Friday, October 12, 2012

The Monster Within

With Halloween around the corner, I felt inspired to write a little about one of my favorite monster stories. When I was in college, for a literature class, we read Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Originally subtitled "The Modern Prometheus", everyone knows this is the tale of a scientist who pieces together a body from dead tissue and brings it to life, but the miracle he hoped for ends up in tragedy. Everyone also knows the famous face of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster in the classic 1931 horror film (Note: "Frankenstein" is the name of the scientist; his creation has no name).

Frankenstein's monster
Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster
What I didn't know until I read the novel, though, is that the book and the movie are worlds apart. For one, the movie blames the creature's behavior on the fact that Dr. Frankenstein mistakenly gives it an "abnormal brain". In the novel, there is no hint to this, and there are very few details given about the actual creation process. The creature in the book speaks and is intelligent, unlike the movie monster. And the creature in the book is much more sympathetic than its cinematic counterpart: largely because of its appearance, the creature is abandoned by its creator and hated by society, which forces it into solitude and drives it to seek revenge. The movie touches these themes, but still portrays Frankenstein's creation as a monster, while the novel clearly claims that despite the creature's actions, the real monster is man.

Mary Shelley's creature is ugly, but it doesn't look like the popular movie image. Both versions are tall - the larger size supposedly making it easier to replicate the smaller parts of the human body - but Shelley makes no mention of a flat head or electrodes sticking out of the neck. Instead, she gives it yellow eyes and thin yellow skin that barely covers the muscles and veins. Although still hideous, Shelley doesn't want us to see a monster. She wants us to see a deformed person who only wants love and acceptance, but is repeatedly rejected. It's sad more than scary.

On another level, Shelley seems to say that man is primarily innocent at birth, only corrupted by the way others treat him. By contrast, the "abnormal brain" approach of the movie might be closer to the Biblical view, since the creature is a monster from the moment it comes to life. Although Adam and Eve were pure at first, the Bible teaches that because of their sin, we are all born with a sinful tendency. We only become innocent by humbling ourselves before God and accepting Christ's sacrifice (Romans 5:12-19).

Left to ourselves, people are crazy. The sinful nature left unchecked leads to all sorts of terrible things:

"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery,
sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."
- Matthew 15:19 (NIV)
See also Galatians 5:19-21
We need God's help, but sadly - like so many others - Dr. Frankenstein doesn't see it.

"Now I know what it feels like to be God!"
"Now I know what it feels like to be God!"
On the surface, Frankenstein's intention seems to be good. He wants to eliminate death, which he sees as a cruel joke God plays on man. By learning how to create life, he pictures a world where death is not the end. But Frankenstein is also driven by pride. With the power to raise the dead, he believes he will be as great as God and will no longer have to submit to God's will. "Now I know what it feels like to be God!" the doctor exclaims maniacally in the movie when he sees the first signs of life from his creation. Little does he realize how the thunder that replies bespeaks the terror soon to follow!

The desire to be like God is nothing new. The original temptation in the Garden of Eden, after all, was not just to disobey God, but to become like him (Genesis 3:4-5), but eating the forbidden fruit led to separation from the tree of life. Man's attempt to become his own god - to refuse God his proper place - does not lead to a better life. Without accepting God's moral authority, we only sink to deeper and deeper depravity and destructiveness (Romans 1:20-32). The irony of Frankenstein is that by elevating himself to the place of God in hopes of eliminating death, he is actually doing the very thing that brings death.

"For the wages of sin is death..."
- Romans 6:23a

Now as we know, science in and of itself is not evil. But it's scary to see how many in the scientific field today follow in Dr. Frankenstein's footsteps! They try to dethrone God by calling him unimportant and denying his existence - even cloning and trying to create life - in order to set man up as his only god. But Frankenstein (or any man) is a poor substitution for God because he can never be God. God is holy, without sin and perfect in love (1 Samuel 2:2; James 1:13; 1 John 4:8), but none of us can live up to the same standard on our own. Even the best of us makes mistakes! None of us is perfect!

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
- Romans 3:23 (NIV)

Frankenstein soon illustrates my point when he abandons his project. The movie is kinder, showing the doctor patiently working with his monster, only reluctantly turning away when he realizes he can't control the violence. The book is harsher: as soon as he sees what he's made, Victor turns ill, runs away and wants nothing to do with it. Either way, he is unwilling and unable to be what his creature needs.

Some may believe that - like the doctor - God has more or less turned his back on his creation, either rejecting us because of our sin or because he doesn't care. But God is nothing like the evil doctor! While the story in Genesis 3 agrees that man's perfect relationship with the Creator was broken because of sin, and while sin angers and repulses God, the Bible is a love story above anything else. It tells how, over and over, God has not rejected his creation, but has continually reached out to us in love. This is why God sent us Jesus - to destroy the power of sin and make it possible to restore the relationship (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:19). It's the creation who turned its back on the Creator - not the other way around!

"God’s love was revealed among us in this way: 
God sent his only Son into the world 
so that we might live through him. 
In this is love, not that we loved God 
but that he loved us and sent his Son to be 
the atoning sacrifice for our sins."
- 1 John 4:9-10

Mary Shelley's classic highlights the hopeless imperfection of mankind. Like Mirror Mirror, it reminds us how ugly we are when we mistreat those who are deformed or unattractive, and like There Will Be Blood, it shows us the end result of a life that denies God.

Dr. Frankenstein wanted the ability to resurrect the dead. He wanted a world where death did not have the final word, but he couldn't create it. In Christ, however, our God succeeds where Frankenstein failed.

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. 
He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.'"
- John 11:25 (NKJV) 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, 
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish 
but may have eternal life."
- John 3:16

Don't let the monster within have control. Instead, submit to God in Christ daily, that he might transform you and give you true, abundant and eternal life!


  1. I should add that there are a LOT of other differences between the plots of the book and the 1931 movie. The 1998 movie "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" follows the book a lot closer, but still takes several liberties.

  2. Kyle, I think this is a WONDERFUL ministry you have. I thoroughly enjoy movies and some TV programs and it's great that you bring out that God's truth is revealed even here. Yes, people will be without excuse because God uses even these mediums to express His truth. Your ministry brings balance I think. In some Christian circles any secular is demonized. I don't believe it should be. For one thing there are a lot of Belivers who work in the entertainment industry and are influencing it. Anyway, just want to say I appreciate what you are doing.

    I might end up reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I never have.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, KP. If you get around to reading the book, I'd love to hear any thoughts you have on it! :-)


Please comment on this post. Do you agree with me? Do you disagree? Is there something I left out or should have covered? Was something confusing? I want to know what you think!