Mary Shelley’s motivic novel as adjacent adaptation
Kyle William Bishop
This chapter proposes the concept of an ‘adjacent adaptation’, an adapted text or antecedent that appears in a single episode of an otherwise original and independent television series. Most science-fiction television narratives include at least one episode based on Frankenstein, and this chapter explores what those adaptive segments mean in terms of the larger narratives, specifically examples from The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and, most extensively, Doctor Who. Understanding the interplay between the larger series and Frankenstein as palimpsestuous texts enables viewers to understand both narratives on a deeper level.
Although Mary Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818, it is clearly still a vibrant and living text today, at least in part because of its adaptability. It straddles the modern genres of horror and science fiction more successfully than any other single tale, and is firmly embedded in contemporary culture. From political cartoons to comedy routines, and from children’s programming like Scooby Doo to adult social commentary like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, Frankenstein remains a durable pop-culture touchstone and a deeply human story. Beneath the immediate tale of the scientist and his creation, it is a story about bodies and flesh, about heightened emotions and passions, about shameful secrecy and paradigm-changing genius. For the foreseeable future Frankenstein will continue to frighten us, titillate us, and amuse us because it can be a mythos and iconography that can safely entertain our children, but also haunt our consciousness about where and who we are, what we have done and what the future may hold.
This chapter tracks several major scenes and trends that are central to the iconography of the Frankenstein Complex today – creation scenes, death scenes, and rehabilitation plots – and traces their developments to dramatisations for the nineteenth-century popular theatre. Better understanding the origins of iconic moments and trends in Frankenstein’s adaptation history, and their origins in popular theater, demonstrates adaptation’s central role in Frankenstein’s narrative evolution from novel to culture-text. Melodramas and comedies based on Frankenstein are treated with equal interest because the latter genre is typically ignored or downplayed but has equal cultural force as do the more ‘serious’ adaptations of the nineteenth century stage and later films.
Adaptive symbiosis and Peake’s Presumption, or the fate of Frankenstein
Frankenstein (1818/1823/1831) has a life of its own. It is perhaps our culture’s most adapted text, and also one of our most adaptable metaphors. Its mere mention conjures almost 200 years of versions, images, meanings, cautionary tales, and arguments. Specifically, the Creature has been used as a metaphor for a motherless child, technology run amok, and a vast number of out-of-control Others. And adaptation theory can be added to the metaphoric cultural possibilities of the Frankenstein trope. This chapter argues for the productivity of a Frankensteinian model for adaptation studies, a reading strategy that shifts away from notions of fidelity in order to systematically account for the productive work of intertextuality in the act of adaptation.
Monstrous marriage, maternity, and the politics of embodiment
Carol Margaret Davison
In view of Scotland’s featured role in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the site of the female monster’s creation, in combination with the popular stereotype of Scotland as a site of gender subversion inhabited by putatively transgressive, intellectual, and authoritative female ‘monsters’ both imaginary (Lady Macbeth) and real (Mary Queen of Scots), this essay examines how and with what implications Frankenstein was granted new life in Scottish literature of the 1980s and beyond. In works by Liz Lochhead, Iain Banks, Alasdair Gray, and Janice Galloway, written in the wake of Second-Wave feminism and the aftermath of the failed Scottish Referendum of 1979, when Scotland witnessed an exciting cultural renaissance that continues into the present day, writers reconfigured Frankenstein to take up questions of maternity, modernity, gender roles and relations, and national identity.
This chapter looks at three radio/sound adaptations of Frankenstein from different periods in history from 1952 to 2007. Building on the fact that sound is significant in the original novel, especially in the character of De Lacey and his relationship to the Creature, this essay looks at sound as a means of building up dramatic tension in the three dramas, as well as the directors’ use of silence. The essay looks at how the use of sound was not only dictated by the drama, but by the producers’ wishes. For the American radio adaptation of 1952, for instance, the producers demanded more sound as a way of establishing characters in the listeners’ minds, while the low-budget recording of 1970 was noticeable for its lack of sound (an attempt to reverse the prevailing trend in radio at that time).
With its focus on change and transformation, Darwinian theory offers a useful theoretical tool for understanding the survival and evolution – indeed, the flourishing – of the Frankenstein Network. This chapter considers Hammer Film Productions’ The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) and its immediate filmic predecessor (The Curse of Frankenstein, 1957) as ‘successful’ replications of Mary Shelley’s source text, while also exploring the myriad ways in which Revenge propagates the post-Darwinian discourse of the 1950s. The Revenge of Frankenstein, as this chapter demonstrates, is unequivocally and obsessively about Dr Frankenstein, the man of science, the bold and brash technocrat, and the fierce advocate of transhumanism.
Looking to a range of illustrated editions, including those illustrated by Nino Carbe (1932), Lynd Ward (1934), Everett Henry (1934), Bernie Wrightson (1983) and Barry Moser (1984), this chapter considers the method by which illustrations impact on our reading of Frankenstein, and how they expand the visual lexicon of Frankenstein established by stage and film adaptations. This chapter argues that visual and narrative similarities across successive illustrated editions foster cultural consensus as to what ‘counts’ as Frankenstein, even as variations in illustrators’ style and emphasis result in editions with very different visual and ideological messages. This chapter posits that the consistencies and variations evident across successive illustrated editions matter less than their cumulative contribution to the Frankenstein adaptation network.
The Frankenstein Complex: when the text is more than a text
Dennis R. Cutchins and Dennis R. Perry
Frankenstein has a greater presence in popular media than any other single narrative over nearly two centuries, and its place in popular culture continues to grow. Adaptations of Shelley’s novel flow forth at an unparalleled rate. This sustained popularity may be a result of Shelley’s imaginative treatment of what it means to be human, her ambivalence towards science and technology, or simply because of her questions about creating a sentient being. Mikhail Bakhtin might have described Shelley’s creature as a ‘grotesque body’, one that is continually in the act of becoming something new. In any case, understanding the proliferation of Frankenstein adaptations demands a creative and broad approach because new adaptations are not simply the result of a relationship with Shelley’s novel, but are also the products of multiple relationships with other adaptations. In fact, every new adaptation of Frankenstein depends both on what we may term a Frankenstein Complex, located in the minds of individuals and made up of personal experiences, as well as on the Frankenstein Network, or the repository of Frankensteinian experiences available in the culture.
Responsibility and obedience in I, Robot and X-Men: First Class
In a sense, indirect adaptations of Frankenstein, such as those observed in I, Robot (2004) and X-Men: First Class (2011) have more freedom to complicate and modernise Shelley’s text, since these adaptations transpose her characters and conflicts into fresh contexts with multiple variations. In the films I, Robot and X-Men: First Class Shelley’s concept of creation expands from its common definition (creation out of nothing or out of pre-existing parts) to a broader sense that includes modification or influence. As indirect adaptations of Frankenstein, these films have the freedom to adumbrate a number of latent ethical questions that Shelley’s novel never fully articulates. Hence, such films take the conversation on Frankenstein in unexpected and novel directions.