At number five on the countdown of my favorite hero/villain pairings, we’ve got one of the big classics, Dr. Frankenstein and his monster.
First, though, I’m going to have to be a nitpicky English major and clear up a few things. I’m talking about the book, not the many film, stage, and other adaptations that have come since. In said book, Frankenstein is the name of our tragic mad scientist hero (Dr. Victor Frankenstein, to be precise), not the name of his monstrous creation, which is simply referred to as “the monster” and a number of other uncomplimentary monikers.
Here’s how it goes with a little more of the juice left in:
Victor is on the verge of giving up his childhood passion for science, disappointed by the limitations of physics, when he secretly discovers a method to create life. He obsesses over building a person from scratch, has to scale him up considerably to get all the little details right, and tests his idea.
Once the monster is alive, Victor finds him so horrifying and unnatural-looking that he runs out of the room, giving the monster time to escape and brood on his new daddy abandonment issues in peace.
Finally, the monster vows revenge on humanity in general and Victor especially. Victor’s tough to get to at first, since he’s busy being a rich, paranoid, self-loathing, reclusive invalid…
But his little brother is easy enough to find.
The monster strangles the kid and gets the beloved governess, practically another sibling, hanged for it, ripping the family apart. When he finally does get to confront Victor, he makes him an offer. If Victor creates an equally hideous mate for him, to share and understand his loneliness, he’ll leave with her, find an uninhabited bit of jungle, and leave Victor’s remaining family and the rest of humanity alone.
Of course, the monster finds out and goes back to terrorizing him, starting by murdering his best friend, and threatens ultimate revenge on Victor’s wedding night. Victor can’t wait any longer to end this and get on with his life, so he goes home and somehow manages to convince Elizabeth that he hasn’t been cheating on her in all this time he’s spent cryptically sneaking around. She forgives him, they get married, and he tells her to stay inside that night while he goes out to meet and fight the monster he knows is going to show up.
Because leaving Elizabeth alone sounds like a brilliant idea, if you don’t know about the monster’s romantic streak. Say, because he just tried blackmailing you into creating a bride monster.
Yeah, the monster stands Victor up and kills Elizabeth instead. Victor chases the monster to the arctic to destroy it once and for all, realizes he’s no better at subzero survival than he is at parenting, and dies in the attempt. The monster ends up sobbing over Victor’s body, realizing that revenge hasn’t made his existence any more bearable.
The monster is completely alone and directionless, dumped into the world without plan or precedent, and Victor is the reason, the only connection the monster has with who and what he is. There’s no way the two of them can avoid having it out in the end.
The monster gets to tell a huge part of the story, when he first explains to Victor what he’s been up to since running away, enough that the book really belongs to both of them.
Frankenstein is effectively two tragedies woven together, two heroes acting as each other’s villains. Victor gets something like the Aristotelian model, a good person with great abilities suffering a great downfall caused by his own mistakes, while the monster gets a revenge tragedy, a good person put in a horribly unfair position becoming a monster in his own right in the pursuit of justice.