Frankenstein on Ice

The comparatively slow pace of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein comes as a surprise to anyone basing their image of the story with the iconic movies about the original Mad Scientist and his nightmarish creation.

More than the pace alone the novel takes place over a wide geographic area, noted in a much more fragmentary way than we are generally used too and covering a longer period of time as well. The various Frankenstein movie adaptations, either serious or comedic take place over a relatively short space of time and predominantly within a single geographic location. This is in stark contrast to the voyage of Frankenstein searching for his horrible creation in the frozen arctic or his more leisurely and less frenetic slide into insanity over a much longer period of time in the novel. These distinct differences present two entirely different effects on the story. For instance, the more immediate pacing and setting of the movies shows a much more rapid and frantic decline into madness and depict Frankenstein in a more caricatured manner. The epitome of all Mad Scientists becomes obsessed and loses most, if not all, of his morals and sensibilities very quickly as the vision of defeating death draws him in. The novel on the other hand shows a more studied decline, a slow period of individual rationalizations justifying ever more questionable actions and directions of research that eventually lead to the ultimate downfall of Frankenstein. In this way the novel makes a more serious critique of scientific ethics and cultural morals in general. Shelley gives us an example of the dangers of the slippery slope. Each questionable morale decision leads to another, which leads to another, and before one notices it is too late to turn back.

This commentary is still very relevant today, the self-same arguments and critiques made of many modern scientific developments and areas of research. Stem cells and chimeras are two obvious examples. This commentary is also far more serious than anything any of the movie adaptations bring to the table. When I first read Frankenstein I had not expected such deep critiques of modern science in a story I thought I knew quite well.

Has anyone else noticed this underlying commentary? If not what does the slower pace and more gradual decline of Frankenstein mean to you?

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