“It’s Alive!”: Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, and Fiction's Other Mad Scientists
The allure of science is both knowledge and power. The ability to look at animals, people, our world, and the universe in-detail draws in all types of characters. But for every scientist who searches for the answers to better mankind, there are those willing to overlook ethics in their desire to satisfy curiosity and play God. Reading about their exploits can be frightening, yet we can’t help but find ourselves drawn into the laboratories of these mad scientists.
Dr. Victor Frankenstein
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has spawned dozens of imitations in the nearly two centuries since the novel was first published, and is the source of many of the mad scientist tropes that are common in science fiction today. Considered by many to be the first science fiction novel, Shelley’s story follows the tribulations of Dr. Frankenstein who learns how to give life to lifeless things, and subsequently animates a creature that is more terrifying than he had originally planned. Dr. Victor Frankenstein is arguably the first mad scientist to ever create a monster, and the idea clearly stuck.
Dr. Henry Jekyll
Dr. Henry Jekyll reveals what’s true in all of us: No one is entirely good or evil; people are flawed, selfish, and multifaceted. Jekyll struggles with the darker parts of himself and creates a potion meant to cure his heinous urges. Along the way, something goes awry and the potion slowly strengthens his murderous alter ego Edward Hyde, eventually aiding the latter in taking over the mild-mannered scientist. The lesson? You can’t always trust at-home remedies… kidding. Though Jekyll really should’ve sought other solutions before attempting to craft a personality-altering drug in his basement.
Dr. Moreau’s creations are what nightmares are made of. Called the Beast-Folk, they are abominable creatures that resemble humans but retain much of their original animal’s form. Obsessed with humanizing animals, Dr. Moreau practiced vivisection, the painful experimentation on live animals, and vowed to not stop until he had created a perfect human from a wild beast. As much as Dr. Moreau tried to force them, his creations were much to animal-like to maintain their human behaviors. He’s eventually killed by his most stubborn creation, Leopard-Man.
Scientists often go mad when they get too involved in their work—but what about when they become their work? Compelled by his father’s death to study physical sciences, Doctor Otto Octavius brainstormed incredible machine harnesses, including a four-tentacled harness that earned him the derisive nickname “Doctor Octopus.” But when an accident fused the harness to his spine, he became an impressive foe to Spider-Man. His drive to literally come back from the dead and keep facing off against Spidey is what makes him not just mad, but truly dangerous.
Dr. Josef Mengele
When a real-life mad scientist is scary enough to make it into a fictional thriller, one must take notice. Dr. Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” was a Nazi doctor known for deciding which prisoners walked to their death in the gas chambers, and which were to be victims of his demented, and often deadly, experiments. After the war, Mengele was able to escape to South America, where he avoided capture for the rest of his life.
This fictionalized version of Mengele picks up where history left off. In Brazil, Mengele’s used Adolf Hitler’s DNA to create 94 clones. Each baby-Hitler was then placed in a family similar to the one dictator-Hitler grew up with—a wife 23 years younger than her husband, who Mengele plans to kill to mirror the past. It’s Mengele’s hope that if he recreates the key factors of Hitler’s youth, he can mold a new Fuhrer and revive the Nazi movement.
Dr. Henry Wu
We kinda love Dr. Henry Wu. Maybe we shouldn’t, maybe it’s wrong, but as terrifying as Jurassic Park is, we still want to be on the first boat over there. While the films played down his role, in Michael Crichton’s novel, Wu is the chief geneticist responsible for creating the dinosaurs. Actually, he wanted to make them safer to protect the park visitors, but his request was shot down. Sure, he could’ve turned away right then and there and refused to work on such a dangerous project. Much like Dr. Frankenstein, the chance to create life—and $10 million a year—were far too tempting to ignore.
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