Throughout much of the world, the summer of 1816 was colder and darker than usual due to a massive cloud of dust released from a volcano the year previous. Famine and depression became everyday affairs.

A group of friends vacationing on the shore of Lake Geneva, kept inside by the dreary weather, entertained themselves by coming up with scary stories, an excellent pastime for such situations. The group included the famous poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, but the best story came from Shelley’s 18-year-old lover (and soon-to-be wife): Mary.

Perhaps it was the gloom outside or the recent death of her baby that caused the story to visit Mary’s dreams. A slightly unhinged scientist forms a replica of a human with various body parts from cadavers and finds a way to infuse the Creature with life.

As it goes in the story:

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

Horrified by what he sees, the scientist, Victor Frankenstein, flees.

Yes, it’s frightening. But also more.

The Creature is intelligent, quickly teaching himself to speak and read, and he longs for nothing more than companionship. Yet everyone runs from him. He tracks down Victor, begging the scientist to make him a mate, which Victor begins to do, but then decides against it for fear of launching an evil race. In retaliation, the Creature kills Victor’s bride soon after the wedding.

The Creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (never given a name) is worthy of our sympathy, making us the monster as much as him.

Monsters have been part of storytelling forever.

From the Uktena in Native American folklore, a serpent big as a tree trunk with a blinding diamond-like crest in its forehead…

To Dracula, so sexually alluring he gets close enough to sink his fangs into the flesh of a neck…

To the sensitive Amphibian Man from the film The Shape of Water who finds the companionship (with a human no less) that Frankenstein’s Creature so fiercely craved.

Can you create a monster?

Give it a shot in our new contest A Monster Comes. The creator of our favorite monster wins a free Gotham class.

Alex Steele
President, Gotham Writers Workshop

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