Thursday, September 15, 2011

Importance of Illustration - Lindsey Kasmiroski

Since the emergence of the book Frankenstein in the 1800s, the character of the monster has been nothing more than a mental picture in the heads of the readers. After countless movies and illustrations, the twentieth century lent a visual aid as to what the creation of Dr. Frankenstein could possibly look like. The Lynd Ward edition of Frankenstein, which came out only three years after the film, is important because it offers a different perspective of the monster that is more closely related to physical description provided by Mary Shelley and less of the horrifying images produced by Hollywood.
Of the many illustrations throughout this particular edition of Frankenstein, the first picture of the monster on page 55 stands out the most. This image is important for a number of reasons. Primarily, it is the first time that the monster is depicted in the novel. When most people think of the Frankenstein monster, the image that comes to mind is a stocky man with short black hair, bolts sticking out of the neck, and jagged movements. This image, of course, is what has been provided to us from the 1931 film rendition of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff playing the monster. The thing is, that depiction is nothing like the description of the character in the book. In the book, the monster is described as,
"his yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his water eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips" (Shelley, 53).
The depiction of the monster through the pen of Lynd Ward shares a number of the qualities detailed in Mary Shelley's description. Its large body has overdrawn muscles and bones that protrude and are seemingly ready to burst through the skin. The arms of the creature are very long and almost ape-like while the hands have sharp fingernails that appear very similar to claws. These features definitely lend themselves to be more monster-like than the description, but less dumb-beast-like than the movie. A feature that really stands out in the drawing is the monster's head. It is disproportionately small to the rest of the massive, muscular body. Also, the eyes are so sunken in, only black shadows appear in the face and makes the whole thing look skeletal.
This portrayal of the monster through Lynd Ward's illustration is important because it lends itself to be more in tune with the other qualities Dr. Frankenstein's creation has in the book rather than the more familiar image from the movies. Assuming that the hype from the films led to more people reading the book, probably for the first time for many, the readers have a new set of descriptions and images to think about when considering the monster. One of the main grievances that fans of the book have with the movie is the different levels of intelligence that are exhibited from the book's famous character. In the movie, the creature is portrayed as a dumb beast that has little capacity for learning and absolutely no language skills other than frightened or angry grunts. In the book, while the monster is off on his own for a two year period, it learns to speak rather eloquently. The images in the movies allow no interpretation that the monster could possibly evolve past its innate animal-like state. The ability for the monster to learn and grow the is provided in the book is truly what makes it such a terrifying creation. Something that has no life, that is built by a man, and can have such cognitive progress is something to be feared and can be potentially dangerous depending on how it's influenced. Lynd Ward's images from the book, especially the first depiction of the monster, are important for this reason. The readers and anyone who comes in contact with this work would never have any other view of the monster and would never met with its true characteristics without them.

1 comment:

  1. The introduction doesn't accomplish much - and it's also worth noting that there were many stage productions of Frankenstein long before the film, so people were used to it being visualized.

    Two things strike me for the rest of this essay.

    First, you stick very close to things we talked about in class. Yes, the monster is different in the image than in the film, and that's important. But we also talked about it. You always want (and indeed, need) to explore unfamiliar territory in your writing. There is very little here which moves beyond things we talked about collectively.

    Second, you aren't really doing the prompt. The prompt asks you to identify the interpretation Ward is making, and then to *evaluate* it. Arguably you identify an element of interpretation (he is literalistic, rather than following the film) - but where is the evaluation?