There are probably more films of this sad and frightening story than of any other story in the world. Why do so many people like it? Is it because Frankenstein’s monster is something we all know, something from our worst dreams?
It is an old story, and a new story – ’old’ because it was written more than 180 years ago; ’new’ because Frankenstein’s problem is the same problem that scientists have today. Science gives us many wonderful discoveries – machines, computers, weapons – but how do we use these things? Will they give us a better life, or will they destroy us in the end?
Victor Frankenstein creates a new man, bigger and stronger than any other man – a huge and frightening monster. But even monsters need love, and when his creator turns away from him, the monster begins to destroy everything that Frankenstein loves …
’Captain! Something is moving on the ice. Look over there!’
The sailor stood at the top of the mast, high above the Captain. His hand pointed away from the ship, across the miles of ice that covered the sea.
The Captain looked to the north, where the sailor was pointing. He saw something coming fast towards the ship across the ice. He put his telescope to his eye, and through it he could see the shapes of ten dogs pulling a sledge over the ice. He could also see the driver of the sledge – a huge figure, much bigger than a man.
The sledge came nearer and nearer to the sea. Soon it was only a quarter of a mile from the ship. No one needed a telescope now to see the huge figure of the driver.
Suddenly the sledge went behind a mountain of ice and disappeared. At that moment another sledge appeared. It, too, was moving fast, and was clearly chasing the first sledge. This driver was a smaller figure, more like an ordinary man. Faster and faster the dogs ran; then the second sledge also disappeared behind the mountain of ice.
Two hours passed. The sledges did not appear again. Nothing moved on the ice. Soon night came, and in the night there was a storm. In the morning, the sailors saw that great pieces of ice were floating round the ship. Suddenly the sailor on the mast shouted again.
’Captain, I can see a man on the ice.’
The sailor was pointing to a piece of ice that was floating near the ship. A man was sitting on the ice, and near him was a broken sledge. The man was nearly dead from cold and could not walk. The sailors carried him carefully on to the ship, and took him to the Captain, who said:
’Welcome to my ship. I am the Captain and my name is Robert Walton.’
’Thank you, Captain Walton,’ the man said. ’My name is Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein.’
Then he fainted and said no more.
Two days passed before the man was strong enough to talk and then the Captain asked him to tell his story.
’I am trying to catch someone,’ said Frankenstein. ’That is why I have come so far north on the ice.’
’We saw you following someone,’ the Captain said. ’He was huge, much bigger than a man. We saw his sledge just in front of you on the night before the storm.’
’I am pleased you all saw that huge figure,’ Frankenstein said. ’Perhaps that will help you to believe my story.’
During the days, while the Captain worked on the ship, Frankenstein wrote down his story, and each evening he read what he had written to the Captain.
Here is Victor Frankenstein’s story.
I was born in Switzerland, in the town of Geneva. My parents loved each other very much, and I learnt from the example of their love. I learnt that to love and to be patient are the most important things in the world.
My mother hoped to have a daughter after I was born, but for five years I was the only child. And then my mother found a sister for me. She was helping a family in which there were five children. They were very poor, and the children were thin and hungry. One of the children was a little girl, with golden hair and blue eyes. Her name was Elizabeth. My mother took the little girl into our family, and Elizabeth became the daughter that my mother had always wanted. As I grew older, my love for Elizabeth became stronger all the time.
Later my mother had two other sons, Ernest and William. A young woman called Justine came to live in the house to help my mother with the children. We loved her as much as she loved us.
The years passed happily, and we had everything that we needed. At school I met another very fine person. His name was Henry Clerval, and he was very clever. My family also liked him very much, so he was a welcome visitor to our house.
I studied very hard at school. I wanted to know the secrets of life, and, most of all, I wanted to know how to make living things. I read all the books that I could find. One day, something happened that added a new idea to the ideas that I already had. I was fifteen at the time, and we were on holiday in the mountains. There was a wild storm, and with it came the most frightening thunder and lightning that I have ever seen in my life. About twenty metres in front of our house was a great tree. Suddenly a huge fork of lightning hit the tree. After a few seconds, there was nothing left of it except a black piece of wood two metres high. The lightning had destroyed it.
I saw how strong electricity was. I began to read all the books that I could find about electricity and its terrible power.
For seventeen years my life was very happy. Then the first sad thing happened. My mother became very ill, and soon she knew that she was dying. Just before she died, she asked Elizabeth and me to go to her room. She held our hands and said:
’My children, I am very happy because you love each other, and because one day you will get married. Everyone in the family loves you, Elizabeth. Will you take my place in the family, my dear? I can die happy if you will look after them when I have gone.’
My mother died, and we were very sad, because we loved her dearly. Elizabeth was brave and helped us; her sweet smile gave us some happiness in the unhappy days after my mother’s death.
The time came for me to go to university. I did not want to leave my sad family, but we all knew that I should go. It was hard to leave, too, because the parents of my good friend Henry Clerval would not let him go to university with me. And so I had to go alone.
On my first day at the university I met my teacher, Professor Waldman, who was one of the greatest scientists in the world. He gave a wonderful talk to all the students who were starting at the university. He ended his talk by saying: ’Some of you will become the great scientists of tomorrow. You must study hard and discover everything that you can. That is why God made you intelligent – to help other people.’
After the professor’s talk, I thought very carefully. I remembered the storm when I was fifteen. I remembered how the lightning had destroyed the tree. I wanted to use electricity to help people, and I wanted to discover the secrets of life. I decided to work on these two things. I did not know then that my work would destroy me and the people that I loved.
I started work the next day. I worked very hard and soon Professor Waldman and I realized that I could learn to be a very good scientist.
The professor helped me very much, and other important scientists who were his friends helped me, too. I was interested in my work and I did not take one day’s holiday during the next two years. I did not go home, and my letters to my family were very short.
After two years I had discovered many things and I built a scientific machine that was better than anything in the university. My machine would help me answer the most important question of all. How does life begin? Is it possible to put life into dead things? To answer these questions about life I had to learn first about death. I had to watch bodies from the moment when they died and the warm life left them. In the hospital and in the university, I watched the dying and the dead. Day after day, month after month, I followed death. It was a dark and terrible time.
Then one day, the answer came to me. Suddenly I was sure that I knew the secret of life. I knew that I could put life into a body that was not alive.
I worked harder and harder now. I slept for only a short time each night, and I did not eat much food. I wrote to my family less often. But they loved me and did not stop writing to me. They said they understood how busy I was. They did not want me to stop work to write or to see them. They would wait until I had more time. They hoped to see me very soon.
The professors realized that I was doing very important work, and so they gave me my own laboratory. There was a small flat above the laboratory, where I lived, and sometimes I stayed inside the building for a week and did not go out.
Above the laboratory I built a very tall mast. It was 150 metres high, and higher than the tallest building in the city. The mast could catch lightning and could send the electricity down to my machine in the laboratory. I had never forgotten the lightning that had destroyed the tree. There had been so much power in the electricity of that lightning. I believed I could use that electricity to give life to things that were dead.
I will say no more than that. The secret of my machine must die with me. I was a very clever scientist, but I did not realize then what a terrible mistake I was making.
In my laboratory I made a body. I bought or stole all the pieces of human body that I needed, and slowly and carefully, I put them all together.
I did not let anybody enter my laboratory or my flat while I was doing this awful work. I was afraid to tell anybody my terrible secret.
I had wanted to make a beautiful man, but the face of the creature was horrible. Its skin was thin and yellow, and its eyes were as yellow as its skin. Its long black hair and white teeth were almost beautiful, but the rest of the face was very ugly.
Its legs and arms were the right shape, but they were huge. I had to use big pieces because it was too difficult to join small pieces together. My creature was two and a half metres tall.
For a year I had worked to make this creature, but now it looked terrible and frightening. I almost decided to destroy it. But I could not. I had to know if I could put life into it.
I joined the body to the wires from my machine. More wires joined the machine to the mast. I was sure that my machine could use electricity from lightning to give life to the body. I watched and waited. Two days later I saw dark clouds in the sky, and I knew that a storm was coming. At about one o’clock in the morning the lightning came. My mast began to do its work immediately, and the electricity from the lightning travelled down the mast to my machine. Would the machine work?
At first nothing happened. But after a few minutes I saw the creature’s body begin to move. Slowly, terribly, the body came alive. Its arms and legs began to move, and slowly it sat up.
The dead body had been an ugly thing, but alive, it was much more horrible. Suddenly I wanted to escape from it. I ran out of the laboratory, and locked the door. I was filled with fear at what I had done.
For hours I walked up and down in my flat. At last I lay down on my bed, and fell asleep. But my sleep was full of terrible dreams, and I woke up suddenly. The horrible thing that I had created was standing by my bed. Its yellow eyes were looking at me; its mouth opened and it made strange sounds at me. On its yellow face there was an awful smile. One of its huge hands reached towards me …
Before it could touch me, I jumped off the bed and ran downstairs into the garden. I stayed there all night, but I could not think clearly. I was afraid. And when morning came, I went out into the town and began to walk about.
I did not notice where I was walking, but soon I came to the station. A train from Geneva had just arrived, and the passengers were leaving the station. One of them ran towards me when he saw me. It was my dear friend Henry Clerval.
He was very pleased to see me. He took my hand and shook it warmly.
’My dear Victor!’ he said. ’What a lucky chance that you are here at the station. Your father, and Elizabeth and the others, are very worried about you, because you have not visited them for a long time. They asked me to make sure that you are well. And I have very good news. My father has agreed to let me study at the university, so we shall be able to spend a lot of time together.’
I was very happy to hear this news, and for a moment I forgot my fears. I took Henry back to my flat and asked him to wait outside while I went in to look. I was afraid that the creature was still there. But it had disappeared. At that time I did not think of other people, and what the creature could do to them. I took Henry into the flat and cooked a meal for us. But Henry noticed how thin I was, and that I was laughing too much and could not sit still.
Suddenly he said: ’My dear Victor, what is the matter with you? Are you ill? Has something awful happened?’
’Don’t ask me that,’ I cried. I put my hands over my eyes. I thought I could see the horrible creature there in front of me. I pointed wildly across the room, and shouted: ’He can tell you. Save me! Save me!’ I tried to fight the creature, but there was nothing there. Then I fainted and fell to the floor.
Poor Henry! I do not know what he thought. He called a doctor and they put me to bed. I was very ill for two months, and Henry stayed and looked after me. His loving care saved me from death.
I wanted to go home and see my family as soon as possible. When I was well enough, I packed my clothes and books. All my luggage was ready, and I was feeling very happy when the postman arrived with some letters. One of the letters ended my short time of happiness.
The letter was from my father in Geneva, and this is what he wrote:
My dear Victor,
I want you to know before you arrive home that an awful thing has happened. Your dear youngest brother, William, is dead. He was murdered. It happened last Thursday evening when Elizabeth and I and your two brothers, Ernest and William, went for a walk outside the city. William and Ernest were playing. William had hidden from Ernest, and Ernest asked Elizabeth and me to help find William. We all began to search for him, but we couldn’t find him. We searched all night. At five in the morning I found him. He was lying on the grass, white and still. I could see the marks of fingers on his neck – the murderer had strangled him.
Elizabeth had let him wear a gold chain of hers round his neck. On the chain was a very small picture of your mother. We all think that someone murdered William to steal the gold chain. Poor Elizabeth is terribly unhappy at William’s death. She thinks he died because she let him wear the chain. Hurry home, my dear Victor. You are the only one who can help Elizabeth, and we all need you.With all our love,Your Father
Henry helped me to catch the train. The journey seemed very long, and it was late at night before the train reached Geneva. I decided to spend the night in a village outside the town and go home early in the morning. I wanted to see the place where William had died.
As I started my walk, a storm broke and lightning lit the sky. The police had put posts round the place where the murderer had strangled William, so I found it easily. I cried sadly as I stood there. My poor brother had been a kind and happy boy, and we had all loved him.
Again the lightning lit the sky, and I saw a huge figure standing in the rain. When I saw it, I knew at once what it was. It was the creature that I had made.
What was he doing there? But although I asked myself the question, I knew the answer. He had murdered my brother. I was sure that I was right.
I decided to try and catch him. But as I moved, he ran towards the mountains. He ran much faster than any man. He climbed the mountain easily, reached the top, and disappeared.
I stood there in the dark and the rain, and knew that I had created a monster. And he had murdered my brother.
At first I decided to tell the police my story. But would they believe me? I had been very ill. When the police learnt about my illness, they would think the monster was just one of my bad dreams. I decided that I could not tell anybody.
I went home to my family and they were very pleased to see me. Then they told me that the police had found the murderer. Perhaps you will think that this was good news, but I have not told you who the police had arrested.
As I went into the house, I noticed that one person did not come to meet me. It was Justine, the young woman who looked after the children and who was like a sister to us. And it was Justine that the police had arrested.
A few days after the murder, the police had searched the house and had found the gold chain in Justine’s coat pocket. Everyone in the family knew that Justine had not murdered William. I knew who the murderer was, but I could not tell anyone. We were sure that Justine would be free after the trial, because nobody could believe that she was a murderer. But we were wrong.
The trial did not go well for Justine. There were a number of strange facts that were difficult to explain, and the judge decided that she was the murderer. The punishment for murder was death. We argued and cried. We said she could not murder anyone. But nothing could change the judge’s order. So I got up early and went to the judge’s house and told him about the monster. He did not believe me. He thought I was lying in order to save Justine’s life.
In the prison Justine waited quietly for death. We spent many hours with her, and she spoke calmly and kindly to us. She was happy because we believed that she had not killed William. And she was almost looking forward to death, because then she would be with William and our dear mother in a place of peace.
Her love and gentleness added to my great unhappiness. I knew she was going to die because of me. I knew my brother had died because of me. I had brought nothing but sadness and misery to my family.
I took a boat and went out on Lake Geneva. Why didn’t I end my life then? Two things stopped me. My father was old and another death would probably kill him. And I had to stay alive – to keep my family safe from the monster.
Fear for my family and hate for my monster were with me day and night. I became ill again, and Elizabeth’s love could not help me. I needed to escape for a while – to leave my unhappiness behind me. So I went to walk alone in the Alps. I hoped the wild beauty of the mountains would help me.