iPad iBook Review: Frankenstein, for iPad and iPhone Review
Reviewed by Guy Dayen
The novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, has long been considered a classic of Gothic literature. The story of Victor Frankenstein and the making of his creature provided a welcome distraction from the day-to-day grind of Victorian life, and its theme of Man using Science to create life fascinated a society in the midst of rapid technological and scientific advances. It also brought about heated debates among the religious and intellectual elites of the time.
As good as the literary work is, it was eventually overshadowed by the various film incarnations produced by Hollywood. Most famously, it is the lumbering monster so aptly portrayed by Boris Karloff that captured the popular imagination, and it came to be the dominant image of the creature brought to life by the reckless young Frankenstein.
The original creature has been largely forgotten, and the novel Frankenstein is rarely read anymore. This comes as no surprise in a world of Facebook, Twitter and texting. The idea of plodding through a book filled with unfamiliar vocabulary, complex sentence structures and complicated turns of phrase holds little appeal for most modern readers, many of whom were never taught to appreciate such dense writing.
This poses quite the problem for modern-day publishers who would like to attract a new generation of readers to the classics at a time where electronic devices are ubiquitous and provide abounding distractions to the act of reading.
Profile Books has come up with a very interesting solution: re-imagine the classic tale of Frankenstein by adapting it to a new medium, in this case the iPad and iPhone, and adapt it to a new format by using a clever variation on the "choose your own adventure" genre that rose to popularity in the seventies and eighties. The concept works admirably well on the iOS touchscreen; making the story come alive and intimately involving the reader in the unfolding saga of Frankenstein and his creature. The story flows very smoothly and the visual style is perfect for the tale.
As the book opens on screen, you are presented with the option of reading the story, or exploring a gallery of extras, about which I'll say more later. Beginning the story takes you to the chapter list screen. The reader must proceed in order, starting at chapter one, since the choices made during the reading will create the story and determine each particular interactive experience.
This version of the story progresses through a series of conversations that the reader has with Victor Frankenstein, and other characters in the story. This gives a real sense of immediacy to the story, as if the reader is really there at every turn of the action. It brings the story to life in quite an enjoyable fashion. The reader, in a sense, becomes a participating observer in the story; not quite a full-fledged character but yet part of the events that are unfurled with each new interaction. The reader directs the narrative as he or she makes the decision to ask a particular question or make a particular comment. As each choice is made, unasked questions glide away, and the bits of the story get attached to each other with surgical pins; a particularly fitting visual bit of story telling, considering the subject matter. It brings to mind the creature itself, as it is also created of bits and parts into a new whole by the young man of Science.
I thought it was a terrific conceit, and a marvelous way to tell the story. It is done exceedingly well, and it seems completely natural on the touch screen. After a while, you forget the technical marvel of it all, and you get sucked into the story. For me, this is the sign of technical implementation done the right way; supporting the story rather than supplanting it.
There is the option of "resetting" the story, which allows the reader to explore the tale from various angles, emphasizing different story threads to see what the results might be. Of course, vital information will always come out no matter what path is chosen, since there is a specific story to be told, but it is a marvelous way to delve into the different aspects and ideas in the novel. It's an innovative and engaging way to present a novel that otherwise might have little chance of being enjoyed by 21st century readers. I should mention that the writing in this adaptation is very good; David Morris shows great respect for the source material and a great flair for weaving the various strands of the story into a web of choices for the readers. What could be a tangled mess is handled masterfully. I should also point out that one of the extras in this app is the original text of the novel; allowing curious readers to go back to Shelley's novel and compare the two versions of the story.
The extras section includes an annotated gallery of the wonderful illustrations used in the interactive novel. They appear as chapter headers and also throughout the text of the story as visual enhancements to the text. These beautiful images are incredible works of art in their own right and they look stunning on the retina screen. The reader can zoom in and revel in the incredible amount of detail; you could spend hours examining these intricate designs.
Part of the collection centers on the locales in the story; it's very useful to help the reader imagine what the places in which the story unfolds looked like at the time and situate the action in the proper geographical context. Most of the illustrations were taken from old anatomy textbooks. Considering how far back these drawings were done, they show an amazing amount of detail, and they remind us how much was already known about the marvelous engineering of the human body. Of course, these illustrations show us the human body as it is rarely portrayed, revealing the hidden secrets buried beneath the skin. They add a great feel of authenticity to the story, and give the impression that they could have been the very drawings pored over by Frankenstein, as he constructed his notebooks and then his living creature. The drawings are fascinating to look at and are a great help to the reader in imagining how the creature was formed, and what it might have looked like in Mary Shelley's mind.
I greatly enjoyed "Frankenstein, for the iPad and iPhone". As an avid reader and great fan of classic horror fiction, I was pleased to see how well the novel was adapted and refashioned by David Morris and the folks at Profile Books and inkle to reach a new audience of readers. The story is well retold and the interactive elements work seamlessly to creative a compelling narrative, while remaining absolutely true to the original novel. It was a lot of fun to read and I recommend it whole-heartedly. I'd love to see an adventure of Sherlock Holmes, or a novel by Jules Verne, done in this manner and I hope there will be other book adaptations coming soon from Mr. Morris and Profile Books in the near future.