Frankenstein

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Frankenstein Book Poster Image
Classic of scientist haunted by his creation still timely.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 6 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

While Mary Shelley's often overwrought prose doesn't stand the test of time so well, the issues she raises are at least as timely today as they were when she wrote the book. From its impassioned odes to Europe's beauty spots to its hymns to masters of study and scholarship, it offers a fair introduction to Western civilization as it existed at the beginning of the 19th century, and an opening for further study. Perhaps more important, it raises many questions about human nature, what causes people to behave as they do and leads to inexorably terrible consequences.

Positive Messages

No sooner has teen Victor Frankenstein animated his creation than he realizes he's made a terrible mistake, the dire consequences of which befall his loved ones for the rest of the book. Whereas few readers in real life are likely to commit his particular error of thinking it's a good idea to confer life on an inanimate being you've assembled from miscellaneous body parts, the larger caution to brilliant young innovators to consider the broader consequences of their inventions is all too timely.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Victor is surrounded by the most virtuous and noble of role models, including his parents and beloved "cousin" Elizabeth and good friend Henry, who are not only paragons themselves but never fail to come to his aid. Since he has been brought up surrounded by such values, he is all the more tortured by the horror he has unleashed upon them, and his inability to reveal it, and displays a degree of hand-wringing helplessness and spectacular denial that may seem strange to 21st century sensibilities. While we see many examples of people behaving nobly with regard to each other, including particularly touching examples seen through the monster's eyes, we also see the limits of that nobility -- no human is able to see past the monster's physical ugliness to the inner beauty he has managed to cultivate, even when he performs noble deeds, and all who see him flee or treat him violently.

Violence

There are of lots of dead bodies and plenty of dread and foreboding, but no gore. All the monster's victims are strangled. But the subject matter is unavoidably horrific. Victor acknowledges torturing animals in the course of his research and building his creation from corpses. Rejected by his creator and other humans, the monster turns to killing innocent people simply because Victor loves them. There is also violence to innocent people at the hands of the justice system.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

At one point in his troubles, Victor mentions that he is taking laudanum in hopes of being able to sleep.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the 1818 novel that launched dozens of Hollywood horror movies bears little resemblance to any of them, but is quite creepy enough, flowery prose and all, and, historically speaking, went a long way toward inspiring a genre in which things go very badly for many reels. It's also a mainstay of high school honors literature classes and a good intro to both Gothic literature and science fiction. Its themes of delving into the dark arts will have allure for the Twilight set, while the science project run amok (and the arrogance of its creators) is a subject that remains all too timely. Bigotry alert: One of the subplots involves noble Christian characters who risk all to save a Muslim friend from certain death, and once safe he betrays them to an evil fate.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 13 year old Written byTom Y. June 9, 2018

Nothing Compares

The following saying popped into my head this morning: a picture is worth a thousand words. Later, in my meditation, this idea came to me: A picture may be wort... Continue reading
Adult Written byChris B. February 3, 2018

Don't judge a book by it's cover

The classic tale of an egomaniacal creator and a misunderstood offspring. Just as relevant today as 200 years ago.
Kid, 9 years old October 26, 2011

csm is wrong

for 4 year olds if they can read
Teen, 15 years old Written byxaltrockgirlx February 12, 2012

Distracting circumlocutory language

We had to read this book for my Pre-AP English 10 class. The books that we read before (Fahrenheit 451, 1984) I had really enjoyed, so I was going into this bo... Continue reading

What's the story?

Rescued from an ice floe near the North Pole, a dying Victor Frankenstein tells a British explorer a remarkable tale of his blighted life: After an idyllic childhood as the eldest son of a wealthy Swiss family, he's sent to Ingolstadt to pursue his university studies, where his brilliance and thirst for knowledge soon become apparent. All his skill and energy are soon devoted to his obsessive quest to create life and bestow it on an inanimate being, which he constructs from multiple corpses after many experiments that horrify even him. When he succeeds in animating his creature, he is appalled by what he's done and hides from him; the creature disappears, and only gradually does it become apparent that in creating this being and then rejecting him, Frankenstein has brought about the doom of all those who are dear to him.

Is it any good?

From the hindsight of 200 years, there's much to mock in this book, and the prose can be a slog by today's standards. But the story and its philosophical issues are no less compelling today than they were when Mary Shelley wrote FRANKENSTEIN, as evidenced by the fact that they recur in so many books, movies, and TV plots to this day.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Victor as the veritable poster child of the driven, arrogant genius with no thought for the consequences of his grand vision. What similar characters do you see in the world around you? How might he have chosen a wiser path?

  • One of the book's implicit what-ifs is what would have happened if a single human who saw the monster had been able to see past his physical ugliness to his inner nature; his conversation with the blind man is arguably the book's most poignant moment. Are people doomed to be this prejudiced, and thus doomed to have the victims of their prejudice act out against them?

  • Mary Shelley, who wrote the book during an idyllic sojourn with the bad boys of Romantic literature, Lord Byron and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, is a subject of interest (and scandal) herself, which may make her interesting to teens. How about learning more about her at the library or online?

  • This story has launched many versions and sequels. What would yours be?

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