Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Bride of Frankenstein: Pandora’s Bride by Elizabeth Hand

I’ve given this book more than a fair shake, but I can’t finish it. It actually lost me only a couple of pages into the title character’s cynical and defensive recap of the last minutes of the classic film that it's a sequel to. The Bride – who eventually calls herself Pandora – may be justified in her repulsion at the Monster she was created to marry, but it didn’t do anything to endear her to me. I always root for the Monster.

Even less attractive is her automatic, uninformed hatred of Elisabeth Frankenstein. The two characters share a scene – to say they “interact” would be an overstatement – for only a couple of seconds, yet Pandora compares Elizabeth to a slug and uses words like “loathed” and “disgust” in describing her reactions to Frankenstein’s wife. It’s the cattiest damn thing I’ve ever read.

Still, “give the book its hundred pages,” I said. Maybe it gets better. And it did for a while. It describes how Pandora rescued Dr. Pretorius and escaped the destruction of Frankenstein’s lab. Pretorius then takes Pandora back to his place where he introduces her to his other creations (called the Children of Cane) and a somnambulist named Cesare.

As a huge fan of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, I thought it was really cool of Hand to put Cesare in the book. At least until she revealed his backstory and it became apparent that this couldn’t be Caligari’s minion. Hand does this more than once in the book too. For instance, the characters hear about a man named Rotwang in Berlin who’s created a mechanical woman. Mash-ups and crossovers are the coolest thing in the world as long as you don’t have to cheat to get them to work. There’s probably a way to cross Metropolis over with Universal’s version of Frankenstein, but changing the futuristic city into 1920s Berlin isn’t it. And there’s even less excuse for Cesare not to be the same character he’s obviously supposed to remind me of.

But then, Hand doesn’t even stay true to the Universal characters. I’m very okay with Henry Frankenstein’s being the villain. He is a villain in the movies. But his villainy comes from his lack of compassion and failure to understand the consequences of his actions, not from a mean spirit. In Hand’s book, he’s an evil man who ruthlessly hunts Pandora. The film version of Henry Frankenstein hunted his creation, but only after a little girl was killed. Hand’s version has no real reason to want Pandora destroyed, yet he tracks her all over Germany. His methods aren’t as honest as a torch and pitchfork either. He uses lies and tricks to turn villagers against Pandora and her “family.” Elisabeth is even worse.

I couldn’t buy it. I’m all for alternate takes on classic stories, but the Universal movies are alternate takes. And since this book claims to be a sequel to Bride of Frankenstein, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect it to be about those same characters. It's not though. It's about completely new characters of Hand's own design who are just close enough to their movie inspirations to be frustrating.

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