The Moral of Frankenstein Revisited

We all know the story of Frankenstein, right? We've seen it in countless movies, cartoons, etc. The evil, mad scientist working in his remote castle laboratory with his henchman Igor creates the monster Frankenstein, a creature so horrible that eventually the peasants storm the castle with pitchforks and torches and burn down the castle and monster.

Well, I just finished reading Mary Shelley's original novel, and quite a few parts of that are not in the story. The scientist may or may not be mad, depending upon how you interpret it, but he wasn't evil, and wasn't deliberately trying to create a monster. His workshop wasn't in a remote castle, but simply some rooms he had at or near the university. There is no henchman Igor. And the peasants never stormed the lab or monster with pitchforks and torches.

In fact, Dr. Frankenstein was so horrified by his creation (the creature is never given a name by the way, Frankenstein is the scientist's last name) that he runs away from it, and is terribly relieved to find it gone when he returns later. He doesn't tell anybody what he's done, and he doesn't try to look for the creature. In fact, he has no contact or awareness of the creature for something like two years. The creature eventually comes back into Dr. Frankenstein's life, killing friends and family until Frankenstein is finally determined to seek out and destroy the monster, but he dies without doing so. Once Dr. Frankenstein is dead, the creature says that he will destroy himself, and do no further harm to humanity, although the story only ends with his words, and no evidence that he actually does what he says.

The oft-referred to moral of the story is that Man is not meant to know some things, and that science can lead to some things getting out-of-control. But upon reading the novel, what strikes me the most is that the creature needn't have gotten out of hand if Frankenstein had simply not run away from his creation at the time of his creation. The story makes clear that creature knows little at its creation, and becomes essentially self-taught over time. Frankenstein could have been the one to educate the creature, and help ensure that he had a decent, moral upbringing, and thus little need to become the wretched hateful creature that he becomes.

In short, Dr. Frankenstein was trying to avoid the responsibility for his creation. This irresponsbility seems to be the fundamental moral of the story. As such, this is quite applicable to just about anyone, anywhere, and thus quite a timeless moral, however Victorian and stilted the writing may seem to the modern reader. But it seems to take away from it as a science fiction novel, especially since the extrapolation of the science, and the scientific creation's effect on society are not really explored.

Interestingly, the creature is not some slow-moving, lumbering giant as most of the movies make it out to be, but a being of superior strength, speed, and stamina, and at least equal in intelligence to regular humans.


The Magic of Peanuts - Online!

The website Comics.com hosts a lot of syndicated comic strips, but for a while, you could only look at the last month's worth of strips. Now, they've done something pretty awesome. The entire collection of published Peanuts strips are available online, all the way back to the first strip, published October 2, 1950, to the present! Good Grief! That's an incredible resource for fans and historians.

I read the paperback collections of Peanuts strips when I was a kid. By high school, I had over fifty of the books, including some special books like Snoopy and the Red Baron, and two Peanuts cookbooks.

The books I had included reprints from the 1960s and 1970s. But now, I'll be able to read them all! The earliest ones seem pretty primitive, so it's hard to realize now how radically different and new the strip was when it first came out, with its highly abstract, simply drawn characters and their more subtle, less slapstick, deprecating humor.

Even from my books, it was easy to see the development of the strip over time, something that I always find interesting. Seeing it from beginning to end will allow one to fully appreciate the maturation of the comic over time, especially considering that Charles Schulz did it all, without assistants or ghost writers or artists.

And of course there are various landmarks to look for. When did Charlie Brown first start wearing the zigzag striped shirt? When did Snoopy start thinking words in thought balloons? When were the various characters first introduced? The strip started out with Charlie Brown, Shermy, and Patty, with Snoopy's first appearance coming very quickly. But Lucy, Linus, Sally, Peppermint Patty and others came later, some much later.

I'm currently reading Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, by David Michaelis. While interesting, I find that I'm not really that interested in Schulz as a person--I'm more interested in the stuff that's more related to his strip and artwork: his development as an artist, his attempts to become a published cartoonist, etc.

Apparently, there's some controversy over how well Michaelis depicted Schulz as a person. I can't say for sure, but really, what would be interesting about a kind, warm, gentle person who didn't do anything but sit at his drawing board every day? Even with such a person, there must be something behind it all to make him that way.

Anyway, while I didn't always get the jokes, especially when I first started reading the books, I grew up with the Peanuts characters and loved them dearly, as I suspect did many others. I'm not sure I can recommend the biography, but I can certainly recommend reading (and re-reading) the original strips, all 20 thousand some-odd of them. Good Ol' Charlie Brown.