Frankenstein’s Monster, Then and Now

An opening note: Yes, I know that in the book, the Doctor was Frankenstein, and the Monster was to be “a new Adam.” In popular culture, Frankenstein’s Monster became shortened to Frankenstein, and sometimes to Frank. I’m going with “Frankenstein” or just “the monster” from here on out.

The basic story is well worn from use– brilliant scientist tries to create a perfect creature and things go badly. It’s been used in every variation from the original human corpses to clones to robots to vampires. (one of the Blade movies) I could make an argument that the Island of Doctor Moreau is a Frankenstein variation, as is the legend of the Golem and thus the Wizard’s Apprentice.  A fairly new movie has the monster fighting demons in modern times, or something. Frankenstein even harassed multiple comedy teams in old movies!

The story-line of “make a better person and/or create a new life artificially and horrible things happen” is so well established that it would be easier to try to list all the examples of times it goes right in movies or others stories, and the iconic caricature of The Monster is recognizable even when he’s bright pink and apparently steam powered.

And yet, somehow, there’s something in the way people are that drives us to the same goal as Doctor Frankenstein; we want to make life, because when we make it we’ll do a better job. We manufacture humans in a lab, test, select and implant some portion rather routinely; at the other end of the spectrum, the Anglicans and Catholics in the United Kingdom actually joined together to protest plans to manufacture cloned humans in animal eggs. (Animal Human Hybrids.) In a modern echo of the original story, we use the genetic material in a human egg, put it in another egg, and then fertilize the resulting cell. This makes the “three parent children” you may have heard about.

Focusing on the human-animal combinations, I’ll just quote the Daily Mail:

This legalised the creation of a variety of hybrids, including an animal egg fertilised by a human sperm; ‘cybrids’, in which a human nucleus is implanted into an animal cell; and ‘chimeras’, in which human cells are mixed with animal embryos.

If you’re not familiar with the process, cloning is done by taking an egg, removing the nucleus and inserting a cell, then tricking it into growing. When it does start to grow, it’s the same as an embryo formed in the traditional manner. Almost all of the resulting organism’s DNA comes from the nucleus, but things like mitochondrial DNA come from the egg’s shell. This means that a human cloned in a cow’s egg and not killed for research, if they managed to reach adulthood, would most likely look and act like a naturally formed human. They would probably have health issues, since there are mitochondrial genetic diseases, but being ill health is hardly restricted to clones. God makes the soul.

This is a really long work-up to saying, as best we can tell, a human clone formed in a cow’s egg would be just as human as a child from IVF, or rape, or adultery, or any of a wide range of offenses to human dignity.

Obviously, a cow with a few human genes inserted (‘spliced’) is clearly not human. Drawing a line– “if more than 27.9835% of identified genes are human, you shouldn’t do it” is rather difficult. I would use a rule of thumb that if the goal of creating the organism is to kill it for human parts or to evade rules against killing humans for parts, you’re doing it wrong. Contrast with, say, gene splicing a pig so that a protein that makes a human body reject a pig heart is replaced by a protein that’s recognized as human by a human body.

Another way of looking at it is along the lines of therapy vs enhancement. To go to my pig example, altering the pig with the goal of fixing an existing problem is one thing; altering the pig to get as close to a human as you can get while avoiding non-moral problems (Why animal eggs? Human eggs are expensive and dangerous to get.)

The old question of “what makes a man” is quite popular, so I’ll end with a very long quote that a writer was kind enough to share, taken from The City of God, Chap. 16, Book 8.

Whether Certain Monstrous Races of Men are Derived from the Stock of Adam or Noah’s Sons.

It is also asked whether we are to believe that certain monstrous races of men, spoken of in secular history, have sprung from Noah’s sons, or rather, I should say, from that one man from whom they themselves were descended. For it is reported that some have one eye in the middle of the forehead; some, feet turned backwards from the heel; some, a double sex, the right breast like a man, the left like a woman, and that they alternately beget and bring forth: others are said to have no mouth, and to breathe only through the nostrils; others are but a cubit high, and are therefore called by the Greeks Pigmies: they say that in some places the woman conceive in their fifth year, and do not live beyond their eighth. So, too, they tell of a race who have two feet but only one leg, and are of marvelous swiftness, though they do not bend the knee: they are called Skiopodes, because in the hot weather they lie down on their backs and shade themselves with their feet. Others are said to have no head, and their eyes in their shoulders; and other human or quasi-human races are depicted in mosaic in the harbor esplanade of Carthage, on the faith of histories of rarities. What shall I say of the Cynocephali, whose dog-like head and barking proclaim them beasts rather than men? But we are not bound to believe all we hear of these monstrosities. But whoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational, mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in color, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature, no Christian can doubt that he springs from that one protoplast. We can distinguish the common human nature from that which is peculiar, and therefore wonderful.

For Halloween, I’m cross-posting slightly edited versions of my C&C monster series from Catholic Stand, one a week. Hope that you folks enjoy them.

More to explorer


  1. Foxfier.

    Scary stuff!

    I’m wondering if one Halloween night the doorbell rings and I’m looking into the face of Pan. What should I do?
    Ask it to play it’s flute for some candy?
    Or would it rather like some cabbage and carrots?

    The world is getting to complicated.

  2. When society discards tradition and the sacred it can be unsettling and a little scary. Mary Shelly lived in the wake of the French revolution and I believe this inspired her to write the story – Frankenstein. Today, we are still suffering from the impact of enlightenment and the revolution that essentially rejects God. The popularity of horror films today is noteworthy.

  3. I’m wondering if one Halloween night the doorbell rings and I’m looking into the face of Pan. What should I do?
    Give him candy, just like anyone else! Basic politeness doesn’t hurt. *grin*
    When society discards tradition and the sacred it can be unsettling and a little scary.
    More importantly, you find out what horrors those “silly” traditions were holding back, and discover that it’s just been a shift in what folks exercise their religious impulses on.
    Scary, I can handle. Destroying peoples’ lives, though?
    That said, yeah, I can’t stand horror and it sure seems like it’s getting ever worse. My husband isn’t so squeamish, and he’s stopped watching most of it because it’s so hopeless and pointless. For a guy who’s a fan of Warhammer and all that grimdark is saying something.
    That Grimdark is even a thing– it’s a meme referring to the habit of making things “more adult” by making them deadly, sad and violent, which is frequently parodied by taking it so far that the horror just becomes ludicrous– is kinda depressing. Laughing at things is a traditional defense, but I really would prefer if people could have better empathy instead of laughing hysterically at realistic, bloody slaughter. It’s sad to read really old stories and realize that the soldiers who are doing gallows humor type stuff I recognize in normal people were being used to illustrate how broken they were from the horror they’d seen.

  4. Have you ever seen the 1910 version of Frankenstein made by Edison? Or the 1920 film “The Golem, How He Came Into The World?” Imo, The Golem was the inspiration for the novel Frankenstein. The story of Rabbi Loew’s cabbalistic creature was well known in the occult tinged circles that Mary Shelly traveled in. Interestingly enough, when Universal made their classic version of Frankenstein, they studied The Golem for hints on how to make their film. If you compare the two films, you will see a lot of similarities.

  5. I don’t think I’ve seen the movie, but I’m familiar with the legend of the Golem because an English teacher used it for a root of The Magician’s Apprentice, plus Terry Pratchett’s awesome treatment. (Feet Of Clay for starters.)

  6. “Laughing at things is a traditional defense…”

    I agree with the full comment Foxfier.
    I wonder if this learned behavior is a desensitizing of a persons character or core. When children fantasize of killing bad guy’s on computer games, are some enticed into acting that behavior out for real? Has that ever been proven?

  7. Foxfier. I am so please that you put forward the cloning and abuse of the human being, body and soul. Most people do not have any idea of what these mad scientists are doing with us, and to us. When these anomalies become rampant in the human species, without our given and informed consent,”We, the people” will become enslaved by them… and all at the citizens’ taxes. Time for rakes and shovels. Wonderful insight and proper presentation… but I am no teacher or critic, or even a lawyer.
    Percy Shelley was unhappily married to Harriet Westbrook, who, pregnant and holding the hand of her two year old son, jumped off a bridge and drowned herself and her children when Mary Shelley took up with Percy.
    Frankenstein was the image of Mary Shelley’s soul, the living dead without grace. It is said that The Monster went about searching for his soul. How did Frankenstein know to know that he was supposed to have a soul, and whose soul would Frankenstein have? Frankenstein could only have the soul of his creator. So, keep a brick handy.
    Happy Halloween.

  8. Philip– the instinctive reaction to violence period has been recorded, and of course those who have violent urges who play games are more likely to play bloody games.
    That said, those who wish to fight evil are also more likely to play video games that involve killing bad guys.

  9. The Scottish Catholic philosopher, John Haldane, is rather good on this
    “in antiquity, people were animistic in their inclinations. They thought that the difference between a living thing and a non-living thing consisted in the fact that the living thing has something that the non-living thing lacks, a principle of life. Now, a principle of life is an activating organisation.
    Matter is taken up in a way that is not reducible to that matter. Aristotle in his famous work the De Anima (On the Soul) identifies a vegetative soul, that is, a principle of life which a plant has, and which gives it powers of nutrition, growth and generation. But there is, he says, another kind of living thing, which is possessed of a different set of powers, powers of perception, appetite and locomotion. Still other kinds of living things have powers of memory, will and intellect. Now these different beings constitute a hierarchy because the third kind has all the properties of the second, and the second of the first, but not vice versa. A plant, for instance, is capable of nutrition, growth and generation, but in addition, a rabbit, say, is capable of locomotion, appetite and perception, while a human being is capable of nutrition, growth and generation and locomotion, appetite and perception and memory, will and intellect.
    If we are to understand what it is to be a person, there is much to be said for returning to this older, Aristotelian, picture, according to which things are organised at progressively higher levels of activity. Things are the kinds of things they are in virtue of the kinds of powers they have, and activities at one level are not reducible to activities at a lower level. Just as locomotion cannot be reduced to nutrition, or perception to generation, so intellection, volition or memory cannot be reduced to perception, appetite, or locomotion. These are genuinely emergent higher-level powers and capacities.”

  10. Michael Paterson-Seymour: “If we are to understand what it is to be a person, there is much to be said for returning to this older, Aristotelian, picture, according to which things are organised at progressively higher levels of activity. Things are the kinds of things they are in virtue of the kinds of powers they have, and activities at one level are not reducible to activities at a lower level.
    Thomas Aquinas was in agreement with Aristotle. The human soul is immortal, created in the image of the Creator, by the Creator, in free will and intellect.
    Frankenstein had no soul, no personhood, nor identity other than the soul, personhood and identity given him by his inventor, Mary Shelley.

  11. Leviticus 19:19 provides grounds for questioning the direct genetic manipulation of organisms, even if no human materials are a part of that manipulation.

  12. Foxfier.

    Thank you..
    Your answer makes sense.
    Happy Halloween.
    btw…the traditional eve for Mexicans is beautiful. They go to the grave site of their loved one with dishes they prepared beforehand. Meals the deceased liked prior to death.
    Then they have a celebration of sorts.
    They do this tonight.
    All hollowed’s evening.
    I was privy to one in Wisconsin years ago. Included music and dancing.
    One of the best Halloween’s in my life.

  13. Howard-
    not really. It could be read as “don’t cross a Jersey with an Angus” or even “don’t try to breed your cows with animals they cannot breed with,” but 1) it’s one of the go-to examples of ceremonial law, and 2) in context, it’s about mixing unlike things– if you want to try to argue from that verse, you’ll have to go after the producers of mixed hay (or any other agriculture that involves planting two different plants in the same field at the same time) and blended fabrics first, as they’re much more common; otherwise it’s like publicly opposing human experimentation but not abortion or murder.

  14. On further research, it seems that the prevailing theory is that the Israeli’s nasty pagan neighbors did a lot of sympathetic magic of that sort– put a strong horse in with the cows and all the calves will be strong because it rubs off type stuff, definitely not applied technique. Superstition.

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