As Fall begins, the trees shed their leaves, the sun sets earlier each day, and spooky season is upon us, it is hard not to create something sinister out of the lengthening shadows and chill breezes. The mind plays tricks and imagines monsters, some created by man, others of a supernatural origin.
Welcome back to The Breadcrumb Trail, the Freeman/Lozier Library’s Media Advisory Blog. This month we will be exploring the two of our most beloved monsters in print and on the silver screen – Frankenstein and Dracula.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein explores the theme of nature and humanity’s place within the larger network of life. Filled with beautiful descriptions of the European glens and countryside as well as stark depictions of more rugged terrain, Shelley looks to contrast the benevolent and malevolent forces in nature. Caught in the middle is young Frankenstein, who becomes obsessed with eliminating nature’s cruelest act – death. In his efforts to use his intellect to overcome the laws of life he creates his creature, whom he calls a demon. Despite conquering the fact of death in his creation, Frankenstein’s creature still retains all the psychological trappings of humanity, especially the need for companionship, something that he realizes in unachievable due to his grotesque appearance. After asking Frankenstein to create a bride for him, a request which his creator refuses, the creature seeks revenge on Frankenstein’s family until he is hunted down in the Arctic wastes.
The novel contains many allusions to other works of hubris, most notably Paradise Lost and Faust. The former tells the story of Lucifer’s uprising in heaven and subsequent casting into hell for his effort to subvert his natural place in life. Faust gives the story of a scientist who turns to the black arts in order to receive all the world’s knowledge, but at the price of his soul. Similarly, Frankenstein’s fanatical mission to subvert the laws of nature comes to backfire on him.
While Frankenstein may be the product of science, Bram Stoker’s Dracula investigates one of the oldest monsters – the vampire – through the rigorous lens of logic. Despite being a purely supernatural creature, predating civilized mankind, he can be destroyed only through systematic methods involving wooden stakes, garlic, holy water, and all the well-known ways. But in the story, these methods are not widely known, and are esoteric superstitions practiced by few. Luckily there is the infamous Professor Van Helsing with his immense knowledge of science and the occult – which in this case amount to the same thing.
The novel is constructed of several characters’ diaries and letters, woven together to tell the story of Count Dracula as he seeks to expand his territory from the continent to England. The story begins with Jonathan Harker as he comes to know the Count in his homeland of Transylvania, where he has been hired to procure an estate in England. He soon comes to learn the horrifying truth about the mysterious Count who never seems to eat, sleep, or appear in the daylight. As the narrative follows him back to England, we read the words of his friends, including his fiancé Mina, her friend Lucy, and Lucy’s three suitors. They all become embroiled in the terrors of the Count as he stalks the women for sustenance and attempts to thwart the men’s plan to destroy him.
Both Frankenstein and Dracula’s tales have been adapted several times for the big screen. One of the most enduring portraits of Frankenstein comes from the 1931 adaptation starring Boris Karloff as the monster. This representation of the creature – slow, mute, and childlike – departs from the novel’s depiction of the monster where he is well-spoken, agile, and quite intelligent, if not a bit temperamental in his search for love. Missing from the book yet timelessly portrayed in the film is Frankenstein’s act of creation with its classic use of electricity and smoke, something the narrator of the novel feels we can do without. Despite all these departures from the novel, the film has made a lasting impression on the wider world with its noir blend of science and horror and its iconic monster that came to be more known than the character it was based on.
Adapting the classic film, and becoming a classic of its own, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein captures the gloomy mood of the 1931 version while parodying it for big laughs. Brooks[KW1] , known for his film spoofs, goes so far as to recreate scenes from the original, then adding levity and comic endings much like a true fan who appreciates the original material so much they can spot the best places to inject a joke.
Sticking closer to the original text while still filling in some missing pieces, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula is another classic adaptation of the well-known story. Following the original story with a star-studded cast, Coppola departs from the novel, giving Dracula a backstory that serves to endear him to the viewer. In the film Dracula is based on Vlad the Impaler, a real-life ruler of 15th century Romania. After a tragedy involving his wife while he is away in battle, Vlad seeks revenge by courting the powers of darkness and turning himself into a vampire. From here the story follows the novel closely as Harker and his circle of friends wage war against the evil yet mesmerizing Count. The film was noted for its realistic portrayal of the 19th century world, winning Oscars for best costume design and best makeup.
Frankenstein and Dracula are two of the world’s most notorious and emulated monsters, resulting in numerous film and fiction adaptations. Despite their difference in origins, they share a common humanity that endears them to viewers and readers, allowing us to see the humanity in them – and the monster in each of us.