IVE NEVER GIVEN much thought to monsters, at least not
until this summer. During the course of two months I have had the misfortune
of being vandalized four times. Twice windows on one of my trucks were
smashed. Another time six tires on both of my trucks were slashed, and
then this week an obscene figure in permanent ink was drawn on my garage.
Living in the inner city means one is accustomed to acts of vandalism
but the sheer volume of these acts has made me start to view the vandals
Whats worse is that as I play with the revenge fantasies of what
I would do if I caught the perpetrators I begin to think in ways that
make me a monster. I become anxious, irritable and overly protective
of my material belongings. Every youth walking down the street or back
alley is viewed as a potential enemy. I begin to sink to the same maturity
level as the vandals, concerned only about expressing my rage and dissatisfaction
about being hard done by, oblivious to how this is affecting other people.
Monsters and how we respond to them is one of the themes that Christopher
Bram deals with in his book Father of Frankenstein. (Bill Condit
has made it into a film entitled Gods
and Monsters .) The book is a fictional account of the
last few months
of James Whales life. Whale is the real-life director of two early
horror films: Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein
The story begins after Whale has had a stroke. His mental capacity impaired,
Whale finds himself awash in memories from his past. He finds it deeply
disturbing thatmemories that he has kept hidden for so long now come
unbidden. Memories of early childhood, life in the trenches of W.W.I,
and work on his Frankenstein movies begin to haunt him. Whale is shocked
both by his decreasing mental ability and his inability to direct the
course of his own thought.
When he returns from the hospital to his Santa Monica home he discovers
that his new yardman, Boone, has the look and bearing of the monster
he directed in the movie Frankenstein. A plan is born in his
mind. Maybe he can direct this monster to help him put an end to it
Whale chooses Boone as his monster for a number of reasons. Physically,
Boone looks like the monster he directed in his films. He is muscular,
brutish and with his crewcut looks like the square- headed Boris Karloff
in Whales movie. Second, Boone acts like a monster, especially
in his angry, rageful, instinctual responses to events in his life.
We see his quick temper flare up when things do not go his way. Like
the monster in Frankenstein, Boones inability to form close
relationships means that his life is fairly isolated. He lives alone
in a trailer park with no close friends. Third, Boone appears stupid
or naïve. He seems to miss relational cues that other people would
easily recognize; he looks as if he can be easily manipulated.
Whale proposes a plan to Boone. Telling him that he has an architecturally
fascinating skull, Whale convinces Boone to come to his studio for some
portrait sittings. During these sittings it is revealed to Boone that
Whale is gay. Boone is uncomfortable with this fact and makes Whale
give him assurances that the portrait will just be of his head, not
of his nude body. But Boone is also fascinated by the chance to know
a famous Hollywood director and so, despite his apprehensions, the relationship
continues. Like the monster in Frankenstein, Boone seeks a friend.
Friend good, alone bad.
Boone develops some sympathy for Whale. He begins to think of him as
his friend. But Whale has not been honest with Boone. One night after
they return from a Hollywood dinner party Whale makes an advance at
Boone. Whale has been hoping that Boones homophobia will enrage
him so much that he will kill Whale.
Whale taunts Boone and ridicules his masculinity but Boone will not
be manipulated. Whale even tries to bribe Boone by offering him his
house but Boone steadfastly refuses. In the movie version, Boone cries
out: I am not your monster. In the end, Whale takes his
own life and Boone is left to ponder the meaning of his relationship
with the Father of Frankenstein.
Bram has given us an innovative look at some familiar themes. The main
characters are richly drawn and it is hard not to develop affection
for them. In a sense it is a modern retelling of Mary Shelleys
Frankenstein. There are differences, of course, because Bram
was dealing with historical data from the life of James Whale but the
themes of monsters, isolation and alienation are at the forefront.
is significant about Father of Frankenstein is that it ends differently
than Mary Shelleys book. In Shelleys Frankenstein
the creator wants to kill his creation. But here the monster decides
that he is not a monster. He chooses another path and is ennobled by
the choice. I was struck by the way in which the movie version title,
Gods and Monsters, came to Clay Boone. He could choose either
to be a monster and kill Whale or to respond in a different way. Its
the same choice that comes to us in all those little decisions of life.
In response to our upsetting situations will we be a monster or will
we choose to act as gods, or at least in god-like ways, thereby creating
a different future because of our choices?
This brings me back to the issue of the vandals and my property. I realize
now that I have a choice in how I respond. I will not allow my immaturity
to turn them into monsters but will strive to respond in meaningful
ways to the situation I am placed in. Hopefully then, Ill add
something of value to the world.
Bram, Christopher. Father of Frankenstein. New York: Pulme Books,
1995. 320 pages.
Photos of Ian McKellen by Anne Fishbein from Gods and Monsters'
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