Since I have written three novels featuring a character who originated in H.P. Lovecraft’s mad scientist, Herbert West, I thought I should finally read the quintessential mad scientist novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Less than halfway into the book, it became clear to me that it is not in any sense a ‘horror story.’ Mary Shelley’s intention was not to produce thrills and shudders in her readers (unlike M. G. Lewis, whose novel The Monk, published a couple of decades earlier, was dedicated primarily to the production of such emotions). Shelley was intent on showing the consequences of scientific hubris and exploring what it means to be human. The Monster’s tale of his early days, his attempts to learn speech, his attraction to the family near whose home he lived are touching, especially given the tragic consequences of his rejection by humanity.
H.P.L.’s story, “Herbert West, Reanimator”, touches on the theme of hubris as well, although this aspect is a sideline to its main purpose, which is the production of thrills and shudders. Unlike Shelley, Lovecraft revels in the description of corpses and West’s secret laboratory procedures. But West’s creations bring about his undoing in the end, just like Frankenstein’s. As a horror story, “Herbert West” beats Frankenstein, in my opinion, even though I am the first to admit that it is not Literature, and Frankenstein is.
So where does my own take on the mad scientist, my novel The Friendship of Mortals, fall in the thrills vs. social commentary issue? I believe it strikes a balance between the two, but leans more toward thrills and enjoyment while subtly inserting other themes. Readers will no doubt have their own opinions.