This was Patrick Allen’s final paper for a WR 100 course titled “The Mad Scientist in Literature and Film.” In the course, we traced the long history of the mad scientist figure from myths and legends which tell of the religious transgressions of the “overreacher” to more recent stories and their added urgency due to the potentially destructive power of new technologies. We saw that there are many types of mad scientist, whose stories raise different social and philosophical questions, but we found that common themes emerge, especially questions concerning the ethics of research and invention and a consideration of humanity’s place in nature.

Patrick made quick progress as a writer over the semester, and this essay demonstrates his increasingly sophisticated vocabulary and sentence structure, and his insightful analyses. Though the scope of the essay is perhaps overly ambitious, there is a logic behind it. He begins with Frankenstein, arguably the first major modern mad scientist, who creates a man, then moves to the industrial age with Karel Čapek’s R.U.R., in which men are mass produced, and ends with Dr. Strangelove, of the military-industrial complex, where it is mad politicians and generals who wield the power of technology. Across this line of modern development, Patrick both identifies a type of cultural anxiety that lies behind mad scientist stories, whereby the promise of science can inspire both hope and discontent, and considers what happens when the utopian motives of mad scientists themselves come up against the paradoxes inherent in knowledge, freedom, and, as the word implies, utopia.


WR 100: The Mad Scientist in Literature and Film