|Portrayed By:|| Boris Karloff|
Lon Chaney, Jr.
Frankenstein's monster (also called the monster or Frankenstein's creature) is a fictional character that first appeared in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan who stole fire from the gods of Mount Olympus and gave it to humans. In popular culture, the creature is often erroneously referred to as "Frankenstein", but in the novel the creature has no name. He does call himself, when speaking to his creator, Victor Frankenstein, the "Adam of your labours". He is also variously referred to as a "creature", "fiend", "the demon", "wretch", "devil", "thing", "being" and "ogre" in the novel.
The monster's namelessness became part of the stage tradition as Mary Shelley's story was adapted into serious and comic plays in London and Paris during the decades after the novel's first appearance. Shelley herself attended a performance of Presumption, the first successful stage adaptation of her novel. "The play bill amused me extremely, for in the list of dramatis personae came _________, by Mr T. Cooke,” she wrote to her friend Leigh Hunt. "This nameless mode of naming the unnameable is rather good."
The name of the creator—Frankenstein—soon came to be used to name the creation. That happened within the first decade after the novel was published, but it became firmly established after the story was popularized in the famous 1930s Universal film series starring Boris Karloff. The film was based largely on a play by Peggy Webling, performed in London in 1927. Webling's Frankenstein actually does give his creature his name. The Universal film treated the Monster's identity in a manner that reflects its resemblance to Mary Shelley's novel: the name of the actor, not the character, is hidden by a question mark. Nevertheless, the creature soon enough became best known in the popular imagination as "Frankenstein". This usage is sometimes considered erroneous, but usage commentators regard the monster sense of "Frankenstein" as well-established and not an error.
In Shelley's Frankenstein
Victor Frankenstein, eldest son of Alphonse and Caroline Beaufort Frankenstein, builds the creature in his laboratory through methods of science (he was a chemistry student at University of Ingolstadt) and alchemy (largely based on the writings of Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus, and Cornelius Agrippa) which are not clearly described. Immediately upon bringing the creature to life, Frankenstein flees from it in horror and disavows his experiment. Abandoned, frightened, and completely unaware of his own identity, the monster wanders through the wilderness searching for someone who would understand and shelter him.
He finds brief solace by hiding out in the woodshed of a remote cottage inhabited by the DeLaceys, a family of peasants. While they are unaware of his existence, he learns every part of their lives by eavesdropping on their conversations and comes to think of them as his own family, calling them his 'protectors'. He develops the power of speech from listening to the family teach their language (French) to an Arabian daughter-in-law, and very quickly becomes eloquent, educated, and well-mannered.
One day, the creature musters the courage to finally make his presence known. He introduces himself to the family's patriarch, their blind father, and experiences kindness and acceptance for the first (and last) time. The blind man cannot see his "accursed ugliness" and so treats him as a friend. When the rest of the family returns, however, they are terrified of the creature and drive him away. Bewildered but still hopeful, he rescues a peasant girl from a river, but is shot in the shoulder by a man who claims her. Heartbroken and enraged, the creature renounces all of humankind and swears revenge on his creator, Frankenstein, for bringing him into the world.
The monster searches for Frankenstein relentlessly, guided by some papers which were in the pocket of the clothing he took from his creator's rooms. From these he discovers Frankenstein's whereabouts, but also discovers the horrific details of his own birth. Upon arriving near Frankenstein's village, he meets and tries to befriend a small boy, William, hoping that the innocent youth will not be prejudiced against him. The boy is instantly frightened, however, and threatens to call for his father, Monsieur Frankenstein, revealing to the creature that the boy is related to his hated creator. The creature kills him, and, in a further gesture of hatred against humanity, frames for the murder a girl named Justine Moritz, the Frankensteins' maid servant. Justine Moritz is sent to the gallows because Frankenstein decides it would be futile to confess his experiment, as no one would believe him.
Full of grief and despair, Frankenstein retreats to the mountains to find peace within himself. The monster approaches Frankenstein on top of the mountain and insists that Frankenstein hear his plight. Here, the monster tells Frankenstein his story and pleads with him to create a female equivalent to himself so that he can hide from humanity with one of his own kind. Frankenstein agrees, but relents just before finishing the mate, aghast at the possibility of creating a race of monsters. Enraged, the creature threatens to destroy everything Frankenstein holds dear. Before fleeing into the night, the creature swears to Frankenstein that "I will be with you on your wedding night!"
He later makes good on his threat by killing Frankenstein's best friend, Henry Clerval, and his bride, Elizabeth Lavenza. Victor Frankenstein's father, Alphonse, then dies of grief. With nothing left to live for, Frankenstein dedicates his life to hunting his creation down and destroying him. The search ends in the Arctic Circle when Frankenstein loses control of his dogsled and falls into ice-cold water, contracting severe pneumonia. He is rescued by a ship exploring the region and relates the entire story to its captain, Robert Walton, before succumbing to his illness and dying. The creature later boards the ship, intent on taking his final revenge, but is overcome with grief upon finding Frankenstein dead, having lost the only family he has ever known. The monster pledges to travel to "the Northernmost extremity of the globe", and to there burn the body to ashes, so that no man can ever create another like him. He leaps from the boat and is never seen again.
Shelley described Frankenstein's monster as an 8-foot-tall (2.4 m), hideously ugly creation, with translucent yellowish skin pulled so taut over the body that it "barely disguised the workings of the arteries and muscles underneath"; watery, glowing eyes, flowing black hair, black lips, and prominent white teeth. The monster attempts to integrate himself into human social patterns, but is shunned by all who see him. This feeling of abandonment compels him to seek revenge against his creator. The monster was a victim of prejudice. He desired to be loved and accepted by humankind, but unfortunately was not accepted because of his gruesome appearance. A picture of the creature appeared in the 1831 edition. By the time the 1831 edition came out, however, several stage renditions of the story had popularized the monster. Early stage portrayals dressed him in a toga, shaded, along with the monster's skin, a pale blue. Throughout the 19th century, the monster's image remained variable according to the artist.
The most well-known image of Frankenstein's monster in popular culture derives from Boris Karloff's portrayal in the 1931 movie Frankenstein, with makeup created by Jack Pierce and possibly suggested by director James Whale. Karloff played the monster in two more Universal films, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. Lon Chaney, Jr. took over the part from Karloff in The Ghost of Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi portrayed the role in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and Glenn Strange played the monster in the last three Universal Studios films to feature the character (House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein); but their makeup replicated the iconic look first worn by Karloff. To this day, the image of Karloff's face is owned by his daughter's company, Karloff Enterprises, which is the reason Universal replaced Karloff's features with Glenn Strange's in most of their marketing.
Since Karloff's portrayal, the creature almost always appears as a towering, gruesome figure, often with a flat square-shaped head and bolts to serve as electrical connectors or grotesque electrodes on his neck. He wears a dark suit having shortened coat sleeves and thick, heavy boots, causing him to walk with an awkward, stiff-legged gait (as opposed to the novel, in which he is described as much more flexible than a mortal). This image has influenced the creation of other fictional characters, such as The Hulk.
In the 1973 TV mini-series Frankenstein: The True Story, a different approach was taken in depicting the monster, Michael Sarrazin, as a strikingly handsome man at first only to eventually mutate into a grotesque monster due to a flaw in the creation process.
In the 1994 film Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the creature is played by Robert De Niro in a nearer approach to the original source, as a tragic character motivated by pain and loneliness in his murderous journey.
In the 2004 film Van Helsing, the monster is shown in a somewhat modernized version of the Karloff design. He is 8 to 9 feet (240–270 cm) tall, has square bald head, gruesome scars, and pale blue skin. The electricity is emphasized with one electrified crystal in the back of his head and another over his heart.
In 2004 an adaptation of Frankenstein was made by Hallmark. It was a made for TV mini-series of Frankenstein. In this version it was actor Luke Goss who played The Creature. This adaptation more closely resembled what was physically and psychologically described in the novel. Not only was the creature intelligent and articulate (like in the book) but also had the flowing dark hair and watery eyes that Mary Shelley had described. He did not match the Boris Karloff film archetype but instead closely resembled what was written in the book and the 1831 illustration. The creature in this version was a tragic character motivated by pain and loneliness and was also literate and highly articulate, often quoting Paradise Lost, which was apparently the creature's favorite book in Mary Shelley's novel. To date this version is quite possibly the most faithful to what is described in Mary Shelley's novel.
As depicted by Shelley, the monster is a sensitive, emotional creature whose only aim is to share his life with another sentient being like himself. The novel portrays him as intelligent and literate, having read Paradise Lost, Plutarch's Lives, and The Sorrows of Young Werther. He is driven by despair and loneliness to acts of cruelty and murder.
From the beginning the monster is rejected by everyone he meets. He realizes from the moment of his "birth" that even his own creator cannot stand being around him; this is obvious when Frankenstein says "…one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped…" Ch.5 Upon seeing his own reflection, he realizes that he too cannot stand to see himself. His greatest desire is to find love and acceptance, but when that desire is denied, he swears revenge on all mankind, especially his creator.
Contrary to many film versions, the creature in the novel is very articulate and eloquent in his way of speaking. He can speak quickly and he can enunciate well. He is highly intelligent, and is fluent in at least three languages. He learns at an accelerated rate. Almost immediately after his creation he figures out how to dress himself and within eleven months he can speak and read in both German and French. By the end of Mary Shelley's novel the creature appears to also be able to speak English fluently as well. He is highly literate and in fact often quotes Paradise Lost by John Milton.
He is surprisingly spiritual and it was implied in the book that he was a vegetarian, preferring things like berries and nuts to meat.
In the 1931 film adaptation, the creature is depicted as mute and bestial, unlike Shelly's original character. In the subsequent sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, the creature learns to speak and discover his feelings, although his intelligence and capacity of speech remains limited. In the second sequel, Son of Frankenstein, the creature is again rendered inarticulate. Following a brain transplant in the third sequel, The Ghost of Frankenstein, the Monster speaks with the voice and personality of the brain donor. This was continued after a fashion in the scripting for the fourth sequel, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, but the dialogue was excised before release. The monster was effectively mute in later sequels, though he is heard to refer to Count Dracula as his 'Master' in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
The creature is often seen to be pyrophobic (afraid of fire).