If you guys are looking for something spooky to watch this Halloween, check out The Frankenstein Chronicles on Netflix.
Sean Bean stars as John Marlott, a London investigator tracking down the origin of a disturbing creation: a corpse that is actually an amalgamation of multiple children. Does it have something to do with the Anatomy Act that the Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, is trying to pass? Or with Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and theories of galvanism? The show has wonderful atmosphere and suspense. I really liked the twists in the first season, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes in the second season, which is now available.
The science of the show is pretty hand-wavey, but that’s forgivable given the show’s strengths. It does incorporate several real historical figures and events, including Peel, Shelley, and William Blake. It is set about ten years after the publication of Frankenstein, which was a great choice because not only can we see the impact of the novel on society, but it also gives the show a more steampunk vibes, being closer to the Victorian era than the Regency.
The show is clearly inspired by Frankenstein itself, and I think this interpretation is preferable to another straight adaptation of the novel. It gives a great perspective on the monster! When Marlott reads the novel in the show, it inspired me to finally read the classic story, which is very different than the popular conception of it.
Here are some Frankenstein Facts:
- This year is the 200th anniversary of its publication.
- Mary Shelley was only 18 when she conceived of the idea for the novel, after a suggestion by the poet Byron that he, Mary, and her future husband poet Percy Bysshe Shelley each write a ghost story as a kind of party game.
- It is an epistolary novel, written as a series of letters and journal entries.
- Its subtitle is “The Modern Prometheus,” after the Titan that helped create man, then gave them fire in defiance of Zeus (only to be sentenced to an eternity of solitary torment).
- It was ranked #43 on the Great American Read list.
- Popular conception of the story comes from the Universal Pictures 1930s series of movies starring Boris Karloff as the monster, as well as the later Hammer Films series of movies starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
- It is considered one of the progenitors of the science fiction genre.
As a novel, I found Frankenstein mildly underwhelming. I’m not sold on the framing narrative involving an Arctic explorer writing letters home to his sister, and the prose lacks the wit of my Regency favorite Jane Austen. However, as a forerunner to modern sci-fi, its importance cannot be overstated. At its heart, science fiction is not about spaceships and plagues, but about society. Frankenstein deals with scientific inquiry, or more specifically how far it should go. Just because we are capable of doing something, should it be done? Is it ever okay to “play God?”
In this way, the story is similar to another sci-fi favorite, Jurassic Park (#52 on the GAR list). Holly at Nut Free Nerd has a great comparison of the two stories as part of her Classic Couples series.