bodies and identities


Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Monster Men (1929)
Available in the Bud Foote Science Fiction Collection, Georgia Tech Library Archives

As the literary genre of science fiction developed, writers reinterpreted Shelley's vision of Frankenstein and its core motifs into their own works. Edgar Rice Burroughs, famous for his Tarzan stories, published The Monster Men in 1929. Much like Tarzan, it is a tale of human adventure in wild jungles of the tropics. It tells the story of Prof. Arthur Maxon, obsessed with creating the perfect man. Having discovered the secret of life and understanding the implications and need for secrecy, he retreats to an island near Singapore accompanied by his daughter Virginia, his partner Dr. von Horn, and his Chinese attendant Sing. On the island, he develops a dozen physically amazing but grotesque humanoid creatures that possess limited mental capacities. His thirteenth and final experiment, however, turns out to be a wild success, and his ulterior motive is revealed: Number Thirteen, physically perfect and extremely handsome, is chosen by Prof. Maxon to become Virginia's husband. He trains the creatures with education and force, subduing the mighty creatures with whips and walls. Plans soon fall apart as the creatures, Number One through Number Twelve, escape. They soon discover Virginia and carnal instincts flare, but she is rescued by Number Thirteen and her father. Island natives soon come on the scene, and Virginia is kidnapped. Dr. von Horn reveals his true scheming nature as he directs the Professor's searches with his own motives to wed Virginia. He turns Dr. Maxon against his creations, and Number Thirteen leads the rejected beasts through the jungles and rivers to rescue the woman whom he was loves. Along the way, conflicts erupt between the various search parties and the island natives, resulting in the death of many of Prof. Maxon's creations. They soon reevaluate their position, and after a series of bloody battles the remaining brutes turn against the leadership of Number Thirteen as they question their identities. Number Thirteen battles on and finally saves Virginia, who falls in love with him. He is gravely aware her repulsion towards her father's creations, however, and hides his true identity as Number Thirteen and calls himself Bulan. When they finally meet with Maxon, Sing, and von Horn, Maxon reveals Bulan's identity as Number Thirteen and rejects his creation. Sing reveals, however, that Number Thirteen is not a product of Prof. Maxon's chemistry but rather a lost traveler with amnesia who pursued Virginia around the world out of love.

Burroughs borrows many elements from Shelley to create The Monster Men. The creations, powerful and grotesque, are rejected by a creator who refuses to see any humanity in them. Due to tragic circumstances beyond their control, the creations fall victim to human ignorance and fear while attempting to come to terms with their own identities. As in Shelley's world, Maxon's creatures must fend for themselves during this self-education and are ultimately driven by the burning desire for a female companion.

Frankenstein's monster also serves as a template for the monster men. Like Shelley's creature, Burroughs' creatures begin life as a child: "He was but an adult child, with the brain and brawn of a man, and the ignorance and inexperience of the new-born." Although Maxon initially considers his creations children, von Horn's selfish interest sways his opinion and causes Maxon to see them as soulless beasts: " 'Out of my sight,' he shrieked. 'Out of my sight! Never let me see you again--and to think that I would have given my only daughter to a soulless thing like you. Away! Before I go mad and slay you'" (Burroughs 84). This admonition causes Number Thirteen to question the notion of a soul and assert his unique identity:

"He made me without a soul," he repeated over and over again to himself, "but I have found a soul--she shall be my soul. Von Horn could not explain to me what a soul is. He does not know. None of them knows. I am wiser than all the rest, for I have learned what a soul is. Eyes cannot see it--fingers cannot feel it, but he who possess it knows that it is there for it fills his whole breast with a great, wonderful love and worship for something infinitely finer than man's dull senses can gauge-something that guides him into paths far above the plain of soulless beasts and bestial men. (Burroughs 88)

When Number Thirteen finally reaches Virginia, her ignorance keeps Number Thirteen from revealing himself: "'Thank God!' she cried fervently. 'Thank God that you are a man-I thought that I was in the clutches of the hideous and soulless monster, Number Thirteen'" (Burroughs 165). Number Thirteen questions her idea of a soul by defending the humanity of his companions: "'They are dead, poor things,' he replied, sadly. 'Poor, hideous, unloved, unloving monsters-they gave up their lives for the daughter of the man who made them the awful, repulsive creatures that they were…They were soulless creatures, but they loved the mean lives they gave up so bravely for you whose father was the author of their misery-you owe a great deal to them, Virginia'" (Burroughs 166-7). Number Thirteen recognizes that it is only human ignorance that prevents people from viewing the creations as anything but monsters, even in the face of noble humanity, and must struggle to gain acceptance in a human's eyes.

The Monster Men, an early example of science fiction, develops characters akin to those in Frankenstein; much like the human characters in Shelley's novel, Burroughs' humans possess an unshakable ignorance and fear of the created beings that cause those creations to become monsters. As in Frankenstein, the most tragedy occurs during the creation's quest for a mate, fueling the rawest emotions in both Frankenstein's monster and Maxon's men. In Burroughs' case, the tragedy is the direct result of human greed, inferring that the humans themselves are the real monsters in the story and the creations are victims of circumstance.


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