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News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Romantic Reimaginings: Frankenstein for Young Readers

Romantic Reimaginings is a BARS blog series which seeks to explore the ways in which texts of the Romantic era continue to resonate. The blog is curated by Eleanor Bryan. If you would like to publish an article in the series, please email ebryan@lincoln.ac.uk.

Today on the blog, Lauren Christie explores the ways in which Frankenstein has been reimagined for young readers. 

“And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper.”[1]

Two hundred years ago, a monstrous nightmare was crafted into one of the most influential novels ever written. With the multitude of references to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) across literature and popular culture, Shelley, Frankenstein and the Creature have become household names. The popularity and diverse nature of this novel lends itself well to literary adaptations for a young audience. The tormented narrative of both Victor Frankenstein and the Creature mirrors similarly turbulent issues that children experience throughout childhood and adolescence. This article will pay close attention to literary adaptations of Frankenstein for young readers, and the ways to ensure that the novel remains alive and relevant for future generations. Applying this message of monstrous diversity to twenty-first century literature, this article will note novels which have prominently drawn inspiration from Shelley’s original text

One of the best ways to ensure the longevity of a literary figure, particularly for a younger audience, is to demonstrate ways in which the novel is connected to them. Mary Shelley was a teenager when she wrote this novel. It is important to break through the fictional presence of a literary classic in order to incorporate the tale into reality. If children are made aware of Shelley’s young age when she created Frankenstein, then this encourages a sense of achievability for their own writing.

In order to continue promoting a traditional Gothic text to a contemporary audience, it is vital to consider the numerous ways in which tropes, themes and figures central to the novel have continued to adapt and survive: ‘Its central narrative… became a kind of independent trope or “myth” that invaded other art forms—plays, cartoons, advertisements, comic books, conversations, films. Frankenstein (the name) became a kind of all-purpose watchword for creativity gone wrong and monstrosity gone wild.’[2] The brand and figure of Frankenstein has been absorbed into popular culture. Stephen King refers to the ‘millions of Americans that are aware of the tale of Frankenstein, as it has become as common a household name as “Ronald McDonald”, and yet they are unaware of the difference between Victor Frankenstein and the Creature […] A fact which enhances the idea that the book has become a part of Hatlen’s American myth-pool.’[3] Two hundred years of film, literary and comic adaptations later, Frankenstein remains recognisable to any audience, regardless of country, culture, age or language.

Guy Bass, Stitch Head, (2011).

In response to the Creature and Shelley’s famous creation scene, the first literary adaptation that this article will highlight is Guy Bass’s Stitch Head (2011). This novel is a light-hearted tale of junior fiction from the point of view of a creature, the long forgotten original creation of a mad scientist. Destined to live his young life in the confines of Castle Grotteskew, similarities in the novel most notably include: a vulnerable and isolated narrative and a young character setting out on a voyage on which to find a companion. Furthering the relationship between this novel and Frankenstein, one chapter lists the ingredients required to create a “Truly Monstrous Creation”. These include: ‘3 Parts Human, 2 parts “Other”, 1 quart Monstrousness and just a pinch of impossibility.’[4] In this section the authors humour is portrayed as children realise there is no way to define a monstrous being. Therefore what remains is the fun surrounding monstrous tropes and creatures.

Image result for frankenweenie

Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (2012).

Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (2012) was the stop-motion animated adaptation of a short film he created in 1984. The film details the tragic heartache of a young boy (named Victor Frankenstein) whose beloved pet dog “Sparky” is killed by traffic. As with Shelley’s novel, Victor Frankenstein is influenced by the effect of galvanism on inanimate creatures, and one stormy night, he attempts to reanimate his dead pet. This story is littered with references to not only Shelley’s novel, but also to contemporary understandings of monsters in general (including a Godzilla creature and a monstrous sea monkeys scene). The film carries a deeper meaning as it urges children to consider the ethical consequences involved in bringing a beloved pet back from the dead. As much as every child that experiences the death of a loved one has surely at one point wished they could bring them back to life, this film (as with the novel) explores, in a child-friendly context, the consequences of doing so.

Maurice Sendak, Mommy? (2006).

Finally, considering adaptations for a much younger audience, Maurice Sendak’s Mommy? (2006) is a Gothic themed picturebook that encourages early development in young children. As demonstrated in Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963), his literary monsters capture the heart and imagination of young children all over the world. Mommy? is the tale of a baby who is searching for its mother. On each page the baby encounters characters such as a mad scientist, Dracula, Frankenstein (with his Creature) and, eventually, its mother. The journey throughout this short book offers vibrant colours and a pop-up format to reveal different Gothic figures on each page. However, at no point is the baby fearful of these monsters which questions whether or not children are truly fearful of childhood monsters, or whether this is a projection from adults.

The inclusion of an ambiguous and controversial character in the form of the Creature allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about issues of humanity. Contemporary horror has transitioned away from traditional monsters that are visibly identifiable, into the anonymous figure of a contemporary monster in society. Despite possessing a visibly monstrous appearance, the Creature maintains a level of innocence, exiled through the cruelty of mankind─ a journey which can often be read as a transitional reflection of childhood into adolescence. It is vital to maintain a combined study of literary adaptations in conjunction with the original text for new and younger generations. By doing so, we can ensure that the text will remain alive and relevant for future generations.

Works cited:

[1] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, (London: Penguin, 1994), p. 10.

[2] Paul Hunter, Frankenstein: A Norton Critical Edition, (New York: Norton, 2012), p.ix.

[3] Stephen King, Danse Macabre, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1991), p. 67.

[4] Guy Bass, Stitch Head, (London: Stripes Publishing, 2011), p. 35.

Lauren Christie is a PhD student at the University of Dundee, studying the gothic tradition in modern education. Lauren’s publication record covers a diverse range of areas, including contemporary horror, children’s literature, curriculum studies and the gothic tradition. Lauren has taught both gothic and contemporary horror literature and has designed modules in children’s literature and children’s gothic. Lauren intends to create core advisory material for teaching Gothic literature in secondary schools. This will encompass Gothic and contemporary horror, Gothic adaptations, and children’s fiction.

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