On Halloween night, some will wander neighborhoods in search of goodies, others will settle in a pumpkin patch to wait for the Great Pumpkin to arrive (inevitably to be disappointed), and still others will turn out the lights of their house, pretending they aren’t home.
Those participating in the trick-or-treat ritual are likely to see at least one or two people dressed up as Dracula or Frankenstein. They are standard spooky characters, and their fame in pop-culture has only grown since their introductions in the original books, both of which are now over one hundred years old.
These two books, along with the equally famous Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, are far more than just scary stories designed to give you the creeps. Rather, each story speaks to the power of sin, temptation, unbridled ambition, fear, and inordinate desire. If you’re looking for something to do this Halloween season, maybe try reading one of these books.
[Spoiler Alert: this article discusses major plot points from Frankenstein, Dracula, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde]
We’re all familiar with the green, rectangular-faced, zombie-like monstrosity known as Frankenstein. However, the image that has made its way into popular culture is actually a far cry from the Frankenstein of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein. For starters, Frankenstein is actually the name of the monster’s creator (Victor Frankenstein), rather than the monster himself (who is never given a name).
When we first meet Victor Frankenstein, he is young, ambitious, and highly intelligent. “The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine,”¹ he says. Victor is brilliant beyond anyone before him. He desires to create life—to be like God. In pursuit of this desire, he robs graves, tortures animals, neglects his family, and ultimately destroys his health. Is it worth it? His own words tell us: “If the study to which you apply yourself has the tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for the simple pleasures . . . then that study is . . . not befitting the human mind.”²
Ultimately, Victor creates an ugly abomination (the one we now know as Frankenstein). His creation so appalls him that he completely abandons it, leaving the monster alone and lost in the world. Throughout the story, Victor carries (along with his shame) a keen sense that he is under a kind of doom or fate. The monster destroys his family and friends, and ultimately, ruins Victor’s life. But it wasn’t fate that caused this.
As a matter of fact, the monster Victor created wasn’t really a monster to begin with, despite its distorted features. After a bad run-in with some townspeople (who hate and fear him because he is ugly), Frankenstein’s monster finds himself hiding out in the backyard of a family whom he soon grows to admire and love. We get a glimpse of his longing to be loved when he says, “My heart yearned to be known and loved by these amiable creatures.”³ It is only when he realizes that he cannot “inspire love” in others that he determines to “cause fear.”4
The ensuing havoc and destruction cause the characters to start pointing fingers. Victor blames fate, while the monster blames Victor and society. But it’s not that simple. Both characters must share the blame. Victor falls prey to ambition, but when he realizes his error, he does nothing to correct it. He fails to even name his creation. Naming, from ancient times, carries with it the idea of taking responsibility for the thing or person named. If Victor had taken his responsibility for his creation seriously, he might have prevented much destruction. On that note, the confusion of the name Frankenstein between creator and creature might well leave us with the question: who really is the monster, Victor or his creation?
However, the monster cannot lay the blame for his murders on Victor. At some point, he made a choice to do what was evil. No one made him. And this is the plight we are all in. Yes, we are in many ways shaped by our environment, but Scripture insists that this doesn’t give us a pass when we do wrong. While it acknowledges that we are born into sin, it still insists that we bear the blame for the evil choices that we make.
Ultimately, Frankenstein serves as an important caution against unbridled ambition and lack of responsibility. It also warns us against rejecting people for how they look or appear—even the most hideous creature deserves love.
Dracula is an evil, blood-sucking vampire. That’s how we know him, and that’s pretty much all he is. Unfortunately, Bram Stoker doesn’t ever really tell us much more about this arch-villain in his original 1897 novel, Dracula.
The enduring popularity of the novel seems primarily due to its many adaptations in film and television. Even though it is far more well-written than Frankenstein, Dracula lacks the depth that makes Frankenstein readable. In the end, Dracula isn’t much more than a blood-curdling monster hunt. But there are two things that make it worth reading.
First, the courage of its principal characters. Though they are all Gothic/Victorian cardboard cutouts, each of the characters boldly risk their lives to destroy Dracula. Their friendship and courage in the face of evil is remarkable, given the horrific and dastardly nature of their foe. Courage in the face of evil, and loyalty among friends are two qualities that are desperately needed in our times, as well as in every age.
The second thing that makes Dracula worth reading is Dracula himself. Dracula can only survive by sucking the blood of live humans. Ultimately, those who fall prey to him must in turn become vampires after death as well. If Dracula is going down, so is everyone else. It reminds me of the old lie that “my sin doesn’t really affect anyone else.” Sin always affects other people. One need only to consider by way of biblical example the consequences of Eve’s eating of the fruit, Jacob’s lies, Moses’ striking of the rock, or David’s lust. Sin is not a solitary venture. It always brings other people down with it. Dracula can remind us that the lie, “my sin doesn’t affect anyone else” is exactly that—a lie.
Dracula is a bit dark for my taste, however, it manages to be an entertaining piece of fiction, despite being written entirely in letter/diary form. In a world of moral ambiguity, Dracula has clear lines of good and evil that make it in some ways refreshing.
*Those with weak stomachs for blood might want to steer clear of Dracula.
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
The shortest, most-well written—and my personal favorite—book on this list is Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. The story reads a bit like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, with its foggy streets, dark houses, and enigmatic cast of characters. Among these characters, two occupy our attention for most of the story: unsurprisingly, they are Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the completely nefarious, Mr. Hyde.
The problem begins when Dr. Jekyll thinks that he can separate out the two identities he finds in himself—the man who is good and just, and the man who surrenders to his evil inclinations. It seems obvious to most people that there is both a propensity to do good and an inclination toward evil in human beings. How if they could be totally separated, so that a person could indulge their evil inclinations without any shame or remorse? Wouldn’t that be freedom?
This is what Dr. Jekyll thinks; but he soon discovers the product of this separation of identities (his alter ego, Mr. Hyde) isn’t content to stay hidden away at his beck and call, but instead, desires to have the whole of him. Eventually, Dr. Jekyll indulges Mr. Hyde so much that he can no longer control him. He eventually becomes a slave to Hyde and all his evil inclinations.
The story might well be summed up with the verse from James 1:14-15: “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (NIV). Jekyll’s fate will be no different. He has given birth to death.
The more we give in to temptation, the greater the power it has over us. Eventually, we become so entrapped and enslaved that we no longer have any ability to control it. The Bible suggests that we are all in this position. Like Dr Jekyll, there is nothing that we can do to get back to our unfallen selves. However, our fate need not be that of Dr. Jekyll, because God did not leave us there. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has broken the power of sin and death, offering redemption and true freedom to all.
These three stories remain popular because they speak to themes that we can all relate to and understand: ambition, power, temptation. But on the brighter side they show us courage, friendship, and humanness. Good stories remind us of the Greater Story that God is telling in the world. While these books remind us of some of the darker and more tragic elements in our own story, they also leave us desiring more. The leave us longing for redemption. Fortunately, the true story has it in abundance.
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