The first flesh golem was not a flesh golem

I recently read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the first time. (OK actually I listened to it being read during my commute, but I think that counts as reading it.)  Many things about the book surprised, even though I knew the book was very different from the movie depictions and that the monster in particular was nothing like the movie monster.  What I did not know was that in the book, the monster is not actually assembled from body parts, is not brought to life by electricity or “galvanism,” and was made eight feet tall in order to make it easier to work with — Victor Frankenstein figured a larger scale would make the little details easier to manipulate. 🙂

The descriptions of the monster are mostly very vague (hideous and misshapen are the main descriptors), but the few details we get — yellow, semi-transparent skin, watery eyes, huge grinning teeth, long black hair, and his mummy-like hands — certainly seem freaky.

The details of the construction of the monster, and his aborted bride (I am not worried about spoiling a nearly 200 year old book!) are vague also, but we do learn that Victor relied on “chemical instruments” to accomplish his work.  He describes the work as horrifying and disgusting at various points in the narrative, but it seemed to be more of a moral, rather than visceral, repugnance.  I should mention that this was far from being purely a scientific undertaking; Victor alludes to an intense study of alchemy and ceremonial magic that he undertook before going off to university.  But the important point is that at no point does he mention needing body parts or digging up graves.  In fact his second attempt at creating a being takes place on an isolated island with hardly any inhabitants and no graveyard.

So the monster usually identified as the archetype of flesh golem was not really a flesh golem, in the D&D sense, at all.

Flesh Golem.JPG

This is not Frankenstein’s monster.

Fun fact: in the novel, the monster is also a fruitarian, living on nuts and berries.  When he is trying to persuade Victor to build him a wife and let them go live peacefully in the wilds, he says: “My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment.”

(For the curious, my review of Frankenstein is on Goodreads)

Published in: on October 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I disagree whole-heartedly…the process of creation was different but they are essentially the same as an end result..truthfully the process at which “the monster” is created isn’t very well documented in the book so the best you can do is come to your own conclusions/hypothesis as to how you think he was made..doing so doesn’t make it fact but your best educated guess. Being that “the monster” has a heart beat and was reanimated through one process or another makes him a golem of sorts…being that he’s composed of human flesh makes him fleshy so a flesh golem best describes him.

    • I’d say it makes the creature more a homonculus than a flesh golem though — the passage in chapter 4 that describes his creation suggests (to me) that Frankenstein was able to scale the creature up :

      “When I found so astonishing a power placed within my hands, I hesitated a long time concerning the manner in which I should employ it. Although I possessed the capacity of bestowing animation, yet to prepare a frame for the reception of it, with all its intricacies of fibres, muscles, and veins, still remained a work of inconceivable difficulty and labour. I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organization; but my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man. The materials at present within my command hardly appeared adequate to so arduous an undertaking, but I doubted not that I should ultimately succeed. I prepared myself for a multitude of reverses; my operations might be incessantly baffled, and at last my work be imperfect, yet when I considered the improvement which every day takes place in science and mechanics, I was encouraged to hope my present attempts would at least lay the foundations of future success. Nor could I consider the magnitude and complexity of my plan as any argument of its impracticability. It was with these feelings that I began the creation of a human being. As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature, that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large. After having formed this determination and having spent some months in successfully collecting and arranging my materials, I began.”

      It’s pretty hard to imagine Frankenstein finding a single corpse that big (and moving it by himself) let alone a series of them for parts. The fact that he could spend months collecting “materials” makes me think flesh was not being collected either — there is no grave robbing going on, and no need to preserve the materials or work faster because the materials are decaying. But D&D golems seem to be defined by the materials used to assemble them. Given that Frankenstein only mentions alchemy and chemistry, the creature seems to be wholly synthetic.

      But you’re right it’s ultimately conjecture, and was never made explicit because those details either weren’t important to Shelley or she preferred to keep it mysterious.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Wayne's Books

Game Gallery ~ Photo Blog

Ann's Immaterium

Writing, gaming, miniature painting, physical culture, and other dark procrastinations.


Collecting, modelling, painting and wargaming in 28mm

Dragons Never Forget

What were we talking about again?

This Stuff is REALLY Cool

Young scholars enthusiastic to tell you about COOL RESEARCH STUFF

Fail Squad Games

Tabletop games and adventures

Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

Hey Did You Know I Write Books

Save Vs. Dragon

"We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different."--Kurt Vonnegut


Old School Roleplaying and related musings

Hobgoblin Orange

My return to the world of miniature figure painting and RPGs

The Book Reviews You Can Trust!

Dawn of the Lead

Miniature wargaming and the occasional zombie

The Blog

The latest news on and the WordPress community.


Miniature Motivation

Take On Rules

Jeremy Friesen - a poor soul consumed by gaming.

Age of Dusk

Roleplaying, reviews and associated paraphernalia.

Roll to Disbelieve

"We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different."--Kurt Vonnegut

A Book of Creatures

A Complete Guide to Entities of Myth, Legend, and Folklore

Making the Past

Diary of an apprentice swordsmith

Ancient & Medieval Wargaming

Using De Bellis Antiquitatis, with the odd diversion...

Riffing Religion

Prophets should be mocked. I'm doing my part.


Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense

2 Warps to Neptune

Surveying the Gen X landscape and the origins of geek

Dagger and Brush

Miniature painting, wargaming terrain tutorials, reviews, interviews and painting guides


A lair for gaming, sci-fi, comics, and other geekish pursuits.

I bought these adventure and review them so you don't have to.

9th Key Press

Maps, supplements, and inspiration for roleplaying games.

The Rambling Roleplayer Archives

This site is no longer being updated. Check out the new site at

The History Blog

History fetish? What history fetish?

Sheppard's Crook

The occasional blog of a closet would -be wargamer and modeller

10 Bad Habits

Probably not the Justin Howe you were looking for

The Weekly Sift

making sense of the news one week at a time


Just another site

%d bloggers like this: