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[Article] – Where Did Igor Come From?


Posted August 31, 2015 by

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The trailer for ‘Victor Frankenstein’ is out and it is predictably amusing and goth. Starring James McAvoy as the titular character, the film is apparently told from the point of view of Victor’s assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe). Except, there was no Igor in the original text, so where does Igor go about re-telling this tale?

It is rumoured that in 1814, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, along with her husband, poet Percy Shelley and their friends Lord Byron and John Polidori made a pact to write up some scary stories. While Percy abandoned his, and Byron’s turned into a very different monster, Pollidori stuck with it and wrote ‘The Vampyre’ – rather a wistful meandering tale with characters obviously based on his friends – and Mary created a monster so mind-blowing, it has continued to capture our imagination 200 years later.

The teenaged Mary now lives on through this character, though its cinematic versions often differ immensely from the creature of her writings.

Frankenstein’s monster, referred to as ‘the Daemon’ in the book, is both frightening and pathetic – cutting a menacing and melancholic figure with the turn of each page. When I picked up the book for the first time in 2014, I did so without the knowledge of the impact it was likely to have on me.

Heralded as the first science fiction novel ever written, the science aspect of it is implied rather than mapped out. What does engage the reader is the humanity of the characters, their flaws and their tragedies. What makes the Daemon (I just really like writing it that way) a surprisingly sympathetic figure is his isolation and his inability to mix with society. The creature’s sufferings seem to mirror a lot of today’s society, isolated in a crowd because we are all ‘different’.

Strangely, not many cinematic renditions have leveraged the sheer pathos imbued in this book. Early cinema enjoyed making him a true monster – grotesque and unnatural, menacing over screaming ladies and terrorising the downtrodden doctor.

My earliest brush with Frankenstein was Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation. It was horrific and terrifying (I was a kid, so it may not be either), but captured the book’s atmosphere perfectly. It’s rendition of the ending however was, to me, far more disturbing than that of Mary’s original.

However, none of that explains Igor! Who is Igor? And why is he encroaching on this wonderful story?

Igor has become synonymous with Frankenstein and Dracula in the cinematic universe (seems like they’ve been trying to make that monster movie franchise for a while now). But Victor’s efforts in the book are on his own.

James Whale, credited as one of the first directors to bring the monster to the screen, adapted his script from a play based on the book. The play by novelist Peggy Webling, however, took a few liberties with the nature of the story – most notably by adding assistants for Frankenstein’s experiment (and by naming the creature Frankenstein as well).

Said hunchbacked assistant was named Fritz, who would eventually evolve into genre mainstay Igor/ Ygor. For all we know, someone got confused between Quasimodo and Frankenstein’s Daemon, and put them both together to make Dwight Frye’s original Fritz (in the 1931 film).

Speculation is rife behind the choice of name (there doesn’t appear to be any answer to that), but the reasons for his inclusion appear to be to incorporate a storyteller and audience fill-in. Who better to tell the story of a mad scientist than a man on the front-line?

Once this name fixed itself in the public consciousness, it was hard to remove. Even though the 70s and 80s stayed away from including an ‘Igor’, parodies and cartoons couldn’t get enough of the dude.

While we’ve not heard about Igor for a while, the new ‘Victor Frankenstein’ has resurrected him, and I can’t help but wonder why. There has yet to be a cinematic adaptation of the original book that does true justice to its myriad themes – the overwhelming sense of loss that leads Victor to re-create life, the isolation of the monster because of his external appearance, the parallel stories of over-reaching ambition between Victor and the original narrator, Walton, the question of who is man and who is the monster. There’s a lot to choose from, and not enough time in 2 hours to fit it all in. The last aspect was touched on by Danny Boyle in his early 2000s play starring two Sherlocks, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, swapping the role of creator and creature on alternative nights.

With all these bold themes to choose from, we’re now exploring a brand new, distinct character, under the guise of an adaptation. Well, a loose adaptation, as Mary’s credited with character creation only. Except, she didn’t create Igor; technically he came from Webling and her play. Where’s her credit, one might ask?

In general the trailer promises a fun film. What we’ll get eventually one can only guess, but it all seems rather lopsided. We must apparently distance ourselves from the book, because Victor’s full name (according to IMDb, anyway), is Victor Von Frankenstein. So, not the same character then. And though the film is called ‘Victor Frankenstein’, it’s from Igor’s perspective and his origin story. Talk about confusing!

Maybe I’m knocking this film because I’m unabashedly in love with the book. In a year that’s been chock-a-block with Frankenstein references (the Frankenstein family in ‘Supernatural’, a disturbing homage to the doctor in ‘Gotham’, and two really terrible sounding television shows that are adaptations in name only), it would be nice to come across one rendition that looked beyond the dead-man-walking aspect of the story and delved deeper into the themes and motivations of the characters.


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Lestat de Lioncourt
Random Thoughts – Lestat’s Blog
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One Comment

    Buddha de SubArabia

    I wonder what you make of Marty Feldman’s rendition in Young Frankenstein… 🙂

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