Bestowing Animation Upon Lifeless Matter: ‘Frankenstein: The Interactive Literary App’

Getting involved with this version of the novel is a mixed affair. It feels somewhat hybrid – and then you realise that the interactivity constitutes the construction of a Creature of one’s own. Not only do you engage in dialogue with Victor Frankenstein and experience events through the eyes of his monstrous creation, but you get to be the inventor of the narrative and stitch together your own work from the body of the novel.

Maybe hacking up and re-positioning a classic novel is anathema to most readers. Some commentators have greeted this App with horror. But it is one of a new breed.

We can now be the ‘Prometheus’ and creator. The ‘fire of the gods’ that can shape the future is undoubtedly interactivity and different types of interface with cultural artefacts on hand-held devices. What authors then want to do with the material, pre-existing or invented, is up to them and the technology at their disposal. Profile Books with inkle (a UK based creative tech company), in collaborating with and producing this adaptation by Dave Morris, have set out their agenda very clearly.

There’s a desire on their part to enhance the text experience through fluid, changing illustrations and a re-configuration of plot and character to expose the reader to different choices as they regard motive and decisions. There’s no alteration overall of actual outcomes as such; it’s more a sense of involvement in the minutiae of the story’s detail.

Should you encourage or discourage Victor Frankenstein as you the reader inhabit the role of his un-named friend and confidant? Should one at least make an attempt to destroy the Creature at the outset, before it has a chance to wreak havoc? My decision on that score left me feeling guilty for the rest of the experience with the text. I only succeeded in exacerbating the problems. (Spoiler alert: I decided to see what would happen in an attempt to destroy it, with acid – oops!).

And that is what this is – an experience – as distinct from reading a book, or an e-book for that matter (Hi, I’m Gabrielle, and I’m addicted to my Kindle), as you can get. This is in keeping with the creators’ background in gaming and apps development. And Frankenstein is a good choice for a try-out for this kind of innovation.

It’s a young novel – about the culture and technology and the anguished birth of a new century. Mary Shelley was only 19 when she wrote it; and with respect to her imagination and invention, it was probably a collaborative effort by herself and the famous poets, philosophers, and writers of her circle – with particular input from her husband and Lord Byron. It could certainly be argued that its conception came out of an interaction between them all as they recounted their ghost stories and nightmares during their communal living experience that summer on the shores of Lake Geneva. Mary was a teenager, adrift in a new world and wrote in a flawed, excited fashion drawing on a multi-faceted culture of moral philosophy, scientific discoveries, and Gothic fearfulness.

Dave Morris’s adaptation does great justice to the 1818 original and operates to draw the reader in. Necessitating decision-making with and on behalf of characters brings into focus the moral questions at the heart of the book – and therefore there could be a great deal of application for this within the educational market. This will be a very engaging introduction to the novel and its study for students and young readers – there is much to consider with that. I for one would like to see what Profile and inkle might accomplish with, say, Shakespeare’s plays – or an interactive Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales — oh yes!

There were some niggles – with navigating some of the interactivity and also with the sense that you might be missing something by not accepting certain choices available. But this will lead the reader back and back to exploring the App, I reckon.

It looks great (old parchment and anatomical drawings) and the scale sits extremely well on an iPad screen. I’m not sure if it would have the same feel on an iPhone. But as with the early days of the printed novel, from the 16th and 17th century onwards, this is part of a continuum and evolution of the form. There is no harm in experimentation. Some ideas will take, and others won’t.

For heaven’s sake, for years people didn’t think you could write a novel in the third person – they all had to be autobiographical or epistolary as it would seem dishonest to speak as other characters! Great books are developments – they don’t just spring into being overnight, despite Shelley’s claims about her nightmare. She was, after all, part of the Romantic Movement and that was their myth about the author. As important as any notion of where books come from, is where they are going in the future.

RATING 7 / 10