From the time I saw the best of the Frankenstein films on TV when I was eleven—the original featuring Karloff’s remarkable performance, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN—I relished them even thought hey gave me the worst nightmares of my life. In fact I continued to have Frankenstein-themed nightmares into my thirties, a few times a year crying out in my sleep and waking in a sweat. Interestingly, when the Frankenstein dreams stopped, I ceased having nightmares of any kind; and for many years, my sleep has been undisturbed.
I believe that, as a child, I unconsciously saw Frankenstein’s monster as a symbol for my father, whose potential for violence and whose many kinds of recklessness kept our lives always on the edge of chaos. I never dreamed of being perused by the monster through the woods or any kind of open-air venue; always, it was in our house, and always I was cornered by it, either in my room or in the cellar.
The original novel is mostly mistaught in our universities in these days, as professors twist Mary Shelley’s themes—and even turn them upside down—to endorse this or that modern attitude or political viewpoint. Of the sever reasons why the book is a classic, perhaps the most important is the portrayal of Victor Frankenstein as a compassionate utopian destroyed by hubris. The history of humanity is soaked in blood precisely because we throw ourselves into the pursuit of one utopia after another, determined to perfect this world that cannot be perfected. Of all centuries, the 20th was the bloodiest because of Hitler’s National Socialism, Lenin’s and Stalin’s and Mao’s and Pol Pot’s and Castro’s versions of Communism; as many as 200 million were murdered or killed in war because of these utopian schemes. Victor Frankenstein, utopian of the first order, hoped to perfect God’s creation, to reanimate the deceased and thus defeat death, and his project could result only in calamity, for it was against the natural law and common sense.
Indeed, Frankenstein resonated with me also because my father was a utopian of a kind, a utopian not in a grand philosophical sense but in his approach to his working life. He fancied himself an inventor, and he believed that he was always one invention away from great wealth, one invention or on slick business plan or one clever gimmick away from achieving an ideal life—without having to work for it. Reality always destroys utopians, and we are fortunate when we are not pulled into their vortex and destroyed with them.
Mary Shelley may also have been the first novelist to foresee that science would eventually be bent by utopians to their service and would in many quarters degenerate into scientism, as dogmatic as the most narrowly conceived religions. In our time, scientism gins up one fear after another in the masses, based on bad science, for the purpose of making them easier for utopian theorists to control.
This is why it seemed to me appropriate to update the Frankenstein legend to our time. We live in hubristic age, when politicians imagine themselves to me messiahs and when many in the sciences frankly discuss their dreams of creating a “post-human” civilization of genetically engineered supermen, ignorant of the fact that like minds have often come before them and have left no legacy but death, destruction, and despair.