Few names in fiction are more iconic than Frankenstein. Story, character, and premise borrowed, bent, and twisted in the near 200 years that have passed since the idea’s conception, what is perhaps the seminal work of science fiction has become an image of Halloween, the original story by and large lost to time. In fact the tragedy of an ordinary doctor with extra-ordinary skills, Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus is a powerful examination of the meaning of being human as told through the eyes of a man who created one, and if Brian Aldiss is to be believed, it is the first work of science fiction.
A frame story, Frankenstein is bookended by the notes of an Arctic sailor who has the experience of talking with a dying man found wandering the frozen north. The dying man named Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the story of his youth up until his delirious expedition in the north forms the main narrative. Born into a rich Swiss family, from an early age Frankenstein showed interest in not only biology and chemistry, but “old science”—the study of supernatural wonders. After finishing a medical degree at university, he secretly puts his skills as a doctor and arcane knowledge of the unknown into action, creating the now famous monster on a stormy night. Hideous beyond hope, the monster’s ugliness scares Frankenstein, and he flees the room, allowing his creation to escape. Twisted together in desire and loathing, the creator and the created’s lives are never the same thereafter, their tragedies unfolding in the telling.