Frankenstein and Halloween

As someone who has devoted much of her academic life to the work of Mary Shelley, the relationship between Frankenstein and Halloween has always interested me. In the 21st century, it is hard to think about Halloween without thinking about some of the iconic characters associated with the holiday: the Mummy, Dracula, and, of course, Frankenstein’s monster.

In the part of North America where I’m from, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the Halloween season without the iconic image of the Creature being plastered everywhere I look. Going into any local store, one can easily find rows of decorations and candy dedicated to everyone’s favourite monster. Even social media got in on the Frankenstein action this year, with Facebook users being able to choose a little Creature icon to express their feelings on friend’s status updates. And then there are the costumes. People of all ages have put on the Creature costume, and much to my enjoyment, even pets can now get in on the action (my favourite of which — Frankenpug — is shown in the picture that opened my entry).
This iconic costume is, as most people know, not representative of the watery-eyed, Milton-quoting Creature that Mary Shelley described in her novel. Instead, the Creature we see comes from the mind of Boris Karloff, whose 1931 Frankenstein film adaptation debuted the square-headed, bolt-necked, goofy green monster we know and love today. Why did this version of the Creature capture people’s attention so much that they choose to plaster their houses with his face and clothe their children in his form? Is this version of the Creature really that different from the one in Shelley’s text?
Many consider the Creature’s iconic image as a bastardization of Shelley’s grotesque creation – a bastardization that strips the character of all the philosophical gravitas that Shelley endowed him with. I, however, take a different approach to the topic.
In my own MA thesis research, I’ve constantly been faced with the question of who, or what, does the Creature in Frankenstein represent. Is he a manifestation of Shelley’s frustrations of growing up without a mother? Does his fractured body represent the fractured selfhood of the nineteenth-century woman? Or is he really just something Shelley saw once in a dream? Naturally, I’ve yet to come up with an answer – at least not to these questions.
For me, the Creature takes on a part of everyone who reads about him, sees him on film, or dons his big green head. I know that when I see a child grinning from ear-to-ear with bolts coming out of their neck, eagerly running between houses on Halloween night, it reminds me of the Creature’s innocence as he experienced the world for the first time. And when I see a pug dressed up in Creature garb, it reminds me that, as an academic, sometimes I take myself and the world around me way too seriously.
Overall, I say, on Halloween, be the Frankenstein’s monster you’ve always wanted to be. And if one happens to come to your door, make sure you don’t slip a copy of Paradise Lost in with the candy.