By Bernie Bell
I’ve been reading a lot of Isaac Asimov’s robot stories lately https://theorkneynews.scot/2020/05/03/i-discover-isaac-asimov/, and decided to take a break from them, and re-read what might be said to be the first modern story concerning ‘artificial life’ – Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein – or, the Modern Prometheus’. Written when Mary Shelley was only 20 years old, it’s an exceptional piece of work, for its time, and has continued to be an inspiring piece of work, though time, to today.
To my mind, it has much in common with robot stories. In some of Isaac Asimov’s tales, he has his characters refer to the ‘Frankenstein Complex’ when discussing the human fear and suspicion of robots or androids. Victor Frankenstein, having put together/assembled his Creature, doesn’t know how to deal with it, panics, and wants it gone.
Folk often think of the Creature as being Frankenstein – decades of horror films, with the ’monster’ – Frankenstein’s monster – as the main character, has produced this common misconception.
In the book, he is referred to as – creature, fiend, spectre, wretch, devil, thing, being, ogre, monster and dæmon – Victor Frankenstein’s personal daemon?
Is it entirely fair to damn him as a monster? He’s confused, wants to connect with what he encounters in the world and the people around him, but is rejected – first by his own creator – I won’t even start on the possible psychological/theological ramifications of that – cast out from Eden – then by everyone he encounters, except for a blind man – who doesn’t judge him by his physical appearance.
The ‘spark’ of life was re-ignited, but there is more to being a vital, living human, than just the spark of life. The spark is what gives us…life, but, as with the robots and androids, it isn’t what makes us human, isn’t what means that we live. Our lives, and what we make of them, is what produces our…life.
And the Creature, poor thing, doesn’t really stand a chance – doesn’t get the opportunity to live – a life.
I’m writing this, to recommend Mary Shelley’s original interpretation, understanding and presentation of the Creature, and his troubles.
It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again – which is more of a ‘monster’ – the Creature, or Victor Frankenstein with his craving to have power over life?
He selfishly lets Justine go to the gallows, rather than be judged for his own faults. In every way, his self-centredness knows no bounds.
In the last chapter of the book, Mary Shelley writes in a way which connects the two – Frankenstein and …………..his dæmon. In the Creature’s last speeches, he refers to himself in ways which very much link them – “A frightful selfishness hurried me on.” “I look at the hands which executed the deed.”
Walton, the ship’s Captain, says to the Creature – “You throw a torch into a pile of buildings; and when they are consumed you sit among the ruins and lament the fall. Hypocritical fiend!” And that’s exactly what Frankenstein did – and what he was.
Linking this to robot stories – in particular those of Isaac Asimov – many of the robots and androids are much ‘nicer’ than humans. They have all the capabilities of humans, but the Three Laws of Robotics …
First Law A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Second Law A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
Third Law A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
……ensure that they treat humans well, sometimes in ways which are akin to active, conscious kindness. The Three Laws also ensure that they cannot, and therefore don’t, harm humans – unlike their human counterparts.
Are they better people, than people?
The fact is, I was pleased enough to finish reading the book, as I was heartily tired of the company of Victor Frankenstein!
I had forgotten that he goes to Orkney to attempt to create a mate for his creature. His opinion of Orkney doesn’t endear him to me, either!
I can’t let this go, without a mention of Mel Brookes’ film ‘Young Frankenstein’ – or is it Fronkensteen?
A comedy, and a very funny , clever comedy, which does portray the Creature as a poor, confused…creature, with the brain of A B Normal – you’ll have to watch the film, to see what I’m referring to! Though, he does end up being more erudite and sophisticated than his creator.
I wonder what Mary Shelley would make of ‘Young Frankenstein’? I don’t know what kind of sense of humour she had, and it is very irreverent. Mel Brookes can’t resist a reference to a schwanzstucker – and neither can I!
Another thought – parents often ‘make’ their children what they are, then, how often do they resent what they become, or how they relate to their parents? In the episode of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, entitled ‘The Offspring’
Data was a much more mature person, and better parent, about his daughter becoming more advanced than he is, than many human parents would be in a similar situation.
We make, mould, produce something, then we can’t deal with what it becomes. The Internet, Facebook, Smartphone technology.
And Mary Shelley, aged 20, wrote of this, in 1818.