catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 15 :: 2013.07.19 — 2013.09.05


Humbled by Frankenstein

Everyone knows the story of Frankenstein. The setting is a remote castle in the Balkan Mountains. The fortress is constantly shrouded by storm clouds charged with lightning poised to strike the lifeless body of Frankenstein. The Quasimodo-esque Igor is there. The doctor’s eyes are protected by goggles and his fingers caress the lever that will call forth the bolt of life from the blackness above.

If you’ve read the book, you know that this is utter nonsense. For one thing, Victor Frankenstein is the doctor, not the Monster.

The first time I picked up this gothic horror story was in college. I loved hockey. I loathed reading. In an attempt to keep a reading assignment short, I chose Frankenstein as a project. It is two hundred pages long. Though that appeared to be a literature mountain at the time, it was nothing compared with Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. I would give it a quick read, find sources for the research portion and have plenty of time to practice hockey.

I did not realize then that I was on a precipice. I was lazily floating through life and in my hands was a purposeful current that would pull me from the person I was to the person I am today: an aspiring writer.

I remember it well. I cracked the spine, skipping the introduction and preface to find chapter one. It began with a letter addressed to a Mrs. Saville who lived in England. It was from her brother Robert Walton in Saint Petersburg, Russia. For a moment, I thought I had the wrong book. But I read on.

Robert Walton is a man of great aspirations. In his letter he tells of his dream to sail to the North Pole. He describes it as a place of calm seas, unending light, as the sun never sets, and the closest thing to heaven on earth. He battles gales and icebergs and fog until his vessel is surrounded by ice on all sides. While Robert worries that his boat and dreams will be crushed, he spies an abnormally large man on a sledge racing atop the ice. Robert is intrigued but exhausted from the frigid battle and decides to get some rest. He wakes to find the ice melting and his shipmates talking with another sled driving individual, this one of normal human stature, floating on an iceberg next to their ship. They pull him aboard. His name is Victor Frankenstein.

I couldn’t put the book down, not only because it was a thrilling read, but because I could not believe I was so wrong about it. I thought I knew this story, or at least the general idea of it. As I kept reading, I realized that Robert Walton and Dr. Victor Frankenstein were one and the same. They reside on the spectrum of life aspirations, but on opposite ends. It is because of this that Victor decides to tell his tale of his feverish desire to create life and the mess it makes of him and the Monster. Victor hopes that in telling his tale, Robert will see reason and for the sake of himself and his shipmates that he will turn back.

I judged this book by its cover. I did not expect to find a work of fiction that discusses aspiration, loneliness, companionship and acceptance in such detail. I did not expect to find anything but a quick end to a paper. I was humbled by my ignorance and inspired by the story. After reading I discovered my own life giving bolt: writing fiction.

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