Of course, of course, of course is Mary Godwin Shelley’s Frankenstein a timeless classic in no need of fixing. However, while reading it I could not shake the sense that it needn’t have turned out so bad for everyone, and that, the story being fictional, there was no reason why gentler, less disturbing outcomes might be sketched at various key points in the action. Such alternative narratives offer several benefits:
1. They allow readers a respite from the pain of the original, completely-tragic version.
2. They remind readers that fiction is fictional and as such is an interactive and malleable tool for examining the human experience. The meaning of Frankenstein cannot be summed up in words or formulas, but is rather comprised of whatever you the reader and Mary Shelley the author together discover within your shared contemplation of her youthful brainstorm.
3. They remind readers of the dreadful power of unchecked narrative. Frankenstein is devastating because Mary Shelley willed it towards catastrophe. Reading it, the reader cannot help but get swept up in the story and come to believe in the inevitability of its progression. But it is an invented story, and with a little tweak here or there the characters could’ve both demonstrated and drawn conclusions from wiser and better ideas and feelings. At many critical points, such tweaks result in completely different stories. Likewise with the stories told to us about our lives, our desires and satisfactions, our world, our political realities, etc etc: often do they sweep down upon us and carry us away with the authority and inevitability of their tone. But this is no proof that they are indeed the necessities we ofttimes imagine them to be.
4. They help us reflect upon what adjustments are required to push the flow of human events away from the wretched and towards the kinder, gentler, more effectively helpful and truly joyful.
5. They’re kind of fun.
This volume contains the entire original Frankenstein, with hypertext jumps to eight alternative trajectories inserted in critical moments of decision and action. Each alternative narrative begins with a slight introduction, which, if need be, also (candidly: nothing is hidden here!) slightly bends the preceding story so that it more snugly segues into our emendation.
If you already know the story backward and forward, you might profitably skip to our contribution to the fun: simply go to the table of contents, find the “Frankenstein Emendations” section, and read the chapters in order.
However, skipping along like that is not particularly encouraged, as we believe there’s beauty in over and over again undoing and then redoing the constituent tragedies of this terrible tragedy. One feels both the wonder of human freedom’s ability to change course for the better, and the terror of the consequences when we fail to use our freedom thusly. It’s neat, and worth contemplatively experiencing.
The introductory letters which provide the setting for the frame story are ignored by all our alternative versions. The frame story assumes the worst and thus begins the story with the tragic outcome that we’re endeavoring to escape; therefore, we cannot possibly accept the frame story. That’s not to say you shouldn’t read these introductory letters; just to inform you that we’ve no intention of abiding by them, and indeed act as if they weren’t there at all. This might create some confusion at the end when the frame story’s gone full circle and the reader is on ship with the doomed letter writer. Here and elsewhere we request that the reader shrug off any inconsistencies like we do: we’re not actually redoing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but merely considering ways in which things might have turned out better.
It seemed to this reader as if a will to tragedy damned the original narrative to the most dismal of outcomes. Maybe it’s a high and fine example of how the tragic flaw of Victor Fankenstein’s hubris cast him down from his high estate into one of abject and utter desolation. But it’s also possible and even kind of pleasant to imagine what would happen if a narrator with an equally desperate bent towards happier resolutions were allowed the reins at critical junctures throughout the book. And that’s the game we here play.
In the final chapters, we imagine the very happiest outcome: Victor Frankenstein, his monster, his monster’s companion, and everyone in Frankenstein’s family and circle are alive and well, and, having learned the secret of avoiding tragedy in their own fictional reality, travel into Goethe’s The Suffering of the Young Werther to rescue Werther from his own self-defeats; followed by a depiction of the evolution of the monster’s companion and the monsters’ courtship; and then the “Fixing Frankenstein” portion of this book concludes with a monster dance.
A note on style: We decided the transition between the original story and our departures should not be jarring, but we didn’t go so far as to try and perfectly match Mary Shelley’s language. It seemed too difficult a goal and that our failures would glare and so detract from the reader’s enjoyment.
A note on the natures of the characters: The characters are fictional and often it feels like the original narrative tweaks them away from clear thought, good sense, and wise kindness; we sometimes take the liberty of tweaking their characters in the opposite direction. The inhabitants of a fiction reveal and shape their characters in their actions, so if we sketch ways in which the characters might have behaved better, we simultaneously sketch improvements to their ways of feeling/thinking/acting (ie: their dispositions/characters/personalities).
Mary Shelley isn’t the only author possessed of a mania for disaster. After we’ve fixed Frankenstein, we do the same for Shakespeare’s King Lear (well, Act 1, Scene 1 of Lear), a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Lewis Carrol’s “Jabberwocky”. You might argue that the latter already had a happy ending, since he slew the Jabberwock, was called a “beamish boy”, and invited into his father’s arms. But here we must disagree: the Jabberwock was murdered because the father’s fear and hatred infected his son’s worldview. What is an evil celebrated as a great good but a moral tragedy atop a tragedy of errors??
This volume ends with a few Abouts:
“About the Originals”, “About the Cover”, and “About the Author & his Works”.
We hope you like the book.
We’re just goofing and kidding around.
But we are also pleading quietly, hunched over our naked toes, rearranging pebbles in a dry creek bed in a forest of bristly pines with twisted red-flaking arms high in the blue-sky Arizona mountains: “oh please, oh please, oh please, a better way for me and you and us and all, oh please, oh please, oh God please … “
Bartleby Willard, Author
Amble Whistletown, Editor
Copyright: Andrew Mackenzie Watson
In this work, all the parts not authored by long-dead famous authors are Copyright Andrew Mackenzie Watson.