“The pages [of the original Frankenstein] reek with your bottomless self-pity so poorly disguised as regret, with the phoniness of your verbose self-condemnation, with the insidious quality of your contrition, which is that of a materialist who cares not for God and is therefore not true contrition at all, but only despair at the consequences of your actions. For centuries, I have been the monster, and you the well-meaning idealist who claims he would have undone what he did if only given the chance. But your kind never undoes. You do the same wrong over and over, with ever greater fervency, causing ever more misery, because you are incapable of admitting error.”
“I've made no error,” Victor Immaculate confidently assures him, “and neither did your maker.”
Looming, the giant says, “You are my maker.”
Thus Frankenstein's monster, now known as Deucalion, purified by suffering and made truly human, addresses Dr. Frankenstein, so corrupted by power and pride that he has ceased to be human at all, in Frankenstein: The Dead Town, the dramatic climax to Dean Koontz' five-book deconstruction of Mary Shelley's original narrative.
I'm pretty much in the bag for Dean Koontz. Not the greatest prose stylist around, he is nevertheless one of the few authors whose writing has gotten constantly better since he became a publishing superstar. He creates amusing and engaging characters who know how to talk to each other, and keeps them in escalating peril, mesmerizing the reader. He's optimistic without being sappy, and can deal with tragedy without inducing despair.
In this book, all the main characters who first met in New Orleans, the detective couple Carson and Michael, the genetically-engineered Bride of Frankenstein, Erika, along with her adopted child, the troll-like Jocko, Deucalion the monster, and Victor Frankenstein (or rather his clone) all come to a final showdown in the town of Rainbow Falls, Montana. At the end of the previous installment, an army of Victor's genetically engineered killers had cut the town off and begun murdering and “reprocessing” the inhabitants, as the start to a program to destroy all life on earth (Victor judges it messy and inefficient). Humanity's only hope is Deucalion, who was endowed at his creation with powers over physical space. But he needs his human (and somewhat human) friends to help him. Victor Frankenstein has also failed to anticipate the difficulties involved in overcoming a population of God-fearing, gun-owning American westerners.
I enjoyed Frankenstein: The Dead Town very much. I recommend it, with reasonable cautions for violence and mild profanity.
It also got me thinking about literary parallels. I can't prove it, but I think Koontz' Frankenstein series must be a self-conscious improvisation on themes C. S. Lewis explored in one of his most challenging novels, That Hideous Strength.
That Hideous Strength is my personal favorite among Lewis' novels, but there are many—perhaps a majority—of readers who consider it a disappointing conclusion to the science fiction trilogy which begins with Out Of the Silent Planet, and continues in the almost universally beloved Perelandra. That Hideous Strength is a radical departure from the previous books. Instead of taking us to outer space, this book is set on earth in the near future (Lewis was taking a cue from the unusual supernatural novels thrillers written by his friend Charles Williams). The hero, the rather casual philology professor Elwin Ransom, is in this book transformed into a somewhat remote and static figure, monarch of the “true Britain,” embodying Lewis' belief in spiritual hierarchies. Much time is spent with the very unpleasant denizens of the National Institute for Creative Experimentation (N.I.C.E.), in what I consider one of the most successful attempts in history to effectively portray the banality of evil. Unfortunately, that achievement makes for some pretty unpleasant reading for rather long stretches. Most offensive of all to the modern mind, the adventures of the young married couple at the center of the plot, Jane and Mark Studdock, teach them lessons in something Lewis thought very important, the principle of complementarianism, the proper roles of men and women in marriage.
Parallels to That Hideous Strength (it seems to me) are everywhere in the Frankenstein books. The action of Lewis' story is set off by the discovery of an ancient man (Merlin the magician) who was thought dead but is still alive. In the Frankenstein books, Koontz brings us two characters with unnaturally extended lives, Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. Both stories involve “scientific” institutions secretly devoted to universal annihilation. In both stories there are characters who once were human, but have in fact lost all true humanity and are now controlled by forces of spiritual evil which they do not recognize. A crazy but canny hobo with a small part in That Hideous Strength becomes in this book Mr. Liss, a blustering tramp who makes his way through life by intimidating people. He is no match, however, for the innocence of Nummy O'Bannon, a retarded boy who flees the monsters with him. Nummy, it seems to me, is a development of the character of Ivy Maggs, a “common,” not very bright, but morally good housemaid who plays a large part in That Hideous Strength.
At least two things are lacking to make the parallels complete.
The climax of Frankenstein: The Dead Town lacks the apocalyptic flavor of the unforgettable ending of That Hideous Strength, where divine and natural judgment descend together on those who would defy God and destroy nature.
And Jane and Mark's lesson in complementarian gender roles is utterly lacking in Koontz' book. In fact, the primary married couple here is rather markedly non-complementarian. Carson, the wife, is the fast driver and the best shot, while Michael, we are told, though no wimp, generally does the housework at home.
I can only assume that Koontz, like most moderns, finds old-fashioned sexual roles unnecessary and restrictive, in spite of his Catholic faith.
I'm not happy about that, but all in all I forgive him, because he tells a good story, and he's on the right side.
Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, the latest of which is West Oversea.