October 14, 2010

Pandora's Bride, by Elizabeth Hand

Published by Dark Horse Books in 2007, Pandora’s Bride is one of a series of paperback originals featuring the classic Universal monsters — Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon — and this one, based on Bride of Frankenstein.

I must admit I approached the book with a measure of wariness. Being an officially licensed product, I thought it might be constrained, cutting requiredly close to the source material, extrapolating a plausible and predictable sequel. I prefer fiction that challenges and surprises over something that would read like the novelization of a film exactly like Universal might have made back in the Thirties. I needn’t have worried. Elizabeth Hand, the commissioned author, takes The Bride into fascinating, unexpected territory.

The book opens where the film quits. Rejected by The Bride — “I reacted as any sane woman would: I screamed. The Monster throws the big lever and blows the laboratory all to hell. As Frankenstein flees the collapsing tower and The Monster is consumed by flames, The Bride picks up the staggered Dr. Pretorius and escapes through a breach in the wall. From there on, the story turns on its head — quite literally when The Bride’s trademark crown of hair is burned off. This book, we are to understand, is about the character, not the logo.

Potentially upsetting for Universal Frankenstein purists, the villains of this piece are Frankenstein and Elizabeth, exposed as merciless Monster Makers with an apocalyptic plan, using their considerable power and influence to track and capture the escaping Bride. I was comfortable with the concept, having always thought of Frankenstein in the James Whale movies as arrogant plutocrat, criminally irresponsible, and the true monster of the piece. Conversely, the irresistibly sinister Dr. Pretorius, the evil presence in the film, is cast in the book as a benevolent minder and mentor to monsters like his homunculi — the tiny mermaid is given a perfect name, Undine — and The Bride.

The story’s timeframe and locations are much more precise than anything suggested in the films as The Bride flees all the way to Berlin circa the late Twenties, at the height of the Weimar Era. Think Frankenstein backed with a Kurt Weill soundtrack.

The Bride journeys through one of those alternate universes peopled with characters from then contemporary life and fiction, with an enormously satisfying preference for German silent films. When The Bride is given a name, It is Pandora, and Pretorius has a narcoleptic assistant named Cesare. On the road to Berlin, Pandora has a wilderness adventure straight out of Zane Grey and Karl May. Upon reaching the city, Pandora encounters underworld characters such as a flapper named Lulu, the grotesque Professor Unrath, a certain Rotwang and his mechanical woman, and a beady-eyed childkiller who whistles In the Hall of the Mountain King.

It’s not really a spoiler, I think, to reveal that The Monster — indestructible, as we ought to know by now — reappears at a crucial moment. I won’t spoil the fun for you of meeting his new friends, and hearing the name they’ve given him.

Through extraordinary adventures, and on to its delirious climax, Pandora’s Bride is a solid novel of horror-fantasy that takes a respectful cue from the classic film, but allows itself to transgress freely.

Author Elizabeth Hand’s novels and short stories have been rewarded with such prestigious prizes as science fiction’s Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award and the International Horror Guild Award. She had written for comics, as well as film tie-ins and novelizations (Twelve Monkeys, X-Files: Fight the Future).

The Bride of Frankenstein: Pandora’s Bride (Dark Horse Books, 2007). The book’s cover is by Stephen Youll.

An 8-page preview of the book on Dark Horse website.

Elizabeth Hand’s website.


Mike said...

I picked this one up and thought that while the story structure and ambition were admirable, the latter-day feminist views of the Bride (and presumably the author) were put across in a very patronizing, heavy-handed manner, to the point that the character becomes a mouthpiece.

Overall I found it pretty disappointing. Lacking in chills, and heavy on rhetoric.

Nick Fury said...

It thought it was better written then it had a right to be. I was initially put off by the fact that it was not tied into Shadow of Frankenstein which I loved.

Hand's mixing of Fritz Lang's 'M', Metropolis and Frankenstein characters made for a fun read, although I thought the cast became overloaded by the third half of the book. Pandora is well realized although I think if the cast hadn't been overloaded there would have been room for more development of her. The Children of Cain are a unique creation and the first half of the book really evokes a freaky atmosphere. Its definitely worth a read.

Dane said...

I would never have thought it, but I think I need to pick this up. The whole thing sounds fantastic, but this: "Think Frankenstein backed with a Kurt Weill soundtrack" was the decider.