While there is nothing wrong with inserting real people into works of fiction, there comes a point when it goes too far—especially when the author is capitalizing on the personal tragedies of said people to make the plot “clever.”
This can be seen with the character James in Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein: Dead and Alive. This reworking of Frankenstein has a modern-day Victor attempting to take over the world with his army of human-like “New Race” creatures. The only problem is that his creations are designed without love or hope and become both miserable and unstable as a result.
Near the end of Dead and Alive, one of Victor’s creations named James contemplates his engineered existence and desperately wants to know how he can achieve “happiness.” This leads him to have imagined conversations with household items on how happiness can be obtained. In the novel’s conclusion, the book he is projecting his thoughts onto proclaims that the only way James, and by extension Victor’s entire New Race, can achieve happiness is through death.
This twist is fine by itself, until you realize that the iconic director of Universal’s 1931 "Frankenstein" and 1935 "Bride of Frankenstein" was named James Whale. Outside of his filmography, Whale is known for his service in World War I that landed him in a German prisoner of war camp, openly gay lifestyle that may have prematurely ended his career via Hollywood homophobia, and being crippled by strokes and depression in his later years that resulted in him committing suicide.
Given the tragic life of James Whale and his suicide note stating that his only chance for peace was through killing himself, having a character named James in a reworking of “Frankenstein” deciding that his happiness is also through death is incredibly tasteless.
Koontz’s naming is no coincidence either, as throughout his series, other characters have names based on prominent "Frankenstein" figures James Whale worked with, such as “Dwight Fry” and “Karloff.”
Koontz had to have known who James Whale was, and he made the conscious decision to give his suicidal character the same name as an easter egg—but it’s downright disrespectful to the influential director.
A worse example can be seen with the fictional treatment of Percy Shelley’s first wife Harriet in Peter Ackroyd’s "The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein"—another reworking of "Frankenstein" that places Victor in the social circle of Mary Shelley and others that inspired the original novel.
Real-life Percy Shelley abandoned Harriet and their daughter to elope with the then 16-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (eventually Mary Shelley) and tour Europe with Mary and her sister. Though Harriet was financially stable and a mother of two children, she was clearly unhappy. After becoming pregnant with another man’s child, she drowned herself in the Serpentine river at just 21 years old.
But having Harriet driven to suicide by her unfaithful husband would make fictional Percy Shelley look bad in “Casebook.” Why not put a “new spin” on her death and have her be found murdered in the infamous Serpentine river while her brother is charged and hung for the crime? Thus mimicking “Frankenstein’s” plot with Justine being unfairly charged for the murder of Victor’s brother William. That’s exactly what Ackroyd does, and there’s something disgusting about using a woman’s suicide as a “clever” plot point in your fanfiction of the mistress’s novel.
Again, there is nothing wrong with fictionalizing real people and changing them to suit the plot, but capitalizing on their tragedies or downright ignoring them to make the assailant innocent is both disrespectful to the people you are referencing and disgusting.
Charlene Pepiot is a junior studying English at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Charlene know by emailing her @email@example.com.