Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll vs Adaptations

I don't think there's a book more frequently mis-adapted for any medium than Frankenstein. Consider:

1. Frankenstein did not re-animate anything. He made up his creature from scratch. "No corpses were harmed in the making of this monster."

2. No lightning is mentioned, either, though he did have an impressive experience in his youth with a lightning bolt obliterating a tree.

3. He didn't live in Transylvania or some other exotic spot. Try Geneva.

4. Though the creature was self-educated, it read some fairly literate books (Sorrows of Young Werther was a mistake, though). The creature was a compelling speaker.

5. Since it wasn't sewn and bolted together from parts, it didn't have the stitches and such. It had yellowish skin with long, black hair.

6. Although it claims that it was initially good and only driven to cruelty by human rejection, it was fairly evil-tempered from the start.

7. (Minor spoiler) At the end of the story, the creature's still alive, though it promises to do away with itself. How sweet.

Still, I think the mis-adaptations of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have done more damage, simply because I consider Stevenson's story superior (and not long-winded like Frankenstein). Though Frankenstein has its points, it meanders considerably and has several problems. For example, the whole Irish interlude seemed over the top: how did the monster pull off such a trick? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, meanwhile, is fairly straightforward, especially given that it's told somewhat out of order: we see certain incidents that are known to Utterson the lawyer, and only afterward do we go back and see them from other viewpoints that explain them.

But the main problem is that the story is meant to be a kind of mystery. It loses a bit if you start out knowing the connection between Jekyll and Hyde. Also, Dr. Jekyll is often misrepresented as either someone trying to cure people (he wasn't) or simply a kind of drug addict (he wasn't really one of those, either). It's really a story about how one's evil side, once unleashed, will inevitably dominate and ruin one's life. There's a bit more to it than that, but that's the gist of it.

The gist of this post: read the original! Adaptations generally mess up a superior work.

You can get free audio books at LibriVox:
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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