"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

When things don't match

Have you ever watched any of the movies made from Robert Louis Stevenson's THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE? By the time I was 15, I had seen two movies and a made-for-TV movie based on the book. I actually read the book when I was in my early 20s. Guess what I found out?

They were all lies.

I did a little research - apparently there have been over 123 adaptations of the book, and none of them have been faithful to RLS's story.

First of all, the "book" is all of 100 pages in length, making it a very slim volume. Quite frankly, it could have been edited further, although you have to allow for the time period in which it is written (1886).

Second, it is not told from the point of view of either Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. It is told from the point of view of Mr. Utterson, Dr. Jekyll's lawyer, and Mr. Enfield, Mr. Utterson's "distant kinsman." In the first scene, Mr. Enfield describes meeting Mr. Hyde after witnessing Hyde run over a small child in the street (the child was frightened but unharmed).

* * *

"He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man so disliked, and yet I scarcely know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point. He's an extraordinary looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way. No, sir, I can make no hand of it; I can't describe him. And it's not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this moment."

* * *

Mr. Hyde is described consistently like this. Detestable, although no one can name why.

Third, there are no women in the story at all. In most movies, Dr. Jekyll is engaged to be married, putting his fiancée at risk. Mr. Hyde partakes of all manner of lusty behavior, including taking a barmaid to be his own lover/pet/whipping post.

Fourth, there is only one death in the story, a man of Mr. Utterson's acquaintance. Hyde does beat him to death in a savage manner, and it is witnessed, from an upper window, by a young woman. But that's it for the violence.

Fifth, and what must send old Bob spinning in his grave, the fact that Mr. Hyde is the alter-evil-ego of Dr. Jekyll is not revealed until the end. It's supposed to be the twist at the end of the story. I mean, spoiler alert, people! Practically every movie shows us the transformation. We know who he is.

The book ends with a letter from Jekyll to Utterson, explaining the potion and all that has happened. Once again, folks, man doing things because he can, not because he should. Consequences... just saying. Jekyll's take on Hyde is interesting, especially here:

* * *

"Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde; but the situation was apart from ordinary laws, and insidiously relaxed the grasp of conscience. It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty. Jekyll was no worse; he woke again to his good qualities seemingly unimpaired; he would even make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde. And thus his conscience slumbered."

* * *

In the end, although I loved the movies, particularly the one with Spencer Tracy, I wish someone had been brave enough to film something closer to the book. I would especially like someone to dig deeper into the idea of splitting your evil side away and sending it out to take the rap for what your better side would like to do.

Would you take the potion?

No comments:

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.