Mary Shelley’s most famous literary creation is so iconic that, as relayed by Christopher Frayling in his book Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years, “if a six-year-old can eat it, drink it, read it, play with it or cuddle it, Frankenstein’s Monster has been on it.” But how did a scientific abomination become sugar cereal advertising fodder?

Unbeknownst to Shelley—by her death she regarded her relatively poor-selling 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus as a work of juvenilia—she arguably birthed a new genre. Her book is now widely regarded as the first true science fiction story, one that’s emblematic of humanity’s fraught relationship with science these past two centuries. Fear of science run amok may now more likely be found in relation to digitally preserving consciousness rather than reanimating dead flesh, but nevertheless Victor Frankenstein’s monster endures as a frightful symbol of mad science.

Despite the subtitle of Frayling’s book, Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years primarily sticks to the events in a handful of years directly surrounding Shelley’s creation of her monstrous tale, at least as far as the text is concerned. Conversely, the back half of this book consists almost exclusively of full-page artistic renderings, movie stills, posters and advertisements bearing the monster’s likeness—even going so far as to include splashy images of campy derivative works such as Dr. Frank N. Furter’s hunky handiwork in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Modern sensibilities tend to associate the monster with the image first spawned by Boris Karloff’s flat-topped, bolt-necked 1931 depiction for Universal Studios—in addition to our tendency to mistakenly ascribe the name “Frankenstein” to the monster, not the scientist. The problem is, with this book stitched together as both an art book and an academic text, Frayling never breathes life into his examination of Frankenstein’s monster at anywhere near the same level as the vivid photos and artwork.

A British writer and academic known particularly for his study of popular culture, Frayling remains fixated on the details surrounding the literary genesis of the abominable figure. Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin), conceived of what would become her most enduring piece of writing as part of a parlor game. Trapped indoors due to a thunderstorm, and surrounded by a clutch of aristocratic friends that included none other than Lord Byron, the 18-year-old Shelley sketched out her tale of mad science as part of challenge to write a ghost story. Her husband Percy, a published if undistinguished poet, would go on to assist her in polishing her uniquely grotesque idea into a commercially viable novel, which was initially published anonymously.

Rather than dig deeply into Frankenstein’s themes, however, Frayling seems more intent to comb through minutiae about the Shelleys’ social lives and marriage, often directly quoting from their personal journals. It’s compelling to read about how Frankenstein has been described as the first-ever novel “written by a woman contemporaneously with childbirth” and how her trauma from the recent death of her firstborn in its infancy manifested in Victor Frankenstein’s anxiety over the creature he had brought into the world. It’s less interesting to read about Percy Shelley’s philandering or the melodrama of aristocratic elites. In focusing so intently on the circumstances surrounding Frankenstein’s creation, and even providing incredibly dry publishing industry details, Frayling’s decision to only briefly gloss over Frankenstein’s resurrection in 20th century cinema and pop culture remains all the more glaring, making the book feel only half-formed.

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