Demon Sidekick: Frankenstein

April 2, 2007 at 4:06 am | Posted in genre fiction, horror, monsters, sidekick | Leave a comment

frankenstein-movie.jpgCameron, Ann (2002). Sidekicks in American Literature. Series in American Literature . Volume 55:  New York:  The Edwin Mellen Press.  

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (1818). Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus. New York: Random House.             

The Oxford dictionary declares that “sidekick” was derived from “side-kicker”, 17th Century gambling slang for a “strong card held in reserve”. Thus, it is the sidekick’s role to serve as support or backup for a fictional hero. The sidekick assumes subservient status because of his inferior intelligence, class or power (e.g. Sancho Panza and Don Quixote). Despite this subordinate position, the sidekick represents a powerful force for good. He personifies integrity and the voice of reason, tempering the hero’s idealistic exuberance. The sidekick serves as a mediator between realms of good and evil, shielding the hero from danger.             

Although the sidekick is typically a positive character, there is also the literary tradition of the “demon sidekick”. As Cameron (2002) explains in Sidekicks in American Literature, the demon sidekick has a threefold role: “probe for the truth, punish the guilty, and call into question the established order”. The demon sidekick can run the emotional gamut from prankster or mischievous sprite (like Shakespeare’s Puck) to evil incarnate (like a fallen archangel). According to Cameron, the demon sidekick is an outcast, morally corrupt and physically repulsive. Like all sidekicks, these characters provides insight into hidden aspects of the hero’s scarlet-letter.jpgpersonality. What the demon sidekick reveals are the hero’s dark side, weaknesses and perhaps a flawed alter ego. This revelation will provoke a power struggle between hero and demon, as illustrated by the confrontation in The Scarlet Letter between Reverend Dimmesdale and evil Roger Chillingworth.              

Within the horror genre, the monster in Frankenstein is the classic demon sidekick. The monster transforms from yearning innocent to vengeful villain after years of abuse from humans. What twists the monster’s instincts from good to evil is Dr. Frankenstein’s failure to accept the horrid creature as his own. The monster’s external physical deformity spreads to a deformity of spirit when faced with the truth: the scientist will not accept responsibility for his selfish violation of nature’s laws. At first, the monster is just a stalker, lurking close to where Frankenstein is living. Next, the monster taunts and threatens his creator.When the sidekick is still ignored, the monster seeks revenge, punishing Frankenstein by murdering his loved ones. Murdered first is the scientist’s young brother, then his guileless bride Elizabeth and finally Henry, his dear friend and exemplar of the “good sidekick”.  

mini-me.jpgThe creature challenges the established order by trying to coerce Frankenstein into creating a female monster as a mate. When the scientist rejects its proposal, the monster goes on a rampage of death and destruction that can have only one end. The novel’s climax reflects the standard fate described by Cameron (2002): the hero/master dies, and with him, dies the demon sidekick. What does vary is whether either character expresses remorse for his actions. In Frankenstein, the monster reacts to his creator’s death with surprise, anger, satisfaction, remorse and finally self-loathing. 

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Frankenstein:Horror Archetype

March 14, 2007 at 2:17 am | Posted in horror, monsters | Leave a comment

frankenstein-lightning.gifSaricks, Joyce G. (2001). The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction.Chicago: ALA. 

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (1818). Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus. NY: Random House (Knopf, 1992).    

 Horror fiction differs from other genres in that it does not have a defining plot or exhibit unique themes and conventions. Instead, horror’s purpose is to create a visceral, emotional response of fear in the reader. Subgenres vary in the pace and intensity of the horror story’s emotional rollercoaster ride.   victor.jpgvictor1.jpg

At one end of the goosebump continuum lie spooky but restrained horror classics such as Turn of the Screw or Frankenstein; at the other extreme lie  gory borderline pornographic novels such as “splatterpunk” :

Abstract fear    Terror and revulsion —- Graphic Excess 

 (Frankenstein)          (Carrie)                 (Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

Saricks (2001) proposes some intuitive guidelines for identifying horror fiction (p. 107)

  • Produces emotions of fear and foreboding in the reader
  • Dark menacing mood conveyed by setting, violence, sex, strong language
  • Usually includes supernatural elements, such as monsters
  • Endings are ambiguous or unresolved, suggesting the “horror lives on”
  • Fast-paced, action oriented plot with unexpected twists
  • Protagonists may be psychologically scarred, and the antagonists are evil 

Frankenstein spans horror and speculative fiction genres, since it explores the consequences of attaining forbidden knowledge: of challenging accepted science/technology to make the “unknown known” (Diabello lecture). Within horror plot structures, Frankenstein illustrates the over-reacher plot” : 

  1.  Preparation–Victor Frankenstein devotes years of secret solitary research to discover how to breathe life into cobbled together parts from human corpses;
  2. Experiment–After Victor creates a sentient superhuman monster, his scientific pride dissolves into shock and horror at the grotesque being he wrought;
  3. Boomerang– Frankenstein rejects the creature by running away, refusing responsibility for nurturing his monster. In response, the monster’s naturally open, inquisitive nature is twisted by human cruelty until the monster is driven by anger and a desire for vengeance upon his heartless creator;
  4. Confrontation–When the monster first confronts Frankenstein, he attacks only with words, leaving his master physically unscathed. After the monster’s pleas are scorned, it tries negotiation and threats to spur the scientist to sympathetic action. As the novel proceeds, the confrontations between creator and creation spiral to extremes of rage and vengeance. The “mortal conflict” culminates as Frankenstein chase the demonic monster across the Arctic until the human is on the brink of death;
  5. Resolution/Ambiguity– Frankenstein dies a broken soul since he is unable to kill the monster. After revelling in the scientist’s death, the monster is overcome with remorse and disgust, but denies that it is evil. The monster maintains that its creator is responsible for all the death and destruction resulting from his meglomaniacial drive to create life. In a single final paragraph, the monster jumps out of the boat, with an implication of suicide. However, in classic horror fashion, there is some ambiguity whether the monster is truly gone forever. 

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