The Monsters’ Stories

In 1818 Mary Shelly wrote the story of Victor Frankenstein as he created his monster out of dead body parts. More recently, Ahmed Saadawi created an adaptation of the story based in a war-torn Iraq as a junk dealer pieces together dead body parts to create a monster inhabited by a dead soul. Ahmed Saadawi takes a very similar style to Mary Shelly with a more noticeable patchwork style and also telling the story of the story’s monster from multiple perspectives rather than just one. Frankenstein in Baghdad was an appropriation of Frankenstein with changes made to the story and style only keeping the heart of the story of Frankenstein’s monster. The major shifts in the story make the connection obvious only in the title and the pieced together monster changing major plot points, themes, and other pieces of the story. Significant variations between the two author’s style and their monster’s motivation push the stories and make the separation.

Both Mary Shelly and Ahmed Saadawi tell the story of their monster using a patchwork style of writing piecing together different pieces of the stories such as letters, different perspectives, and time jumps. This style of writing is very unique and differs significantly between the two authors with Mary Shelly’s writing appearing to be more coherent while Ahmed Saadawi’s writing is much more broken and disjointed. In Frankenstein in Baghdad the broken style allows the story to be told from many different peoples’ perspectives giving multiple takes on the different events. In the original Frankenstein the patchwork style is much more fitting for the time period’s style of writing and consists of only two different perspectives and multiple letters. It is a much less noticeable style because of how the pieces are broken in which a part can be read without the reader realizing they are still reading that part until it shifts. Ahmed Saadawi uses a variation of this style to tell a story surrounding one main character, the monster, without using one main perspective to drive the story. The patchwork style of both authors fits together the different pieces of the stories like a puzzle which can be linked as a reference to how the monster was put together and also the chaos represented in both novels by the people and settings. Frankenstein in Baghdad is set in Iraq, a war torn and chaotic country, while Frankenstein has the characters constantly moving and the events moving very rapidly giving the reader chaos only to be heightened by the patchwork style.

Throughout both stories the monster has very clear intentions of what it is doing such as Mary Shelly’s monster wants a partner or mate because it is lonely or Ahmed Saadawi’s monster wants to get revenge for every part of its body. While both are very obvious they are strikingly different when compared with one another. Mary Shelly’s monster’s intentions made it to be more childlike and relatable to the reader as it seemed to connect with the human feeling of loneliness drawing compassion rather than hatred. For example, the monster says, “I am malicious because I am miserable; am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces… I demand a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself…” (Shelly 102). Ahmed Saadawi’s monster becomes more of an anti-hero character killing other people in order to get revenge on those who wrong them when the body parts were alive. The monster’s entire goal is to kill and avenge the different pieces of his body, mainly his main soul, which makes it the focus of the story for the majority of the characters. Both monsters’ motivations help to drive the story but are very different because of the setting in which the book is written. The motivation for Victor Frankenstein’s monster is used to create dilemmas for Victor and plot points which match pieces of Mary Shelly’s life such as the death of her children goes with the death of the death of Victor’s nephew. The motivation for “Whatsitsname” fits more to the idea of justice in a war-torn Iraq where the ethics of revenge and violence is commonly explored to further several different characters helping create common themes throughout several of the characters for example Mahmoud.

Both authors created novels that were very similar in some respects but wildly different in others giving the reader a story of science, humanity, ethical problems, adventure, and violence. Frankenstein is nearly 200 years old but Frankenstein in Baghdad still draws some of its key aspects as it attempts to adapt the story.

Special Edition of Frankenstein

Wilson library holds thousands of books with many different copies and adaptations of books creating a collection hold multiple rare and unique books. Upon our visit to Wilson Library multiple different adaptations of Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and Robinson Crusoe were on display. These adaptations came in the form of comic books of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures, travel sized versions of Robinson Crusoe and large, decorative versions of Frankenstein. Out of the different versions and adaptations shown off my favorite was the large, decorative version of Frankenstein portrayed with delicate pictures, fancy formatting, rarity of print, and a very interesting story.

The story of Victor Frankenstein and his monster is one of science and mystery portraying how a single man creates life from the pieces of human remains. Written by Mary Shelly in 1818, the story of Frankenstein’s monster focuses on Victor as he works through creating the monster then the fallout of what he has created. While talking to Frankenstein the monster says: “Listen to me, Frankenstein. You accuse me of murder; and yet you would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your own creature” (Shelly 69). This perfectly shows the conflict Victor faces about what he did in creating the creature who becomes his monster. The reader sees the creature go from Frankenstein’s process of the creation to an innocent being to a monster tormenting Victor for revenge. The terror and science of the story makes it one of the first science fiction novels to be created helping to make it immensely popular at the time of its creation unlike other books of the time.

While the novel creates an interesting, science fiction story, the way the book is presented gives it even more splendor. One of the 1818 editions held in Wilson Library is one printed only 350 times with special print and pictures designed to give the story of Frankenstein’s monster a creative and artistic feel. Pictures of different scenes are scattered throughout the book each created by hand in black and white using hand craved templates. The print was created using the print press method, originally used before the creation of digital printers, giving a more unique feel to work alongside the word design which forms in a downward triangle. The delicate features and rarity of this adaptation of Frankenstein partner with the story to create a unique experience meant to give the reader a much different feel than the original story of Frankenstein.

Friday Comparison

When someone talking about Robinson Crusoe mentions the word Friday, what pops into your head? Is it first the brave, bear-fighting, side-kick of Robinson Crusoe or the tongue less, cannibalistic slave who occupancies Susan Barton. Neither version is a right or wrong depiction of the character Friday but what makes him so different in an adaptation of the book? Large pieces of what makes the two versions of Friday so different are left up for interpretation but a piece of Friday’s character was based off the time period in which the books were written and the author’s purpose for writing the books.

The first piece we will look at is the time period the books were written in and the historical context. Robinson Crusoe was written in the 1700’s in less than one week, while Foe was written in the late 1900’s separating them by roughly two hundred or more years. Danial Defoe, writer of Robinson Crusoe, originally set out to create a “true” story depicting Robinson Crusoe’s adventures of getting stranded on a deserted island. Friday is portrayed as Crusoe’s slave throughout a large portion of time where they are stuck on the island shown by the author saying: “…and first, I made him know his Name should be Friday, which was the Day I sav’d his Life; I call’d him so for the Memory of the Time; I likewise taught him to say Master, and then let him know, that was to be my Name…” (Defoe 220).  Here Defoe is showing how Crusoe acts as he is better than Friday in the beginning, forming a master and slave relationship which is normal for the time. During the time the book was written slavery was a very common idea and lasted as such until the 1830’s. J. M. Coetzee, writer of Foe, portrayed Friday very differently as he was writing in the 1980’s with a much larger perspective on the world than Defoe had. Friday was described by Susan as a mute slave to Crusoe who was more her shadow than a person. For example, Coetzee says: ‘Perhaps they wanted to prevent him from ever telling his story: who he was, where his home lay, how it came about that he was taken’” (Coetzee 23). Coetzee’s intention was to show Friday in this brutality and victimized state because he knew of the violence and abuse people like him went through giving him a different light than Defoe.

Both authors, like all authors, have a very distinct purpose for writing their novels. While Defoe’s purpose is a little bit less known, it seems as though Coetzee writes Foe as an adaptation of Robinson Crusoe in order to satire the time period along with the book. As Defoe was intending for his story to be seen as completely true there are several pieces which are lengthy and boring but writing this way made Friday’s development more genuine and complete than Coetzee. The reader is able to see Crusoe and Friday move from a relationship of master and slave to one of adventurer and side-kick while in Foe the reader misses this opportunity to instead see Friday become like a shadow to Susan Barton. This is seen best by how Crusoe continually calls Friday “my man Friday” which can be seen as friendly as it comes after Crusoe begins to trust Friday or as another way to assert power with the word “my”. In Foe there is very little development of Friday because he cannot talk leading Susan Barton to always just wonder about his life. Coetzee says, “He does not know what freedom is. Freedom is a word, less than a word, a noise, one of the multitude of noises I make when open my mouth” (Coetzee 100-101). His quote shows how little is thought of Friday as he is not much more than a simple dog following its master. This type of Friday stems from Coetzee’s purpose as he is trying to show what slavery and acts of human brutality can do to someone through Friday’s character.

Coetzee’s adaptation of Robinson Crusoe takes the story of Robinson Crusoe in a completely new direction with a totally new character. The biggest link between the two books is Friday as he is the biggest part that appears in both books, but Friday is two different characters depending on which book you read. These differences stem from the authors purpose to the time period the book was written in and range from his tongue being cut out in one novel to him being able to talk in the other. No one can say which one is better or worse or right or wrong with any certainty, but everyone knows the differences hold purpose and are very significant to the story.