The following (see title above) is an essay from Joseph Gibson, 17, a student at Ogden High School, in Ogden, Utah. It is the completion of a yearlong project, part of his International Baccalaureate high school program. Joseph is the son of Plan9Crunch blogger Doug Gibson
Category 1 - Language and Literature
Word Count 
a. Is a Monster Born or Made?...
b. Sympathetic Monsters...
c. Capacity of Monsters For Moral Growth/Accountability…
d. Monsters and Predestiny…
Fiction has the power to provoke readers into questions they might not otherwise ask in a scenario where it is acceptable to agree or disagree with anything and experience anything within a surreal sphere. Even so, audiences can tend to stay most comfortable watching their heroes prevail over monsters and villains. Though such stories are important, their battles pose an interesting question: are these conflicts against monsters and villains equal? When a human is evil enough, he or she is called a monster. Does that mean that any monster must face the designation of irredeemable villainy? What even is a monster? What do certain texts indicate about the morality of monsters? A Student's Dictionary defines “monster” as “an animal or person with a strange or unusual shape,” and that is a rather standard explanation. However, this does not fully explain the archetype of a monster in those traditional stories. It is better to say a monster is any sole individual that is incompatible with the culture and society viewing it and one where interactions between that culture and the monster will lead to a dangerous conflict. Any number of animal species are this to each other; it almost stands to reason monsters should have no culpability for their actions if those would follow a separate natural order. Yet, the most enduring monsters have an intimate relationship with humans, and, as most authors are human, the texts will take a distinct stance on the culpability, responsibility and morality of such monsters. It is best to examine two narratives -- what some consider the original modern monster story: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, specifically the 1831 version, and a novel that biographizes the Universal Monsters series under the lifespan of the Wolf-Man: A Werewolf Remembers: The Testament Of Lawrence Stewart Talbot by Frank Dello Stritto.
The former provides a historical insight to the relatively recent publication of the latter. The benefit of examining these two texts is how the texts specifically show two similar character arcs for their monsters that deserve more specific analysis, which can encompass the following: origin, sympathy, comparison to other monsters, development, and significant themes to explore each monster. Another benefit to examining these two texts specifically is that Mary Shelley’s work, in some ways, defined the genre and archetype, whereas Dello Stritto, in crafting his work, sought to stick as close to the movies’ story as possible while repurposing werewolf tropes from other media to construct his monster story (Dello Stritto, 494). Dello Stritto’s work has merit over other examples, because his novel charts the entire lifespan and character evolution of a famous monster. Therefore, every rhetorical choice these texts make is deliberate; consequently, these are two of the best texts to examine here.
The question of someone being born a monster or nurtured accordingly pervades The Monster’s journey in Frankenstein, while tinging the edges of Talbot’s in his novel. By that earlier definition for monster, the large frame and watery eyes indicate that he is a monster, but he shows no deliberate malice or instinct for wanton destruction. Based on the preconceived notions of monsters in the first definition, The Monster has a greater potential to be one simply because of his stature (even though Victor especially designed its extraneous features due to his interpretation of attractiveness). Similarly, while Talbot’s curse is something he acquires, one of his mentors, who studies his affliction on page 214, says, “The moonlight interplays differently with everyone….But it only ignites what is inside you.” His mentor is not even incorrect in this; Talbot pursues an engaged woman named Gwen Conliffe at the beginning of his story in a somewhat predatory manner. The lycanthropic curse only brings to the surface what is inside of him, just as the later ostracization of The Monster will awaken its cunning and darker urges. Once again, though, these behaviors do not spring forth from a vacuum, and there is a very provocative implication in their origins that warrants further examination. The Monster’s relationship with his father, Victor Frankenstein, fuels the novel, and Talbot spends a significant portion of his novel bouncing between alternate father figures because of a complicated relationship with his own father. These alternative father figures almost invariably end very poorly, a fact frighteningly intimate with The Monster’s own experience with the blind man. Strangely, it does not even end there, as the creation of these characters excludes women in a significant way.
The Monster’s creation comes solely from man, withholding any female influence, and Dello Stritto meets this by recycling the other film roles of Talbot’s actor and Talbot’s father’s actor into more Talbots. He thereby weaves a family tree that emphasizes the men in the lineage and strips women of any power by supposing the Talbot lineage bears no women and by killing off Talbot’s mother early into his life. Thus, the texts insinuate that monsters are monsters due to complicated family dynamics. Talbot’s negative qualities are possibly the result of his exploits with other Talbots he meets in America after his father sends him away there, where his main Talbot mentor teaches him to read people and treat most conversations as if they were a complicated game. It is a mindset that informs some of his thoughts he describes when he was around Gwen. The main maternal insert for Talbot ends up a gypsy woman Maleva, whose son infected him with lycanthropy. Their partnership in trying to cure Talbot comes across as the least ambiguously positive as they travel together between the first few attempts at cures. She seemingly devotes the rest of her life to helping him and confirms at one point that he has become a surrogate son. Her early influence on him could be wholly responsible for the positive traits that manifest despite his curse. She, also, is his primary tether to humanity for much of the novel. The Monster lacks this kind of reprieve, any companion to stay with him through his journey. This lack of any consistent mother figure or friend in particular outside of the blind man and Frankenstein himself add to the tragedy and inform The Monster’s fixation on his loneliness that drives his every action. These interpersonal relationships or lack thereof generate much sympathy for The Monsters as well as creating them and forcing their trajectory in a specific way. According to these texts, monsters lack familial stability and support systems.
An audience’s sympathy for a character is triggered for any number of reasons, but this is a more delicate balance when the character kills human beings. Indeed, The Monster and Talbot are sympathetic characters; it can be difficult to understand why without comparing other monsters. Luckily, Dello Stritto’s text, summarizing the latter half of the Universal Monsters film series, yields such other monsters: the film versions of Dracula and The Frankenstein Monster. Meanwhile, the novel Monster best compares to the literary Dracula, who is essentially the same character as the movie character with more textual similarities to The Monster. Talbot meets his versions of The Monster and Dracula in an afterlife scenario, describing them in this passage. “The Dark One radiated evil...I could feel his thirst for revenge. He was plotting...The Big One waited. I watched and remembered” (Dello Stritto, 230-231). Here the intent is the key difference between the appropriate sympathy levels for these three monsters amidst the result of their similar crimes. This version of The Monster mostly lacks agency, and Dracula has always derived pleasure from preying on humans. Talbot’s monster is the monster within himself, but what makes his character compelling is his eternal battle with the self. Most of his surrogate father figures are ones he enlists to cure him of his lycanthropy. He regrets his murders and feels depression over them and takes responsibility in trying to cure himself. Evidently, a monster archetype can feel remorse.
Talbot´s testaments absorb other vampires of the times into Dracula to further color the latter’s resume as a monster and villain, but the most intelligent scheme the character has enacted is the novel original. Dracula puts evident thought into his movements in his novel, and here arises the comparison to The Monster. He abducts and murders a child and tortures their female caretaker. He meticulously preys on his target’s mental states through many targeted attacks. He even frames his enemy for actions necessary for his plan, forcing them to act in ways that benefit him before that person defies him. In response, he attempts to take away their new bride. The significance here is that The Monster does all these same heinous actions in Frankenstein, showing the same level of intelligent thought and foresight. There is no tangible reason why one should appear more sympathetic -- and therefore excusable -- than the other except the audience's understanding of the tragedy of The Monster and the comparative lack thereof of any nuance to the character of Dracula in either story. The Monster justifies its motives thusly. “I am content to reason with you. I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind?...tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me?” (Shelley, 104). This demonstrates the importance of the backstory The Monster has just divulged to Frankenstein and the reader, and Frankenstein understands it. The Monster asks for Frankenstein to build him a mate so he is no longer lonely. There is the honest interpretation that had Frankenstein honored this request, The Monster’s terror would have ceased. Shelley seems to be implying, then, that monsters can have emotional motivations like humans. Frankenstein’s abortion of his Bride project incurs some of The Monster’s more malicious actions and evaluates The Monster as the monster that man makes as opposed to the monster whose nature is to prey on man. In these ways as related to these other monsters, the texts clarify the instances where monster archetypes are sympathetic.
Sympathy is important for audience engagement, but growth and change -- if at all possible redemption -- has a more lasting impact and justifies the sympathy. Talbot´s novel repeats a motif that directly links to his curse. "Even a man who's pure in heart And says his prayers by night, May become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms And the autumn moon is bright." At first, it seems like a condemnation and a resignation to his curse, but it transforms into much more with the realization that Talbot was not pure in heart at the beginning of his journey and later grows into a man who is pure in heart because of his affliction. Talbot´s actions and attitudes in similar situations shift over the course of the novel. In the beginning, he struggles and gives into his impulses to hunt Gwen and, later, Elsa Frankenstein with comparative ease. By the time the narrative reaches this relationship with the gypsy woman Illonka, though, there is a difference. Dello Stritto had set up a scenario to foreshadow this turn in Talbot’s early years with a woman named Consuela. At first, he goes along with the woman’s advances immediately, but he is a lot more wary of Illonka and how he could hurt her or how her attraction to him may be a result of her unsettled internal issues (Dello Stritto, 298). It is not as if he is suddenly immune to his beast self’s fantasies about her or his own overwhelming attraction to her, but he recognizes the underlying circumstances in the situation and handles the situation with more maturity and care. This level of self awareness from a monster is a specific choice to underline his growth in the narrative. Still, he wants nothing more than to be cured, and she becomes a part of that fantasy. Another important byproduct of this relationship is Talbot’s scheme to rescue her from his “beast-self” by drugging her and locking her in a room when his murderous impulses battle him over her. Notwithstanding that he still ends up killing her the next day, this marks immense growth for the man. Where he was previously powerless to his impulses and role as a monster, he is able to fight effectively against himself. However, for the narrative to still focus on monsters, the redemption cannot be to a state of total humanity, and it can be to any degree of subtlety. Talbot is a tragic character fundamentally that is cursed to lose control and kill, but he changes along the way to combat this. He powerlessly follows his impulses to later seek death and after, a better life, deliberately battling his darker half. Talbot further evolves with his later hunt of Dracula, learning to use the full scope of his abilities toward a good end.
At the end of Frankenstein, The Monster outlives his creator in a worldwide hunt that provides a catalyst for a change. The Monster has likely already understood that without his creator, he is nothing ,and that has likely been an underlying motive. In that regard, The Monster’s resolution to end his miserable life is not a surprise. The more important realization for The Monster is that what he did was wrong with his apology to Walton. This is significant. The monsters of the animal kingdom -- what the cat is to the mouse -- have no responsibility to do anything less than what they do to each other. They do what they do to survive with no real morality. On the surface, a monster like Dracula is the same, and it becomes hard to disprove the sentiment that monsters are wholly incompatible with humans and human society, doomed to villainy. But the texts surrounding Frankenstein’s Monster and Larry Talbot offer a more nuanced perspective through the respective growth in accountability and limiting the impact of their actions. It can never be a perfect redemption for them as society will not allow The Monster a place nor his creator allow him a mate. Similarly, the final successful curing of Talbot´s condition only lasts for under a year, but this is a redemption of their characters that demonstrates the standards and responsibilities of even monsters. Their remembrance is as monsters, but that only drags them down so far, as monsters can have the agency and intellect required to grow and change as a human. Or, perhaps given their close proximity to humankind and aforementioned evolution and character development, the core of these texts’ representation of monsters is to imply that they are indeed human in terms of functionality.
As aforementioned, there is a cure for Talbot at one point in the novel, though temporary. This is because the film series had the penultimate installment approach that angle and the final one completely ignore that ending. Yet, Dello Stritto illustrates another undercurrent of his interpretation of Talbot’s journey through this. This is the idea of destiny. The framing device of the novel initially is Talbot writing his memoirs, cured and about to marry his fiancee. The story progresses to that point from his beginning into his curse and search for viable long-term cures. Amidst all of that, there are implications of a rigid fate. On the hands of his victims, there is always a pentagram to mark his hunt for them. Maleva insinuates predestiny in her eulogies and lamentations she recites at certain intervals throughout the novel. She turns out to be vindicated. After each of his deaths, he finds himself in a place he calls “The Deep Darkness” with Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula. The souls of the dead pass through that place into the afterlife, and Talbot, Dracula and this interpretation of The Monster are unique in that they are stuck to that place. While Mannering’s machine could functionally drain the life energy of both him and The Monster, there is no indication that their afterlife connection is due to anything other than the supernatural. A gypsy named Bela infects Talbot with lycanthropy, and Talbot, in turn, infects a couple of people, who infect more. The story never mentions any of these werewolves being trapped in The Deep Darkness beyond Talbot’s questions about it. They did not have the same destiny. Furthermore, Talbot’s travails in this novel join him with several mad scientists who would, in their respective films, create beings similar to The Wolf-Man and The Monster that never gain any mention in The Deep Darkness either. Therefore, these three do have a specific fate to necessitate their presence up to a certain point. It is provable, because the story does end with circumstances that satisfy whatever is keeping them there as they never reappear again despite incurring deaths that were tame compared to their previous ones. Destiny leads him to Edelmann, (Dello Stritto, 317), the man ultimately responsible for finding a cure for Talbot´s condition. Talbot is cured and The Monster and Dracula die once more, but that is still not enough to keep them retired. Destiny and his own character arc demand Talbot find Edelmann, receive his cure, fall in love again, and kill a Dracula-corrupted Edelmann. Around page three hundred comes a major turning point as the appearance of Dracula coincides with the reappearance of his “beast-self”, serving to obliterate the ideal life he had finally achieved. Dracula seduces Talbot´s fiancee into one of his own Brides, and The Wolf-Man has to destroy her. After that point, Talbot’s drive is not to live a human life but to end the unnatural life and legacy of Dracula. This is Talbot’s ultimate fate, and it is his arc but also destiny that leads to this (Dello Stritto, 483). Talbot’s experiences made him into a monster able to exact a deadly force, and his struggle against his impulses after revival made him a better man. His evolution in romantic circumstances makes him able to court Miliza Morelle. Losing her and the remains of his normal human life as a Talbot is essential for completing his destiny. A werewolf with nothing left to lose and no more illusions about regaining humanity is Dracula’s most permanent nemesis. Talbot understands and cooperates with the Wolf-Man inside himself in detecting Dracula’s victims through scents. The text is demonstrating that Talbot has the required abilities for an ultimate destiny of ridding the world of evil. Evidently, monsters can be used for good in the grand scheme of things. Talbot had soliloquized about being “permitted to die” (Dello Stritto, 179), which reaches its natural conclusion when the Wolf-Man’s murder of Dracula appeared to end both permanently, as well as The Monster, who he rescues from Dracula’s influence. Talbot could not find permanent peace from the monster inside of man through anything except joining with that monster to end the reign of the monster that exclusively preyed on mankind and rescuing The Monster that man made. The text portrays a divine, predestination streak.
The Monster in Frankenstein exists in an opposite sphere. The novel more prevalently concerns itself with the debate of nature and nurture. Whereas destiny had a role that nobody can define in the fall and redemption of Lawrence Talbot, in his travels, The Monster encounters situations where the nurture of people around him warps his nature. This harkens back to the earlier proposed working definition for a monster that is fundamentally contingent upon the society viewing it. Frankenstein´s Monster appears too large and grotesque to his European beholders. They instinctively view him as a loathsome and lesser creature and pass fierce judgements. This is similar to the novel Dracula, wherein the viewpoint characters, mostly contemporary Western Europeans or highly respected and scientifically minded people, pass a series of judgements and assumptions on the motivations of Dracula and his brides, their morality and on the natives to the community Harker travels through on his way to Dracula’s castle. It is human nature but also highlights another nuance that the definition of strange is subject to all sorts of preexisting bias. In that respect, the nature and nurture of The Monster take more meaning as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Monster learns beautiful and eloquent language skills from the blind man and also of the kindness of man among each other through the blind man’s family. He introduces a nature to help people in need when he helps them, but they will not repay him with kindness and generosity when they can see him. As aforementioned, people such as Felix and William view The Monster as vile and hideous and do not allow him to prove otherwise, first meeting him with violence and fear. It is easy to understand why he then sinks into vile schemes. Once again, The Monster’s primary motivation is still loneliness, and his hunt with his creator is mired in desire for that creator to accept him or create him someone who can. Terrorizing Frankenstein´s life is all The Monster has and all anyone has allowed him to have in their society. The predestination of The Monster is through human biases and actions, rather than some divine aim, but his final action allows him to somewhat escape the prewritten.
To conclude, Frankenstein and A Werewolf Remembers: The Testament Of Lawrence Stewart Talbot, challenge perceptions of the monster archetype through telling two similar stories comprising the birth, life and death of two famous monsters. These texts examine a monster’s morality. Though Talbot and The Monster are ultimately monsters and will not be able to function within the confines of human society without heavy casualties, they are still beings that have the capacity for growth and change and self-awareness and self-discovery and can accomplish good, or end bad, if they choose it. Other monsters can show the other lane to that choice, a senseless, unprovoked and well thought out crime. It is the same choice every human has; thus, it lends understanding to the notion of terrible people being monsters. This is remarkably a rectangular relationship, for these novels also prove not every monster is a terrible man and that becoming a monster and redemption are not mutually exclusive terms. Still, this analysis has left several persisting questions however. In the event where monsters do not have to be the villains, in what place does that put man in their stories, especially in being responsible for The Monster and ambition? Until the turning point near the end of the novel, Talbot considers the closest thing to a villain in his story to be Dr. Frank Mannering. Mannering is the first of a few to propose a solution to cure Talbot of The Wolf-Man. He is also the first of a few that Talbot recognizes the obsession start to form with reviving The Monster. Doctors Niemann and Edelmann follow in this pursuit. The latter ultimately debates with an assistant if humans have any responsibility to The Monster or to their fellow selves. The obsession and fixation that seems to infect those doctors has some roots possibly in Frankenstein, where the title character has the same feeling toward his construction of The Monster. What is interesting is that Walton too bears that toward his own exploits and that Frankenstein must tell him not to indulge his ambition. Mannering also masters the secrets of eternal youth through Frankenstein’s notes rather than the destiny that Talbot has to die and return at intervals. It would be warranted to compare Elizabeth Lavenza and Miliza Morelle, the respective main love interests for each book that suffer unpleasant ends and to compare also what they accomplish, as characters, beyond furthering the protagonists’ and antagonists’ characters and rivalry in their stories. Another questionable consideration is how much Victor Frankenstein himself qualifies as a monster through sheer comparison to Talbot and his own monster, given several similarities in personality and lifestyle with Lawrence Talbot. The open sexuality of Talbot´s book deserves analysis, as many monster books, especially the older ones, aim more for a celibate outlook or otherwise comment on restrictive sexuality. Dracula, in particular, has an interesting exploration on its culture’s sexuality through Lucy and Mina that seem to contrast with Talbot´s experiences.
Dello Stritto, Frank J., A Werewolf Remembers: The Testament of Lawrence Stewart Talbot. Cult Movies Press, 644 East 7 1/2 Street, Houston, Texas 77007, 2017
Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein, 1831, London, Dover, 1994.
Stoker, Abraham, Dracula, 1897, London, Barnes & Noble Inc. 122 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10011, 2011.
Dictionary Project, Inc. A Student's Dictionary & Gazetteer, 21st edition ed., USA, 2013, p. 209.