The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1935, the Bride of Frankenstein was introduced as the monster’s love interest. The movie was directed by James Whale and starred Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester.

In 1994, Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in a film adaptation of Frankenstein, which was more faithful to the original novel. Robert De Niro played the creature in this movie. Another notable adaptation was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, directed by Kenneth Branagh and released in 1994. The movie starred Robert De Niro as the creature and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth.

Television and Radio

Frankenstein has also been adapted for television and radio. In 1958, a television series titled “Frankenstein” was produced by the BBC. The series was directed by Rudolph Cartier and starred Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein. In 1968, Hammer Films produced a television movie titled “Frankenstein Created Woman,” which was directed by Terence Fisher and starred Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein.

In 1938, the Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast a radio adaptation of Frankenstein. The adaptation was directed by Orson Welles and starred Welles as the creature. In 1944, the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast a radio adaptation of Frankenstein, which starred Boris Karloff as the creature.

Overall, Frankenstein has been adapted into various forms of media, including movies, television shows, and radio dramas. These adaptations have helped to keep the story of Frankenstein alive and relevant to modern audiences.

Symbolism and Themes

Frankenstein is a novel rich in symbolism and themes that explore various aspects of human nature and society. Two major themes that are explored in the novel are science and ethics, and isolation and society.

Science and Ethics

The novel explores the ethical implications of scientific progress and the consequences of playing God. Victor Frankenstein’s pursuit of knowledge and his desire to create life lead to disastrous consequences. The novel highlights the dangers of unchecked ambition and the importance of ethical considerations in scientific research.

Isolation and Society

Another major theme of the novel is isolation and society. The creature is rejected by society and is forced to live in isolation. The novel explores the consequences of social isolation and the importance of human connection. The creature’s desire for companionship and acceptance is a central theme of the novel.

Overall, Frankenstein is a novel that explores the complexities of human nature and society. The novel’s themes and symbolism continue to be relevant today, and the novel remains a classic work of literature.

Impact on Popular Culture

Halloween and Merchandising

Frankenstein’s monster has become an iconic figure in popular culture, particularly around Halloween. The monster’s distinctive appearance, with bolts in his neck and a flat head, has been replicated in countless costumes and decorations. Additionally, merchandise featuring the monster has been popular for decades, from action figures to coffee mugs.

Modern References

Frankenstein’s monster has also made numerous appearances in modern media. The character has been adapted into films, television shows, and even video games. The monster has also been referenced in music, literature, and other forms of art. The enduring popularity of the character is a testament to the lasting impact of Mary Shelley’s original novel.

Overall, Frankenstein’s monster has had a significant impact on popular culture. The character’s distinctive appearance and tragic backstory have made him a beloved figure in horror and beyond.

Scientific Parallels


Frankenstein’s monster is often associated with the concept of bioengineering, which involves manipulating living organisms to create new products or enhance existing ones. The novel explores the dangers of playing God and the consequences of creating life through science. This theme has become even more relevant in modern times, as advancements in biotechnology have made it possible to genetically modify organisms and create new ones altogether.

Artificial Intelligence

Another scientific parallel in Frankenstein is the idea of creating artificial intelligence. Although the novel predates the invention of computers and the concept of AI, it raises questions about the ethics of creating intelligent beings and the potential consequences of doing so. The novel also explores the idea of the creator being responsible for the actions of their creation, which is a common theme in discussions about AI today.

Overall, Frankenstein’s exploration of these scientific parallels has made it a timeless work of literature that continues to resonate with readers today. The novel’s cautionary tale about the dangers of playing God through science serves as a reminder of the potential consequences of our actions and the responsibility we have as creators.