There are some characters everyone knows about, even if they haven’t read the book. And then there are the characters we think we know so much about, and really, we know so little. Here are three fictional characters we probably all know well. But how well do we really know them?
Frankenstein is a monster
Oh, this one drives me crazy! Frankenstein must be the most commonly mistaken fictional character of all time. But please understand that Frankenstein is not the monster but the creator. ‘Dr’ Victor Frankenstein is the man who creates the regenerated creature. The creature goes unnamed throughout the novel, often referred to as just The Creature. It also seems pertinent to point out that the popular image of Frankenstein’s monster deviates greatly from the description Shelley gives in her book. The most recognisable characteristics of the monster – green skin and bolts in the neck – do not feature in the novel. The creature’s skin is described as yellow and no mention of bolts is made. Further, the creature is quite eloquent, ruminating on his place in the world and reading classic literature such as Milton’s Paradise Lost. It also seems slightly unfair to paint the creature as the monster of the piece. Instantly spurned by his creator and regarded as a monster by everyone he encounters, the creature really had no hopes of ever finding happiness. Yes, he does turn to violence and murder, but Shelley makes it obvious that these acts are the result of his unjust treatment.
Poor Mr Monster.
Oh, and there is no Igor, FYI. Frankenstein has no little hunchback minion.
Dracula vs. Edward
Dracula is perhaps the best known monster of all time but Dracula fans that dismiss Twilight as bastardising the vampire mythos may be shocked to discover Edwards isn’t so different from ol’ Drac. Yes, Dracula could go in the sunlight. Perhaps he didn’t sparkle but that number one rule of vampires – they are killed by sunlight – did not originate from Stoker’s novel. The sunlight weakened Dracula and drained him of his powers but it did not outright kill him.
That second rule of vampires – kill them with a stake through the heart – is again not present in Stoker’s novel. Having caught Dracula slumbering in his coffin, Van Helsing and his crew first cut the Count’s throat and then stab him in the heart – with a bowie knife. Wait, was Dracula killed by Crocodile Dundee?
There’s also the well-known image of Dracula as a tall, imposing man with slicked jet-black hair, a dapper gentleman with a sinister side. This image is probably based of Bela Lugosi’s famous 1931 portrayal. So it’s slightly incongruous to know that the Dracula of Stoker’s novel is actually described as an elderly man with a grey moustache.
The more you know.
Lolita is a seductress
This one really disturbs me. Lolita is a twelve-year-old girl who is sexually and emotionally abused by her step-father. To say that the twelve-year-old is the villain of the book is horribly misguided. Humbert rapes her, bribes her, considers murdering her mother and fondly contemplates impregnating her to create a new generation of Lolita’s. Lolita is not a temptress or a seductress.
This misconception comes from the term ‘lolita’, which does in fact refer to a female seductress, but which has totally bastardised the titular character of Lolita.
The idea we have of Lolita is also complicated as we only learn about Lolita through Humbert’s description. This is a highly unreliable source given he is the man molesting the girl. Yes, Lolita does initiate sexual encounters with Humbert and yes she does bribe him with sexual acts but she has little choice. Her mother is dead, she is under the complete control of her paedophilic step-father and she knows that this is the only way she can exercise and sense of control. Let’s not forget too that Humbert never declines these sexual offers. If we demonise the girl that ‘uses’ sex to get what she wants, what should we do about the man that forces her into this position in the first place?
Also, her name isn’t actually Lolita, it’s Dolores. Seeming ‘Lolita’ is such a trigger-word now that people will automatically assume ‘seductress’, it would be interesting to describe Dolores to people unfamiliar with the book and see what they thought of the character.