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Unpacking the "Boo"
March 20, 2012 12:43 PM   Subscribe

(Monsters) do so best when they believe in themselves. Author and academic China Miéville discusses prose style, weird fiction and the pratfalls of imbuing monsters with "meaning."

(Mr. Miéville, previously)
posted by joechip (64 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite

 
[pitfalls.]
posted by clockzero at 12:54 PM on March 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Miéville agrees with me about Frankenstein. This is wonderful.

(My argument: Why is creating life such a transgression against nature? Millions of people do it every single day! Frankenstein's flaw was that he was an unfit father and didn't fulfill his obligations by giving the creature a nurturing upbringing.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:55 PM on March 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah, that comment about Frankenstein was so great. It's not like Frankenstein sinned by dabbling in God's domain, it's that he sinned by failing to engage in humanity. Well played, Mr. Miéville!
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:58 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is wonderful. Thanks, joechip.
posted by clockzero at 1:00 PM on March 20, 2012


The Frankenstein comment:

It’s anecdotal, but I regularly see Frankenstein’s monster described as a warning against scientific hubris, an alarum about Tampering With Things That Should Be Left Alone™. This I think is quite wrong: I think it is a story about what happens when one fails the (still at the time of writing) radical enlightenment by failing to take social responsibility for one’s actions and interventions. If it’s a warning, it’s a warning about turning one’s back, out of cowardice, on what one creates, not about creating it in the first place.


Interesting interpretation. I think it's a bit of both. "Informed creation is a good idea, but nothing is ever perfect and you have to accept it." Or something like that.
posted by quincunx at 1:02 PM on March 20, 2012


...which does NOT explain why mindless zombies are so popular right now (at least on TV where Walking Dead just set a cable-channel ratings record in the US). But then, the only zombie-based books I can recall are the original Walking Dead comics, so maybe their appeal is limited to Visual Media where you can get the visceral thrill of killing and tearing to pieces people who are not really people.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:05 PM on March 20, 2012


Frankenstein himself thought it was a transgression against nature, isn't that why he destroyed his work on the mate for his monster? IIRC, he imagines the horror of the monsters reproducing as a plague upon the earth, or somesuch. I dunno, it's been a few years.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:05 PM on March 20, 2012


Now we just need him to explain why the ending of ME3 sucks.
posted by mek at 1:08 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


*imagines black and white silent comedy of monster meaning imbuement pratfalls*
posted by memebake at 1:08 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


RE: Frankenstein I think his interpretation is dead on, from what I remember of the types of criticism/discussion in my undergrad Romanticism courses, the one thing most of us agreed upon was that Frankenstein creates and yet does not take responsibility. Once he realizes what he's done, he's horrified by his actions, by his lack of forethought.
posted by Fizz at 1:09 PM on March 20, 2012


You're right, shakespeherian, but Frankenstein was a fool.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:10 PM on March 20, 2012


Frankenstein himself thought it was a transgression against nature

Yeah, but he maybe shouldn't be taken as the final moral authority, considering that he's completely unreliable and confused as a character. I do think it's wrong to entirely write off the "transgression against nature" interpretation, though. It's also called "The Modern Prometheus" after all.
posted by quincunx at 1:11 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Frankenstein's flaw was that he was an unfit father and didn't fulfill his obligations by giving the creature a nurturing upbringing

Frankenstein was clearly bipolar. He created the monster in mania, and immediately crashed into a severe depression during which he was unable to even care for himself (his friend nursed him for weeks or months), let alone deal with the Creature's needs. Oh, good grief. This is the first time I've noticed that of course "creature" is that which was created.
posted by Zed at 1:13 PM on March 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh no, I'm certainly not saying Frankenstein is right about anything he does, ever. I mean, the nicest chap in the whole book is the monster. A plague of them on the earth would be kind of neat.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:13 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sitting here feeling unreasonably proud that I got Miéville to at least touch on some of these themes when I interviewed him some years ago, yes it was a high point of my life, thanks for asking.
posted by pts at 1:14 PM on March 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I just finished embassytown. At first I was trying to figure out what the monsters 'meant' and felt quite clever when I thought I had it. Then I stopped enjoying the book. Finally I just stopped trying and really enjoyed the monsters for what they are.

I was moving in the complete opposite direction than the monsters were, and I loved being tricked like that. Well done China.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 1:14 PM on March 20, 2012


oh dang i need to read this as soon as I have time! Thanks for posting :)
posted by rebent at 1:18 PM on March 20, 2012


Dang Malapropism Monster got me again.
posted by joechip at 1:20 PM on March 20, 2012


I feel the same way about Frankenstein's Monster... though human beings do tend to show indifference and/or cruelty toward those who are "different", so maybe Frankenstein's flaw is a form of commentary on our transgressions toward nature. I can't help but imagine that we'll do exactly this to any sentient or sapient beings we manage to create, just as we routinely do it to all the other creatures in the world which aren't "us".

We have already proved ourselves to be a race of stunningly poor "fathers". Maybe we just shouldn't have another kid -- not because of God or Nature or the Impossibility of Perfection, but because of us.
posted by vorfeed at 1:22 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Go too far! Play god! Etc!

It didn't get the props it should have, but Splice was an interesting modern take on the whole responsibilities-of-creating-life subgenre.
posted by Artw at 1:30 PM on March 20, 2012


For what it's worth, my favorite Vampire is Klaus Kinski as Dracula in Nosferaru the Vampyre. His interactions with Harker are great -- he is clearly desperate for human contact, but, since all humans are food, he's torn between eating Harker and talking to him, and the later is frustrating, because he can't really think of anything to say -- it has been centuries since he had a conversation. Kinski's Dracula is terrifying (in a physical and metaphysical sense), creepy (in a "that guy on the bus" sense), and deeply pathetic. It's a good example of a monster who is no longer comfortable with being a monster but unable to be anything else.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:40 PM on March 20, 2012 [19 favorites]


Not that I have anything against Sexy Draculas, but they seem to have driven out the properly creepy Draculas in the public imagination and that's a great shame. It's a parasitic species that sees you as food - that SHOULD be creepy.
posted by Artw at 1:42 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I liked Peter Watts' take on vampires in Blindsight--vampires as sociopathic inhuman predators that prey on humans by being really good (better than us!) at mimicking humans without necessarily even comprehending anything they do. It helped that the book sets up the only named vampire as a Monster Not to be Trusted, then gleefully runs with his character in the opposite direction without sacrificing any of his weirdity/creepitude.

This interview was much more thoughtful and interesting than I expected, also. Mieville clearly spends time thinking about the Weird, and I like that.
posted by byanyothername at 1:48 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also Toby Litt gets a shout out, and he's a fellow Bedfordshire lad so I'm always glad to see that...
posted by Artw at 1:53 PM on March 20, 2012


GenjiandProust, that's a great take on Kinski's Nosferatu! The first dinner scene with Harker is so weirdly funny/creepy/awful, it's like the worst date ever.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:59 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Vilém Flusser’s Vampyroteuthis infernalis had me laughing at the theoretical chutzpah and utterly questionable theoretical claims pegged on the teuthic heuristic at times

I do that all the goddam time.

Mieville is the sort of author I should like... but Perdido St Station filled me with such vituperative rage I was obliged to mutilate it with pinking shears and hurl it into the trash.

Is there any point trying his other works? Or is PSS typical?
posted by Sebmojo at 2:09 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was pretty astonished at how much he managed to pare down the prose on The City and the City. On the other hand, I really like his grotesquely baroque stuff as well, so maybe you should not trust me on this.
posted by Artw at 2:11 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't read Frankenstein since high school, where it was framed (IIRC) as a clash between the romantic ideals of progress and creation versus the decidedly non-romantic truths of industrialization. I like the interpretation here (and whoever said that a novel can't have more than one theme?) but if it's accurate it is a pretty stinging rebuke against Percy Bysshe Shelley, who left his pregnant wife to be with Mary Shelley.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:12 PM on March 20, 2012


Is there any point trying his other works? Or is PSS typical?

I thought The Scar was astonishing when I read it back in the day... but I could not finish Iron Council and thought The City & the City was a terrible execution of an interesting idea (also tried re-reading Pedido and just could not get back into it, after it blew me away first time around). I think I've kinda fell out of love.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:28 PM on March 20, 2012


The first dinner scene with Harker is so weirdly funny/creepy/awful, it's like the worst date ever.

It is! Actually, that is a great reading as well, that Dracula is a socially awkward guy out on a date with someone with whom he really really wants... something. Maybe sex, maybe a relationship, but he has no clear idea what, and he certainly doesn't understand that liking the date as a person is part of the process (or attractive in its own right). Inept, creepy, awful, yet weirdly sympathetic -- because this thing that he's got (immortality, privilege, whatever) is in the way. In the end, getting burned away by the sun is the only "good" ending the nosferatu gets -- at least that way he's not endlessly longing for something that he is just going to screw up....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:28 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


1. Quoting myself squeeing RE Miéville elsewhere lately: Sometimes it's really hard for me to express my love for China Miéville by describing in critical terms the quality and thoughtfulness of his writing, and NOT by describing my massive, hormonal crush on his brain (and arms).


2. If a “minimalist” writer describes a table, and a metaphor-ridden adjective-heavy weird fictioneer describes a table, they are very different, but the former is in absolutely no way closer to the material reality than the latter. Both of them are radically different from that reality. They’re just words.

oh man I love this.

So the thing I love about China Miéville that I think is emblematic of Weird Fiction is that he writes readable, straightforward narratives that are still impossible to summarize without sounding totally nuts. Embassytown is the worst to describe in this regard, and it is also my favorite book for that reason, because it is about the failure of language to encompass reality. It's a human/alien First-ish Contact culture clash story that is really a story of addiction told as survival horror, that is really about the fundamental inability of language to do what it is fundamentally meant to do: encompass and transfer the neuron-signal-thoughts from one squishy sentient brain trapped in flesh to the outside world and on to other flesh-bound brains.

Some of the people reading that description think "That sounds AWESOME," and some people think "That sounds ON ACID," and I have still not accurately described the book anyway. I FAIL LANGUAGE; LANGUAGE FAILS HUMANITY.

And yet humans still keep using language, and that's beautiful. Because where language breaks down, that space between signifier and signified, is the space where poetry happens. It's what the monsters in Embassytown become violently addicted to, it's the space where simile and metaphor and je ne sais pas are born, not to bridge the gap but explore it. And that gives us fiction and narrative and song and neologisms, and those are things humans are just as addicted to.

That's what I think about in the interview when Miéville talks about giving overused monsters alone-time to recuperate: that gap-space has been filled with so many words, "These are the characteristics of the monster; here are things the monster symbolizes," that it seems like that space doesn't even exist, "The monster is this," full stop, no more. And you can't have poetry or monsters that way, because to sustain either you've got to have that element of WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN: Here is something so awe-inspiring/terrifying/incomprehensible/amazing that I only have language to describe it imperfectly around the edges with literary synesthesia and flailing hand gestures, and hope you can fill in the blanks with the dark spaces in your own head.


3. I want a picture blog-analogue to Could They Beat Up China Miéville? called "Would They Be Hot Making Out With China Miéville?", and the answer in every entry would be: "Yes. All of them. Everyone. Yes they would."
posted by nicebookrack at 2:33 PM on March 20, 2012 [18 favorites]


Is there any point trying his other works? Or is PSS typical?

Mieville's main fault is his self-indulgence. He can't resist putting in Cool Stuff, the fault of PSS, or forcing a Message at the expense of the story, as in Iron Council. He is at his best when he retains his self-control, in my opinion, as in The City and the City in my opinion. As Artw says, it is his most retrained writing so far. The Scar and Kraken are better controlled than PSS and more successful as well. I was disappointed in Embassytown---like Iron Council, I felt he forced his theme rather than allowing it to grow organically.
posted by bonehead at 2:34 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's weird (ha) how he talks so much about the weakness of monster-as-philosophical-metaphor; I've just read Perdido Street Station and found it rather delightful how many details in it seemed to be at the same time gripping story elements and also elaborate and highly literate philosophical jokes. I have described the garudas' ethical system to several of my friends and had them burst out laughing in recognition (ha). And I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that.
posted by Acheman at 2:42 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with The City and the City is that it isn't all that typical of Miéville's writing. It has some of his general themes, but liking it is no hint whether you will like his other work. Kraken is a good place to start -- it has the baroque craziness, the convoluted plot, the rich language, and the social themes -- but it is more self-contained and, perhaps, less indulgent. The Scar is good, although the ending takes some parsing -- it has Miéville's love of fantasy and pulp tropes (which he expresses by turning them on their heads). Un Lun Dun, although a kid's book, is a good tour of some of Miéville's richness, although in a small portion, which might suit people unused to such an extrems diet of words.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:45 PM on March 20, 2012


For more from Miéville, here's an interview at BLDBLOG from last March.
posted by blind.wombat at 2:53 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find it funny to understand (but not to appreciate) how Miéville can maintain an extremely sober, "epistemological" grasp of what reality is and say things like "they’re just words" and go on to unpack such a rich hodgepodge of monsters a bit further down.
posted by quoquo at 3:42 PM on March 20, 2012


Just chiming in to say that the PDS made me want to hurl it and the author bodily across the room into the TV, but I think it is Miéville at his worst for wanting to to cram in every last cool thing he though of wether it serviced the novel or not. I get that you are very very very clever China, and way smarter than me but could you just cut the crap and tell me a goddamn story already.

Oh, and Lin's ending still makes me froth at the mouth angry. That's all.
posted by arha at 4:01 PM on March 20, 2012


He had me at "Sublime Backwash."
posted by LMGM at 4:05 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, it was the intervention of the Magical Plot Spider that did that for me. And yeah, PSS is a bit all over the place. The Scar is far better for it's greater focus.
posted by Artw at 4:06 PM on March 20, 2012


I honestly surprised he doesn't get called out more often for the Magical Plot Spider...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:11 PM on March 20, 2012


Back to Frankenstein: the misconception that it's a critique of (modern) science particularly annoys me, since Dr. Frankenstein is actually expelled from the university where he was studying, and creates his monster only through using the older, not-so-sciencey means of alchemy. Mary Shelley actually gives a fairly clear and accurate description of the differences, both methodological and in aims or goals, between the (then) new science and the old alchemy.
posted by eviemath at 4:12 PM on March 20, 2012


Is there any point trying his other works? Or is PSS typical?

Well, I've read five of his books, and I would say it's broadly typical. I find Mieville as a writer somewhat frustrating. I feel like there is a really great author hiding out in there that is consistently stymied one way or another.

The main thing, I find, is that he so endlessly creative when it comes to plots and ideas, be they sociological, political, world-building or otherwise. And yet he uses this incredibly fecund ground to propel the most banal, Michael Bay plots and stock characters imaginable. Soooooo frustrating.

Everything about PDS, Iron Council, The Scar, and his other books is so different and exciting - these books should set the world on fire! But the plots so frequently devolve into the most hackneyed, cliched, and usually overwrought nonsense (see the silly ending of even The City and The City, his most restrained book thus far in my opinion).

Thus, I find I enjoy his books a lot more retrospectively than in the actual process of reading them. I mean, looking back on it, in a weird cognitive dissonance I feel like I enjoyed Iron Council - but I know very well it took me three weeks to read (a long time for me), and I nearly put it down at more than one point!

But I keep coming back because of that inchoate potential. Nonetheless, an interesting failure is still more interesting to me as reading material than middle-of-the-road. And Mieville is nothing if not interesting. At least he's trying to do/say something in the genre(s) - and if you read fantasy as much as me, you know how rare that is (though less so nowadays than when he first published).
posted by smoke at 4:12 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and by way of pulling my comment back into the discussion at hand, I think the failings of PSS relate directly into Miéville's fascination with the weird and monsters. Might have worked as a collection of short stories, as the were all compelling ideas and for the most part deeply creepy.
posted by arha at 4:13 PM on March 20, 2012


Oh, and Lin's ending still makes me froth at the mouth angry. That's all.

I sympathize. On the other hand, I appreciate that Miéville is willing to take the approach that people who kick back against the powers of the world, whichever world, are going to get hurt. And he doesn't do it in the "two characters die every chapter" approach beloved of the "gritty fantasists;" instead, you really worry about what is going to happen to his characters, and its not always the characters who "deserve" bad ends (if just because they have decided to be a hero) that get hurt. Lin is a particularly unfair version of that.

I think Miéville's comments on monsters are interesting because so few of his books have these kinds of monsters in them. All of his characters give at least suggestions of motivation that tie them in to the social and economic structure of the world. Even the most alien (well, maybe not the moths) have a place in the world that they want to expand and protect, which "humanizes" them and makes them less Other.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:37 PM on March 20, 2012


Sebmojo, for what it's worth I had a really negative visceral reaction to PSS too--I didn't even finish it--and I love some of Miéville's other books. Especially The City & The City, and Embassytown. And everything I've read of his--even PSS--contains lots of things that I find fascinating or amazing or beautifully strange. So I'd say it's worth at least trying his other stuff.
posted by overglow at 5:25 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


GenjiandProust, I appreciate your points. I do feel that Lin's ending in particular has unfortunate implications that I do not think that Miéville intended. Namely that if you are raped and brutalised you are never going to recover from that ever, you will be a shell of who you were and probably best off dead.

I find that distasteful to say the least. Again I don't think it was intended by the author but it is one reading of the ending. I think he could have achieved the message in other ways.
posted by arha at 5:34 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it odd that people say Lin's ending made them angry. I mean, it's an awful thing to happen, and it was certainly upsetting. But part of what makes PDS so bracing is that it's much more believable than most fantasy worlds---it has an economy, it has class divisions, and like in any real place, awful things happen to people who don't deserve it, and good things happen to those who don't. That's what makes it a plausible world, rather than an act of wish fulfillment for spotty teens. As to whether it "means" that people who are raped are better off dead, I would suggest that having your brain sucked out by a batwinged monstrosity is not much like being raped by a human, or nearly any species. Like any halfway decent work of fantasy, it is emphatically not metaphor.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:57 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


arha: "Oh, and Lin's ending still makes me froth at the mouth angry. That's all."

Actually, while parts of PDS were overwrought, I thought Lin's ending was fantastic. It's horrible for the character, of course, and my own reaction to it was profound sadness, but it's also very realistic and unsentimental. I mean, how horribly cliched and hackneyed would it have been if, when they decided to see if Lin could at least still do some art, it would have turned out that she did, that her artistic ability was still in her even though she was catatonic otherwise?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:00 PM on March 20, 2012


PSS is pretty self-consciously awful. Let's not forget the crime Yagharek is guilty of... and he's our ostensible protagonist. It's an ugly, ugly world.
posted by mek at 7:00 PM on March 20, 2012


Isn't Isaac the protagonist of PSS? That's what I thought, anyway. It's heavily implied that Lin was raped (by human her human captors) before the moth thing. So you've got the heavy metaphor existing alongside the actual event, which is sort of a Mieville theme.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 7:33 PM on March 20, 2012


impossible to summarize without sounding totally nuts. Embassytown is the worst to describe in this regard

Nah, it's pretty easy, actually: "Walter Benjamin's essay 'On Language as Such and on the Language of Man' rewritten as a space opera." Most of the mindbending philosophy-of-language stuff that the book does, including pretty much everything you described so nicely after saying this, is just ganked straight from Benjamin. (And this doesn't make it any less of an achievement in my view; nor is Mieville trying to hide this, since the book's epigraph points you straight to the Benjamin essay.)
posted by RogerB at 7:35 PM on March 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Of course that's why Embassytown is such a brilliant work, Walter Benjamin for the masses.
posted by mek at 7:41 PM on March 20, 2012


The City and the City is trying to do something similar with Foucault, but it's a little less obvious (or the link isn't quite so explicitly drawn, though I believe there is some nod somewhere in the text).
posted by mek at 7:42 PM on March 20, 2012


Embassytown is also a rewrite of Dostoyevsky's Dream of a Ridiculous Man starring smaller versions of the Ohmu from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Establish a series of binary oppositions, chuck in a little Saussure, add explosions, stir.
posted by Wolof at 8:03 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is really an untapped market for classics of philosophy in genre-mashmixed form, a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Walter Benjamin and survival horror space opera. Gottfried Leibniz and Candide and "the best of all possible worlds" with actual dimension-hopping. Bertrand Russell and the Gothic (graphic) Novel. And explosions!
posted by nicebookrack at 9:13 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I have described the garudas' ethical system..."

Would you mind? I remember it vaguely, but can't recall the specifics. Some kind of inverted individualism?
posted by ifthe21stcentury at 9:15 PM on March 20, 2012


Here's the passage where the garuda's ethical system is described.
Apparently the founding members of garuda society had read a lot of Hegel and Marx.(third heading down).
There are lots of little bits like this in PSS, that's just the most blatant one.
I'm really looking forward to all the Benjamin in Embassytown.
posted by Acheman at 1:29 AM on March 21, 2012


On Lin's ending in PSS: Miéville attempts to defend his decision in the middle of this essay.

There is, it’s undoubtedly true, a cheap and spurious kudos to aesthetic sadism. This is the lie behind the tedious transgressions of much ‘brave’, ‘transgressive’ and ‘underground’ literature. Did I step over that line? I hope not. I don’t know how I could have avoided Lin being eaten by the voracious maw of Meaningful Tragedy had I not taken her through the mill as I did. And I precisely tried to avoid the sadism by having her disappear while the nastiness was going on. Maybe it didn’t work. But that was the idea.

(And there's lots more in that essay and the CT seminar it responds to, besides.)
posted by col_pogo at 3:24 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Garuda are what happens if you push Libertarianism to its logical conclusion as a system of ethics aren't they?
posted by pharm at 3:49 AM on March 21, 2012


I wonder if China was deliberately pointing out that the radical freedom of Libertarian ideas is really Marxism in drag? Or maybe he was just putting those Hegelian ideas into a fictional soceity for the fun of it :)
posted by pharm at 3:52 AM on March 21, 2012


I recommend Miéville's short story "Familiar" (in the collection Looking for Jake) as a fine defamiliarizing take on the story of Frankenstein's Creature. Instead of coming-of-age through reading a few of Western lit's greatest hits and learning about suffering at the hands of a bad daddy and society, the familiar simply adapts whatever is around it to its purposes (generally exploration). Wonderfully grotesque, not too overwrought, and a nice departure from anthropomorphic monstrosity.
posted by Idler King at 5:00 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough, I couldn't finish PDS but I adored Un Lun Dun. All the Miévelle-y weirdness, none of the bleak-- it was a delight to read.
posted by nonasuch at 7:03 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Un Lun Dun has BINJA, who are the greatest pun of all time!
posted by nicebookrack at 8:38 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding the discussion of Frankenstein above, I suspect part of the reason there's such a strong sense for the "hubris of science" interpretation in pop culture is that it's a pretty accurate description of the films.

Stephen Jay Gould has a lovely comparison of the book and films in "The Monster's Human Nature." (1994, Natural History, 103, 6) It seems to be one of the few years of Natural History that aren't archived online, though there's a sketchy looking but seemingly complete copy here, and it's in the Dinosaur in a Haystack book. At least to someone like me, who is only passingly familiar with Frankenstein, or monster-theory in general, it's fascinating.

Even more interesting than the invention of the man-playing-god theme is the origin of the Monster's evil. In Shelly, the gentle, inquisitive monster becomes evil when he's scorned and abused by cruel people. In Whale's Frankenstein (the Karloff film), the monster becomes evil because the bumbling henchman steals the physically deformed brain of a criminal.

Which version does a better job of creating a monster which can believe in itself? The former generates a monster that seems like it could exist in the world I inhabit, and makes for a much more sympathetic and interesting character. The later feels horribly anachronistic and implausible. But neither is proudly inexplicable, or, for that matter, all that monstrous.
posted by eotvos at 11:51 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


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