I spent today rereading Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. This book is amazing; I find it so amazing that it is one of the two books I wrote my Master’s thesis about (the other is Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleepwalker by Charles Brockden Brown, which is also a delightful Gothic story). One of the things I love about the book is how enmeshed it is in the real world. So much of Shelley’s life, England’s history, and book history is tied together in this novel (kind of my thesis basis).
What I want to talk about in this post is the book history part. We can see while reading the novel which books/stories influenced Shelley. Prometheus is right there in the title, calling the Greek myth to the reader’s mind. One of my editions has an introduction that lists the books that Shelley was reading while she wrote the novel. The Creature talks at length about his experiences reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Johann Wolfgang Van Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (I will find this, and I will read it). These inclusions aren’t accidents; when authors reference other works or authors, readers should definitely be paying attention because the author didn’t work that allusion in so carefully just for funsies or to make the reader question their intelligence/savvy as a reader (unless that person is T.S. Eliot. That dude was definitely just showing off).
While reading Frankenstein, I can’t help but think about where the story has gone since Shelley wrote it. Obviously it has been done and redone in plays and on film, but I have seen it show up in some other, and fairly unexpected, places.
Last semester in my British Romantics class with Dr. Cervelli (possibly the world’s grooviest professor), he played a jazz rendition of a James Bond theme song at the start of our class before we started our discussion of Frankenstein (jazz happened every day at the beginning of class, and it did some awesome things for our discussions). On that day, I was relatively quiet because I didn’t want to announce to the entire class that I was just sitting there thinking about how Frankenstein and the Creature’s lengthy chase and obsession with each other reminded me of the relationship between James Bond and Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Ian Fleming’s series; I definitely see some hint of the Frankenstein story there.
In this same semester, I decided to write my paper about (you guessed it) Frankenstein. This time I paired it with 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. I took both the film and book versions into consideration, but I felt Clarke’s novel was where the connection shined. A lot has been said about how the story of HAL resembles that of the Creature, and that was originally the point of my paper. I was going to talk about the relationships between creator and created, and I still did that in a way. However, it ended up with an analysis of Shelley and Clarke as creators and their novels as the created. I still talked about the similarities of the Creature and HAL, but I found so many more connections between the two novels such as form and creative environment. I got pretty obsessed, and it’s happening again. If I don’t end this paragraph now, I will end up typing my entire essay out for you.
Back to where this post started: today. As I was reading the last few pages, I started thinking about Batman. No, I was not bored with a wandering mind. Once again, I saw Shelley’s novel creeping into modern stories. This time I saw it in the relationship between Batman and the Joker. A lot of people, including myself at some points, have wondered why one of these two men just doesn’t freaking kill the other one already! There are a bunch of reasons (some of which I think both characters have said at different times in the comics). DC obviously isn’t going to off either of their two biggest money makers for starters. Batman has that whole honor code of not killing people. The Joker just enjoys what he sees as a game. The list could go on forever, but I think one quote from Frankenstein sums it up beautifully. “If he whom you mourn still lived, still would he be the object, again would he become the prey of your accursed vengeance. It is not pity that you feel; you lament only because the victim of your malignity is withdrawn from your power.”
There you go. Frankenstein, James Bond, HAL 9000, and Batman.