A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the first time. Having written three novels about someone who began as a “mad scientist,” I felt obligated to read what may be the original mad scientist novel.
As I wrote earlier, I did not find many similarities between Frankenstein and the contemporary horror genre. On the other hand, my novel The Friendship of Mortals, although rooted in H. P. Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West, Reanimator,”does not belong in that genre either.
However, I did see something in Mary Shelley’s introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein that I recognized immediately. This element seemed inevitable to me as I was writing my novel, and probably steered me away from casting it into the horror genre:
I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handiwork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter.
That is exactly how I envisioned my character Herbert West reacting to a successful reanimation of a corpse. Of course, the Creator of the world did not play a role in West’s reaction, because he did not acknowledge such a being. West prided himself on being a pure scientific rationalist. But “imperfect animation” was a key element in HPL’s story. His Herbert West persisted in reanimating in the hopes that he would eventually achieve perfection. He never did, and eventually all his botched experiments got together and destroyed him.
My Herbert West undergoes a more subtle transformation. The mainspring of The Friendship of Mortals is the question of what sort of person would be drawn to reanimating the dead, and what sort of person would be drawn to the reanimator. How would such a friendship play out and what would be the ultimate fate of the scientific rationalist?
The Friendship of Mortals is available at: http://smashwords.com/b/15225