I was into my twenties before I ever actually read Frankenstein, and even then, I only read it because I had to. Ironically enough, I read that bulk of it on the deck of a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean, which made the experience even more strange than it had to be.* Of course, I knew all I had ever wanted to know about Frankenstein already: the green monster with the bolts on either side of its neck, the maniacal laughter, the hunch-backed assistant, and the excessive amount of lightning. You probably have that same information buzzing through your brain right now, and you may even think that you know everything there is to know about Frankenstein. Here are some things that you probably don't know:
- Not only is Frankenstein the name of the guy who created the monster, not the creature itself, but creator's name is not "Dr. Frankenstein," as he was kicked out of the university before he could complete his degree, and rightly so.
- Mr. Frankenstein is creepily in love with his adopted sister, the one that his mother adopted specifically for the purpose of grooming her from infancy to become Mr. Frankenstein's bride. The monster kills her because Mr. Frankenstein is an idiot.
- The monster taught himself to speak and read, and is probably better-read than you are.
- There is no Igor!
- The story is told in a series of letters, beginning and ending in the Arctic.
- Reading the book is just as pleasurable as eating the book.
In the end, it turns out that the Frankenstein we know exists only in pop culture. Weird, huh? It's almost as weird as reading a horror novel while on a tropical getaway.
I thought about Frankenstein, and all that he means to us, when I talked to Petite Soeur a few days ago on the phone. She's in Paris on a study abroad, and when I asked her if she'd visited the Eiffel Tower (i.e. the one in Paris), she responded in a way that I didn't expect. I asked her to write down what she felt in her own words:
"It was my first free day in Paris and, having no previous engagements, I decided to hike up to the Eiffel Tower. Why not? I was in Paris, and I had to do the Eiffel Tower sometime, and then was as good a time as any, I thought. I wish I hadn't gone. Walking up to the tower was a bit awkward to say the least. There I was, an American girl walking alone, and all around me were couples sprawled all over the Champs de Mars. After all, Paris is the city of love, and the Eiffel Tower is the most recognizeable symbol of Paris. So most people then feel that the Eiffel Tower must be the most romantic place on Earth. And why shouldn't they? I'll tell you why. I climbed up the Eiffel Tower myself, and you know what? It's really not that big of a deal. Sure, you get a really nice view of Paris, but the structure itself is rather ugly from the inside. It's like climbing up through miles and miles of brown scaffolding. I found it odd that, with all of the lovely spots in Paris, this clunky, masculine structure was the one most associated with love and romance. This moment of disollusionment didn't help to ease my lonliness at having come to the tower alone. I climbed down the tower, defeated, having discovered that the Eiffel Tower held no romance and that Paris was a lonely place."
And as I listened to her talk about it, I for the first time realized that despite what I had previously thought about the Eiffel Tower, it was really just an interesting-looking landmark. In fact, there was nothing incredibly romantic about the structure at all, especially considering that it was built to celebrate the very bloody and unromantic French Revolution, and that one of the other designs considered for the structure was a giant guillotine (thanks, History Channel). In fact, the only reason that we associate the Eiffel Tower with romance probably has more to do with our associating Paris with romance. And perhaps, after everything, that link between Paris and romance could be just as artificial as the cultural Frankenstein, who is in reality just as artificially constructed as its literary counterpart. Essentially, it's a load of fiction that we accept as absolute truth. It's a fiction that can even change the way we behave.
And that got me to thinking: what else is there in our brains that is completely artificial? Are these Frankensteinian assumptions just about trivial things, like towers and fictional characters, or are they also about things that are more important? Do we think Frankensteinian thoughts about things that make a difference in our lives, like who runs our country, or which food is good to eat, or how we should treat others? How often do we base our judgements on completely stupid criteria? I suppose that there is no way of knowing, unless, of course, we achieve omniscience. Or unless we ask someone who is omniscient and we actually do some fact-checking on the few things that we can actually verify. And all of a sudden, my entire reality seems just as strange as I felt on that cruise ship reading Frankenstein.
I hope that the feeling will pass soon enough.
Regards, best wishes, and the definition of reality,
*Not only because I was in the Caribbean and reading a horror novel (the term "horror" being applied loosely here), but also because I'm not the type of person who normally goes to the Caribbean (or anywhere outside of California, Oregon or Utah, for that matter), much less reads horror novels. It was incredibly odd on all accounts.