Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mad Scientists, Alchemists in Literature (1)

Alchemy was the route of the mad scientist prior to the modern concept of the character type.
By Izzy at
Prometheus is the exception because he stole fire from the gods. That is a mythical technological advancement; it puts him in the category according to some writers. defines alchemy as a kind of chemistry and speculative philosophy. It explains that it was popular during the Medieval Period, and it was primarily involved with trying to change baser metals into gold.

Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus is obsessed with alchemy, and treads the evil path to damnation. It sounds mad but not scientific. The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus was published in 1604.

By OCAL at
The mad scientist theme of modern times came from Mary Shelly's book Frankenstein (1818). But the doctor was influenced by an alchemist Cornelius Agrippa. According to Merriam-Webster, one definition of alchemy is " a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way." The doctor transforms body parts into a living creature using electricity.

Dr. Victor Frankenstein did horrible things with corpses trying to invent life apart from God. He thought his creature was appalling and was afraid of him.

When the creature had to make it on his own, his attempts to get along with people were bumbling. He started as gentle and naive, but the monster got hurt and stuck for revenge against his creator. Eventually, the monster in the movies was known as Frankenstein.

But are the stories that involve alchemy and not modern science really about mad scientists, or mad alchemists? But perhaps that is splitting hairs. Dr. Frankenstein did use electricity, so his experimentation is a little different, but alchemists used chemicals. Ah. Where to draw the line is the question.

Consider the Strange Case of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, wherein Gabriel John Utterson probes into the odd matters encompassing Dr. Jekyll, as Mr. Hyde takes over his personality, thus a battle of ultimate good and evil ensues. The doctor makes a tincture of a specific salt, but doesn't reveal the other ingredients. Alchemy perhaps?

He experiments on himself and discovers a despicable inner self. His objective was to control and rattle, or set in motion the fortress of identity. Apparently, he reached his goal, but it wasn't what he thought it would be.

The Island of Dr. Moreau  is a novel by H.G. Wells published in 1896. Moreau conducts animal experimentation trying to concoct them into humans. The doctor thinks this is alright, though trying to make people into animals would be coarse.

Edward Prendick is shipwrecked on the South Sea island where Dr. Moreau resides. Pendrick finds out about the experiments by encountering some of the creatures the doctor put together.  He is concerned that he may be a victim of the scientist madness, and he isn't a welcomed visitor. The doctor is killed by one of his creations. Prendick lives on the island and leaves when a drifting boat appears, and he is rescued.

Back in London, people think he is crazy when he tells his story. He fakes amnesia and moves to the country to get away from people because he thinks they might go back to an animal like existence.

Doctor Moreau definitely takes the mad scientist from alchemy to actual science using vivisection. All of these stories are concerned with philosophical and moral issues, and are well written stories, which is why they have endured the test of time.

10 Trivia Concepts from Dr. Faustus, Watch Video

10 Trivia Concepts from Frankenstein, Watch Video

10 Trivia Concepts form Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Watch Video

Dr. Faustus (Dover Thrift Editions)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Island of Dr. Moreau (Dover Thrift Editions)

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