It probably doesn’t come as a shock to most that, the Satanic aesthetic being what it is, a lot of people in the Satanic community are fond of the horror genre. I think there’s a bit of a misconception among those outside the community at how non-trivial those fascinations really are though. Many seem to think that the whole ‘dark and macabre’ thing is just a childish attempt to get a rise out of people. In a way it’s not unlike the misconception that Satanists merely use the imagery of Satan to shock and annoy. There are legitimate philosophical and historical underpinnings that cause these stories to resonate, and one of the great examples of that is Mary Shelley’s classic ‘Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.’
Some Brief Historical Context
Armchair philosophers, the type who if you’re not a total shut-in you’ve invariably heard say something like ‘actually Frankenstein isn’t the name of the monster’, are often met with the clever rejoinder of ‘wasn’t he though?’. Then everyone nods thoughtfully and someone eventually buys another round of drinks. It is the sort of thing worth thinking about though, sometimes in ways that are intimately related to the Satanic milieu. If Victor is the monster, what implications does that have in his role as creator to his creature? Is that a commentary on theology? Maybe. Mary was after all married to Percy Bysshe Shelley (whose contemporaneous work also fits neatly into the tradition of Romantic Satanism). But for the purposes of getting a sense of how the couple felt about God let’s just point out that before their courtship he was writing things like “The Necessity of Atheism” in which he flatly stated:
“… the mind cannot believe the existence of a creative God: it is also evident that, as belief is a passion of the mind, no degree of criminality is attachable to disbelief; and that they only are reprehensible who neglect to remove the false medium through which their mind views any subject of discussion. Every reflecting mind must acknowledge that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity.
God is an hypothesis, and, as such, stands in need of proof: the onus probandi rests on the theist..”- Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1813
Atheists today have problems telling their own grandmas that’s what they think, and Percy was publishing essays like that before the U.S. and Britain had even stopped shooting at each other over their breakup. So let’s just assume, for the moment, that Mary found heresy to be one of his admirable qualities. It’s then safe to say that Victor, in his role as creator, should rightly be viewed as a villain. But then does that make his creation a tragic hero? That brings us to a more interesting question of whether Victor or his creation is the Prometheus of the story referenced in the often ignored subtitle.
Frankenstein, and the Romantic Satan are Both Promethean Characters
Let’s take a minute to consider the correlations between the ancient Greek Prometheus, our modern Satan, and Frankenstein. In the Greek myth Prometheus is punished by the other gods for giving fire to humankind. Marginally less metaphorically, Satan is punished for rebellion and goes on to exact revenge on god by convincing humankind to eat of the tree of knowledge. In Frankenstein, the whole script flips. The creation is punished for merely existing (much like Adam and Eve) and discontent with the unfairness of that seeks to punish his creator and bring about his downfall. So, Victor is Promethean in the sense that he tried to ‘steal’ the knowledge of how to create life, but instead of being punished by god or other gods is punished by his creation itself.
Where does that leave Victor Frankenstein’s creation? His creator summarily cast him out as a wretch. He was, if I may channel some of my inner Hitchens by way of Greville for a moment, ‘born sick and commanded to be well’ with his creator offering no sympathy or aid. The creature, despite no support system whatsoever, goes on to learn and grow, but is still rejected by the rest of humanity for being different. He succeeds in destroying his creator, but then martyrs himself. Victor’s creation, having no purpose to his life but revenge basically just wanders off to die after achieving his goal. There’s a lesson in that.
Last week on NPR’s Science Friday their book club segment reviewed Frankenstein (embed below). They raise an interesting observation that Victor could have avoided his fate if, after bringing his creation to life instead of ostracizing him as a monster he instead offered support and nurturing. The panel speculated that these ideas stemmed from Mary’s rumination about the nature of parenthood. It’s interesting through the lens of Victor as the creator/god character to think about how this could also be a reproach of theism. The creature, as the everyman with a theistic upbringing, feels abandoned and seeks to destroy his creator. In much the same way, some theists grappling with the clear absence of the god they’re told exists can become the most ardent anti-theists. Definitely a discussion worth checking out.