Frankenstein Turns 200

Two centuries ago, an unknown author brought a famous monster to life.

The Granger Collection

For many people, Halloween wouldn’t be the same without trick-or-treaters dressed as Frankenstein’s monster. The character was introduced in 1818 in a book by Mary Shelley. Two hundred years later, the novel is considered one of the greatest horror stories of all time.

“There’s a worldwide interest in Frankenstein still,” says Neil Fraistat, an expert on Mary Shelley.

A Spooky Start

The idea for Frankenstein was born on a stormy night in June 1816. Shelley was just 18 at the time. She and four friends had a contest to see who could write the spookiest story. The beginnings of her now-famous tale came to her in a nightmare.

It’s the story of scientist Victor Frankenstein. He uses parts from different bodies to build a hideous 8-foot-tall monster. He brings it to life using electricity. Feeling lonely and misunderstood, the creature terrorizes people close to Frankenstein. (Though some people refer to the monster as Frankenstein, he isn’t named in the book.)

Shelley’s scary tale won the story-writing contest. She later expanded her story into a novel. On January 1, 1818, Frankenstein was published in England, Shelley’s home country.  

Over the years, Shelley’s story—and its famous monster—became popular around the world. Different versions of Frankenstein’s monster have appeared in movies, plays, comic books, and more. Today, the book is required reading in English classes in many high schools and colleges. And it has been published in about 30 languages.

Fraistat says there’s one person who would be surprised by Frankenstein’s lasting fame.

“Mary Shelley would be shocked,” he says.

AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo (Herman Munster); Sheila Fitzgerald/ (Franken Berry cereal); ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection (Hotel Transylvania)

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