Frankenstein's Origin: Assessing Thompson's Argument for the Creature's Literary Ancestors

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The greatest modern stories often hail from ancient myths, and Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, proves no exception to this claim. Replete with references to John Milton's Paradise Lost and the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, the story of Frankenstein seems, in many ways, very much like the Creature himself—which is to say, cobbled together from various scraps of previously existing parts. Terry W. Thompson, however, argues convincingly that scholars continue to ignore one of Frankenstein's most influential literary antecedents: the Greek hero known as Hercules (Thompson 36). In his article, "'A Majestic Figure of August Dignity': Herculean Echoes in Frankenstein," Thompson even goes so far as to list, point-for-point,…show more content…
While Thompson's article can claim many merits, it is not without its particular flaws. Although he mentions the fact that Hercules is not born disfigured and "ugly" (as the Creature is), Thompson never truly addresses the importance of this difference (37). As we learn in Frankenstein, much of the reason for the Creature's rejection and his eventual acts of evil stems from the fact that his unsightly appearance inspires fear in those who encounter him (37). Frankenstein himself feels "breathless horror and disgust" on first seeing the Creature alive, the "yellow skin" of whom "scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath" (Shelley 58). Such an appearance almost certainly differentiates the development of the Creature from the development of Hercules. By not adequately discussing the ways in which their differing appearances might have affected the respective fates of Hercules and the Creature, Thompson ignores a major thematic aspect of Shelley's novel. Thompson's article also fails to explain significance of his findings. The reader is left asking several questions: What is the critical importance of Thompson's argument? Why should we consider the influence of the Hercules myth on Frankenstein, and what does the influence mean for us as readers and scholars of Shelley's work? How does this influence compare to the myriad other literary influences on Frankenstein—John Milton's Paradise

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