Frankenstein’s Monster:Adam or Satan?

“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel” 

Mary Shelley’s renowned novel needs no introduction. As one of the oldest and most famous examples of the horror genre it embodies the classic horror trend, forcing us to see the evil not in the Monster but within ourselves. We are asked to question our definition of ‘monster’ and to closely examine each character. Shelley wants us to decide if it is the ‘Monster’ himself, or the society which shaped him, that is evil. Furthermore, she forces us to examine what differentiates the Monster from Frankenstein and other characters, and in the same vein, Lucifer from Adam.

Throughout his journey the Monster uses Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, a story about man’s creation and expulsion from Eden, to understand Frankenstein’s rejection of him.

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Daughter to prominent feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (right), Shelley (left) was just 21 when she wrote her masterpiece on a writer’s retreat when her friend Lord Byron challenged the holiday-goers to each write a ghost story

At the beginning of the novel he identifies strongly with the figure of Adam. Both are the first of their kind, forced to walk alone and long for company. This loneliness renders both Adam and the Monster miserable; Adam laments “Did I request thee, maker, from my clay to mould me man?“,while the Monster bemoans his “unearthly ugliness”.

Furthermore, the Monster craves to be good and benevolent like Adam. He is born completely pure and uncorrupted, taking childish delight in the world around him. It is only after his encounters with society; man’s loathing and violence towards him, that he becomes corrupted, the illusion of virtue dispelling before him. Reflected in the mirror of hatred that humanity holds up to him, the monster begins to identify as a malevolent being.

At this point Adam is supplanted by a new idol, the tragic angel who’s creator rejected him and damned him to become the devil. In parallel to our protagonist it is God’s very repudiation that leads to Satan’s corruption, breeding his warped obsession to seek revenge and destroy all things beautiful in his creator’s eye. Similarly, the monster vows to become “the scourge” of both Frankenstein and everyone he loves.


Satan lamenting his expulsion from heaven, as told in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’

Shelley is saying to us we are not born evil, but slowly distorted by the societies in which we live.

Both Satan’s banishment from heaven and the Monster’s exile from humanity destroy their goodness. Satan links this expulsion to his immoral behaviour; on realising he will never see heaven again Satan proclaims“all good to me is lost; Evil be thou my good”, implying that his ostracisation has warped his morals. Similarly, after being brutally beaten by Felix, the Monster decides that he no longer has any place in society; by destroying his friend’s house he breaks his final link to humanity.

Throughout the narrative the Monster remains nameless, denying him any fixed identity. Through this Shelley is showing his potential to be anything; he is born completely new and unmoulded with the capacity to become either good like Adam, or evil like Lucifer.

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The Monster looks sadly at his own reflection: Book cover from Penguin Classics edition

The Monster’s shift from morality to corruption corresponds with his encounters with human violence, suggesting that the cruelty of society debased his innocence. This notion of society shaping the individual is still a prevalent question to ask ourselves two centuries later.

After all, are criminals born guilty, or like Frankenstein’s Monster are they corrupted by the brutality of the societies in which they exist? Are we able to create our own destiny in the world, or are we bound to socially constructed ideas of beauty, wealth and happiness? Shelley does not answer these questions, but leaves it up to us to decide, as we reflect on the tragic fate of the Monster who never asked to be made.

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‘Pennywise the Paedophile’

Stephen King’s 1986 novel IT , the patriarch of the killer clown genre, continues to captivate audiences to this day as IT Pt 2 breaks box office records. King’s literary legacy pervades modern culture, with thousands admitting  to suffering from Coulrophobia (a fear of clowns). It is little wonder why series such as American Horror Story (2014), Amusement (2008) and All Hallows Eve (2013) utilise the figure of the clown to shock and disturb audiences.

Clowns have become symbols of fear in popular imagination. In 2013 three local filmmakers Alex Powell, Elliot Simpson, and Luke Ubanski dressed up as Pennnywise to scare locals in Northampton. Following this in 2016 clown sightings were reported accross the US and Canada, with clowns appearing incongruous settings, like woods and near schools. Disturbingly, in South Carolina a nine year old boy told his mother that two suspicious men dressed as clowns tried to lure him to the woods. This scene is eerily similar to that of IT, where Pennywise lures children to isolated spots of Derry.

Pennywise appears charming and friendly, concealing his sinister intentions from the children. In one of the novels most iconic scenes he persuades George Denborough to talk to him, using bribes of balloons and promising to return his beloved paper boat to lure him into the storm drain. This is a common behaviour in child molesters, who often use coercion and promises to gain the trust of their victims. The theme of adults blackmailing children is prevalent throughout the novel; Beverley’s dad emotionally and physically abuses her, Eddies mother uses her emotional distress to control him and Stan’s father bullies his son to follow his religious beliefs.

The 2017 film starring Bill Skarsgard uses dark lighting and sinister music to create a sense of foreboding of the evil that is to come, as well as reflecting Pennywise’s evil nature. This device, known as pathetic fallacy, where the writer/ director uses environmental features such as the weather to echo what is happening in the plot, is used in different ways in each film. The modern edition’s approach is one dimensional, as it shows Pennywise as evil from the outset, despite the fact that King’s novel embodies Pennywise with an irresistible outward charm to lure children to their doom.

In contrast the 1990 adaption starring Tim Curry follows the novel faithfully. George is seen running through the bright, cheery streets of Derry chasing his paper boat. Lost in his own world, he is unable to stop it sliding down a storm drain where he meets Pennywise. This use of prophetic fallacy closely represents the complex nature of Pennywise and Derry itself. The most unsettling aspect of this is the clown’s charming and inviting exterior which is completely contradictory to his sinister nature.

Furthermore, from the outset Pennywise is polite and charming, smiling reassuringly at the child and commenting on how smart his father is. When George tells him he is not supposed to talk to strangers, Curry swiftly persuades him that they are well acquainted after he humorously introduces himself in third person. King’s choice to use the parental warning Don’t talk to strangers, is indicative of his intentions to draw parallels between this fantastical story and the real sinister qualities of people preying upon children in the streets.

In contrast the 2017 Pennywise is dressed in a dark costume, with elaborate sinister markings on his face. This portrayal loses the subtlety of the novel where Pennywise is outwardly charming in order to lure his victims in. By following conventional modern horror tropes the new film renders itself unable to speak about the evil in us, becoming instead another unrelatable monster movie.

King’s subtle nod to the dangers of paedophilia shown through Pennywises affinity for torturing and murdering children, renders the novel a study of adults preying upon children. Unnervingly, Pennywise is not stopped by adults as he sweeps through Derry terrifying, torturing and molesting its child populace.

 

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left Tim Curry’s interpretation of Pennywise the Dancing Clown vs right Bill Skarsgard’s terrifying revamped clown

 

The monstrous “other” in Richard Matheson’s ‘I am Legend’

A post-apocalyptic world, filled with the undead, hunting down survivors, wiping out the last traces of humanity. Sounds like your everyday zombie-dystopian plot line, right?

Wrong…

Matheson’s 1954 novel ‘I am legend’ challenges common horror tropes of the ‘good’ hero fighting ‘bad monsters’. The protagonist Robert Neville is a sexually perverse, violent alcoholic who ruthlessly slaughters the undead in their sleep. While the vampires, the assumed antagonists, are depicted sympathetically; clinging to the habits of their old lives and gravitating towards their loved ones. This interesting plot line , setting up a morally ambiguous human fighting morally ambiguous vampires, questions readers preconceptions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

Matheson goes on to explore fear of ‘the other’, interrogating how an ‘us vs them’ mentality leads to the complete breakdown of humanity and sympathy in individuals.

‘The other’ 

“The other is an individual (or minority group) perceived by the group (population) as not belonging, as being different in some fundamental way”.

The conception of otherness was a dominant theme in the 1950s, with the rise of the civil rights movement, increased tensions towards emerging homosexuality and fears of the effects of the cold war, Americans were alert to emerging threatening groups. In this context Matheson’s questions of otherness reaches a new intensity when readers consider that the vampires could represent black Americans while Neville represents a distrustful violent white American.

In ‘I am legend’ the initial ‘other’ is the people effected by the vampiric mutation, their apparent destructiveness and cannibalism is perceived as monstrous to the uninfected humans. However, when readers are first introduced to Neville, by definition he is an ‘other’ within the new world. As the last man “alive”, Robert is intrinsically different to the rest of humanity who are all infected with the vampire mutation.

Each group, the vampires and Neville, perceive each other with suspicion and hatred, seeking out to destroy their opponents otherness. In his work on ‘Orientalism’ Edward Said discusses this societal violent reaction towards groups who are viewed as ‘others’ , using Islam as an example of a “threatening other with Muslims depicted as fanatical, violent, lustful and irrational”.

Image result for i am legend book folio illustrationsIn The London Folio’s society 2018 edition of ‘I am Legend’, Dave Mckean captures the moment of violent confrontation between the hyper-intelligent vampires and Neville as they face off.

This misrepresentation of an ‘other’ is a consistent theme in ‘I am Legend’; Neville dehumanises the vampires, using the females bodies to fulfil his twisted voyeuristic fantasies and brutally slaughtering crime-less vampires in their sleep. While the hyper-intelligent vampires see Neville as a ‘monster’ that needs to be executed for his despicable war crimes against their race. At the novels close, in a moment of anagnorisis, Neville acknowledges his own brutality and lack of humanity, realising that he has become “a black terror” that needs to be removed from society.

Matheson’s message of wrongfully labelling groups as others is still very relevant today, with issues surround fears of different races, genders, cultures and religions still effecting modern societies. Like Neville, we need to look to our own inadequacies before seeking out others to punish. After finishing ‘I am legend’ the last question readers are left with is ‘What is they didn’t punish each other for their differences?’

‘What if?’

 

 

 

Halloween Season: ‘Dracula’ and his Vampire Vixens

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) follows a group of Englishmen trying to destroy Count Dracula, a centuries old “undead” monster plotting to travel from Transylvania to England to prey upon innocent victims. After corrupting Lucy Westenra Dracula sets his sights on Mina, protagonist  Jonathan Harker’s brave and intelligent wife, who assists Van Helsing in tracking him down. Interrupted before feeding fully on Mina and unable to complete his act of vengeance, Dracula attempts to flee back to his castle, only to be captured and killed by Harker and his friends just before he escapes.

Stoker’s use of epistolary form; chronologically dating journal extracts, ship logs, letters and newspaper reports, heightens the tension of the novel; readers hear about the heinous monster from each character as they chart the carnage he causes. Very few scenes contain the present day Count owing to the fact that he is seen exclusively through other characters eyes, consequently heightening his mysterious and ambiguous position within the novel. Like all good monsters, the Count forces his victims to confront their deepest fears and examine the monstrosity of their own lives. Lucy, Mina, Jonathan and Renfield all fall under the vampires spell, which completely corrupts them.

Stoker’s Dracula seduces his victims, appealing to their dark sides and causing them to commit various atrocities.This seduction has been translated onto the big screen with director Francis Ford Coppola redefining Stoker’s original work in his 1992 movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Although Dracula has become a popular myth, inspiring films like House of Dracula (1945), Count Dracula (1970) and Dracula (1970), Coppola’s interpretation of the story remains the most well known, largely due to its title directly linking it to Stoker’s original work.  

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(Above) Gary Oldman plays Vlad the Impaler from the House of Draculesti, reborn as Dracula to search for his lost love who has been reincarnated as Mina Harker.

However, despite sharing the name of the popular novel, Coppola’s Dracula barely resembles its literary precursor. From Gary Oldman’s ridiculous tinted sunglasses, to the films unsubtle references to Dracula’s identity as Vlad the Impaler with Mina as his reincarnated wife, Stoker’s revolutionary monster novel is completely lost in translation. The films most disastrous error is it’s attempt to humanize Dracula, a figure that only interacts with characters to torture them in the novel. Mina’s bloody baptism, an act of brutal revenge, is transformed into a tragic seduction between Dracula and his lost love. Instead of fearing an unidentified emotionless killer, viewers are left seduced by his plight to reunite with his one true love.

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In the movie Mina (Winona Ryder) enjoys drinking from Dracula, the experience is sensual and full of love. Whereas in the novel Mina is terrified of Dracula and fights him off as he forces her to ingest his blood.

Creating a romantic narrative irrevocably changed key characters from the novel; Mina is transformed from an intelligent and disciplined young woman to a lovesick fool, while Lucy metamorphoses from a sweetly innocent girl to a seductive, vivacious woman. Disappointingly, Coppola dumbs down his female leads, editing out Mina’s pivotal role in hunting down Dracula and Lucy’s heroic fight against his compulsion to fit them into a predominantly masculine plot revolving around sex and violence. Stoker’s literary finesse, creating a novel that is made up of characters writings, debases into a narrative of blood, sex and tragic love, a formula that sets the precedent for most modern Vampire movies and novels follow (see Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Queen of the Damned, and True Blood etc).

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(Above) Dracula and Mina meeting for the first time at the theatre.

Inevitably, the movie’s focus on seduction results in the sexualisation of characters, transforming the Count from a monster to a lover, Lucy from a virgin to a floozy and Mina from a prude to a romantic. Its heroines are completely eroticised, which can be seen through Coppola’s inexplicable insertion of a scene where Lucy and Mina run around in see-through dresses, frolicking together and sharing passionate kisses. Rather than focusing on character nuance, viewers are encouraged to pay attention to suggestive clothing and raunchy lines, establishing sexuality as the central theme.    

Both Dracula’s forceful seduction of Mina and Lucy’s encounter with the wolfman demonstrate Coppola’s complete objectification of women. On first meeting an odd stranger, Mina, a normally cool and aloof character, falls into his arms as he forcefully pins her to a wall and threatens to bite her. In the novel, when threatened with the Count’s deadly bite, Mina struggles against him, fighting back against his monstrous intentions. This strength and common sense is erased from its digital successor, leaving a watered down, unfaithful Mina that resembles typical vampire consorts like Bella Swan, Elena Gilbert and Sookie Stackhouse.

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(Above) Lucy (Sadie Frost) wantonly giving herself to the wolfman.

This objectification of women is even more clear in Lucy’s demise, where she is shown gliding through the cemetery in a tight fitted red corset dress, swaying to erotic music as she lays herself out on an ancient crypt. Then when confronted with a fiendish wolfman Lucy spreads her legs and moans in apparent ecstasy, allowing the wolf to snoot between her legs before latching onto her exposed neck. In Stoker’s Dracula Lucy resists Dracula’s seduction; terrified of the darkness inside him and desperate to hold onto her purity for her fiance Arthur. Each time Dracula feeds on Lucy it is a cold predatory act, completely devoid of feelings which makes Coppola’s directorial choice to present it as a semi sex scene strange and uncomfortable.

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Coppola alters the relationship between Lucy and Mina, eroticising their friendship through scenes of the kissing in the rain.

To readers of Stoker’s masterpiece, Coppola’s cinematic rendition comes across as a little more than bizarre. By appealing to a modern audience, centralising a love story, and eroticising characters, Coppola has erased the horror of Dracula. His efforts to eroticise a completely non-sexual novel have rendered his film intermittently awkward and nonsensical. Ironically, in an age of increased gender equality, Coppola objectifies women; taking Stoker’s strong, independent heroines and turning them into whiny, love-obsessed, loose women. Most people remember these women, rather than their admirable literary predecessors, as Coppola’s romantic, sexy dark prince stalks modern minds. This Dracula is the precursor of Edward Cullen, the father of Angel, the patriarch of Bill Compton, while Stoker’s legendary monster remains buried within his words.

 

Halloween Season: Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’

For centuries black cats have been associated with the mystical. Thought to be representatives of bad luck, power and death, they have been loved, hated and feared from the beginning of civilisation.

Around 3100BC, two of the most sacred deities in Ancient Egypt were the felines Bastet and Sekhmet. Cats themselves were central to Egyptian households, not only believed to be living incarnations of the goddess Bastet, but also to keep poisonous snakes away and protect the domicile from vermin. Entire families would mourn the death of their cat, commemorating its passing by shaving off their eyebrows and mummifying the animal’s body.

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Pictured on the left is Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of the home, domesticity, women’s secrets, cats, fertility, and childbirth. On the right stands Sekhmet, one of the oldest Egyptian deities, depicted as a lioness to symbolise her position as a warrior goddess of Upper Egypt.

During the Medieval Period Europeans viewed cats with animosity, as influential  writers like William Caxton (1422-1491) and Walter Map (1140-1210) condemned them as “the Devil’s descendants”. By asserting that the devil takes “the black cat” as his form “before his devotees”, Map cemented the animals malignant reputation, forever linking it to witches and the dark arts. Fears continued to deepen, at their trial in 1307 the Knights Templars were accused of practising witchcraft with their familiars, who took the form of black cats at meetings. In 1484 the situation came to a head when Pope Innocent declared that the “cat was the devil’s favourite animal and idol of all witches”, which led to the mass persecution of cats during the witch trials.

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Above a medieval manuscript depicting a black cat hunting. Many linked cats to the devil through their predatory nature, comparing their slow hunt and torture of mice to that of the devil’s persecution of human souls in hell.

In Japanese culture the cat is seen as a symbol of good luck. The Maneki-Neko (the Beckoning Cat), a waving cat figurine, is used as a good luck talisman and is often displayed in shops and restaurants to bring prosperity to their owners. Many stories and folktales surround the origins of the Maneki’s. The most popular myth says that an owner of an impoverished shop took in a stray cat who, as a reward for the man’s charity, sat in front of the shop to beckon to customers. In contrast to European beliefs, the black Maneki-Neko cat is thought to ward off evil spirits and protect its owners homes.

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Above A variety of Maneki-Neko figurines. Each different colour has a specific meaning: White is happiness and purity, Gold wealth and prosperity, Red for love, Green is good health, Black wards off evil and Calico is a combination of all of these and considered the luckiest

Superstitions continue to surround black cats, a few popular beliefs are:

  • Dreaming about black cats means you will have good luck.
  • Seeing a black cat in your dream indicates you are fearful; unable to use you psychic abilities or intuition.
  • Funeral processions with a black cat forecast another family members death.
  • Seeing a black cat from behind is a bad omen. If a black cat walks towards you it brings good fortune, so if it walks away, it takes good luck with it.
  • If a black cat crosses your path while you’re driving, turn your hat around backward and mark an “X” on your windshield to prevent bad luck.

Unfortunately, as fears continue to run deep, black cats still face animosity in the US and some parts of the UK. Statistics show that dark cats are less likely to be adopted from shelters, more likely to suffer from abuse, and in greater danger on Halloween nights than their paler contemporaries.

Poe’s Black Cat (1843)

In The Black Cat, Poe capitalises on superstitions surrounding dark felines to create an eerie, unsettling atmosphere. The story follows an imprisoned madman who tells readers of his relationship with a “remarkably large and beautiful” black cat named Pluto. At the start of the novel ,the narrator gushes about how close he and Pluto were. But as the friendship sours the narrator lashes out, first maiming Pluto by cutting out his eye, then hanging him from a tree. From here, the narrator’s voice becomes a reflection of his guilt; he begins to see Pluto everywhere, even adopting another black cat who is also missing an eye. Readers are left unsure whether this new cat, who has a white gallows on his chest, actually exists or if he is a figment of the man’s imagination.

Pluto’s successor symbolises the narrator’s guilt, “leaving him no moment alone” as he tries to move on and forget about Pluto. Bizarrely, the cat perfectly resembles Pluto, making the narrator feel a constant “sense of shame”. Events climax when the narrator becomes “full of evil thoughts” and, in a mad rage, attempts to kill the cat. His wife tries to stop him, so he strikes her down, then calmly conceals her body in the basement wall.

Mysteriously, the cat then disappears along with the narrator’s guilt in a moment of catharsis which leaves his “future felicity as secured”. The next day policemen call to the house, completely deranging the narrator, who continuously taps the wall where he buried his wife in an act of utter self destruction. In a moment of horror, a cry is heard “at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman — a howl — a wailing shriek”. Readers are left on the edge of their seats, wondering if the narrator’s wife has returned from the dead to seek vengeance. But as the wall is torn down the avenger is revealed to be the cat, morbidly sitting atop the woman’s decaying corpse. Ironically, after spending hours hunting for the missing cat, the story ends with the narrator lamenting “I had walled the monster up within the tomb”.

The cats, which appear everytime the narrator commits despicable acts, can be viewed as a figures of guilt. Whether he is drinking, beating his wife, or abusing his animals, they bear silent witness to his sins. For example, when Pluto is absent, the narrator becomes completely detached from his humanity, sadistically delighting in causing pain to those close to him. However, as the second cat stalks the narrator he is a constant reminder of Pluto’s “agony and death”, marking a re-emergence of the narrator’s conscience.

Readers continue to dispute the meaning of Poe’s macabre story, suggesting that Pluto could  represents a witch, a child, or even a black slave .The surrealist, supernatural tone of the tale leaves it open to interpretation. By touching on themes of witchcraft, alcoholism, domestic abuse, religion and self, the narrative taps into our deepest fears. Poe subtly calls our own understanding of events into question, hinting the cat may be malevolent after all, when the wife describes it as a “witch in disguise”.  

 

Have a happy Halloween season and remember to keep your black cats inside!

 

For those interested here are some more myths and legends about black cats:

  • Sixteenth-century Italians believed that if a black cat jumped on the bed of an ill person, the person would soon die.
  • In Colonial America, Scottish immigrants believed that a black cat entering a wake was bad luck, and could indicated the death of a family member.
  • The Norse goddess Freyja drove a chariot pulled by a pair of black cats.
  • A Roman soldier killed a black cat in Egypt, and was killed by an angry mob of locals.
  • Appalachian folklore said that if you had a stye on the eyelid, rubbing the tail of a black cat on it would make the stye go away.
  • If you find a single white hair on your otherwise-black cat, it’s a good omen.
  • In England’s border countries and southern Scotland, a strange black cat on the front porch brings good fortune.

 

The Enchanted Garden

With the bursts of red

And the petals of blue,

Among the garden shed

She felt brand new.

 

The daffodils sung,

The daisies smiled.

New shoots sprung

Through the rocky guild.

 

The angel flowers swayed in glee.

The poppets commemorated soldiers  misery.

The bees buzzed their fertile paths

Replanting the flowers, so the beauty lasts.

 

As she walked past, she stopped to stare

At the enchanted garden planted there.