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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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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