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Gods or Monsters? A Review of Father of Frankenstein

Father of Frankenstein coverby Cal Wiebe

I’VE 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 as monsters.

What’s 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 [1998].) The book is a fictional account of the last few monthspull-out quotation of James Whale’s life. Whale is the real-life director of two early horror films: Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

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 all.
Ian McKellen photo
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 Whale’s 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, Boone’s 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 Boone’s homophobia will enrage him so much that he will kill pull-out quotationWhale. 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 Shelley’s 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.

Ian McKellen as James Whale What is significant about Father of Frankenstein is that it ends differently than Mary Shelley’s book. In Shelley’s 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. It’s 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, I’ll 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' Official Site.


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