I have read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein twice. The first time, I was a 19 year old college student who was full of ego and apple wine. I wasn’t into deep thoughts in 1988. I was into guys. I recall being surprised that Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster. She must have totally gotten that wrong, because I had seen the cartoons. He was definitely the monster. College, round one, did not go so well.
The second reading came in my late 30’s. I had navigated my way through a divorce, and was on the upside of dating again. I was nearly finished with college, round two. My brain had dried out from the 80’s malt liquor, had recovered from child-rearing, and was ready for intellectual thought. It was spring, and I was spending some time on a friend’s houseboat. The sun was finally shining, the lake breeze was fresh on my skin. It was the ninth of nine novels I was assigned for a literature class. While I was exhausted by the last book, a Flannery O’Connor novel, I figured I had read Shelley’s book before, so this should be easy.
Nothing about the novel was easy.
My eyes were wiser, opened by age and experience. I had created things. I had destroyed things. I had known pain and loss. I had been born and reborn. I cried through much of the novel. As I look at the book now, some years later, I can tell where the pages were wet with tears. I also see the words written in the margins, the multiple colors of highlighters and pens, as I was attempting to make my own sense out of Shelley’s creation.
“Blame the Creator for existence, existence for pain, thus the Creator for pain,” I wrote on one page. “Human need for justice,” on another. “Wow,” on one page. Wow, only, to this: “Of what strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on a rock. I wished sometimes to shake off all thought and feeling; but I learned that there was only one means to overcome the sensation of pain, and that was death…”
Into the mind of a creator. A creator of a story. A creator of a monster. A creator of marriages. A creator of a self. Into the mind of the Creator of all beings. And then, into the mind of the created – the formed, by force or by love, involuntarily, then thrust into existence without even so much as an Owner’s Manual. Who are you, creator, once your creation has gone? Who are you, creation, once your creator has abandoned you?
Tonight, Halloween, I think of Shelley’s monster. I think of my own monsters, the ones I have conquered, and the ones who may still be lurking in dark corners. I am wise enough to be brave and still afraid.