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)

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Published in: on October 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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