The learned monster

Written on 18 Dec, 2023

I knew the story of Frankenstein and his monster. I mean everyone knows the story, right? Mad scientist builds a creature which turns against him, stuff happens, and the ending involves angry villagers with pitchforks.

Of course, I’d never read Frankenstein. Thanks to Boris Karloff it wasn’t necessary to read it; everything I needed to know was there on screen.

Then, I discovered the BBC Radio version and I decided it was probably time I listened to the original story.

Mary Shelley was 19 when she invented science fiction. Not only did she create a new genre with Frankenstein, she did so with a fluid richness of language. Her monster is an learned creature who speaks with eloquent language. Far removed from the mono-syllabic stereotype often presented.

The radio version is broken into short (10 - 20 minute episodes) with a much longer (50 minute) final chapter. I listened at night, headphones on and lights off. The aural landscape pulling me into Victor Frankenstein’s world deeper than any screen version could.

If the written word allows the reader to bring their own imagination to the story, a spoken work bring in different sensibilities. Adding to the imagination rather than subtracting from it.

Reading Frankenstein should be the first choice, this radio version is a close second, and the many film versions of the creature follow a far third behind.