I’m gearing up for the release of my new MONSTER. It’s a contemporary, romantic suspense novella inspired by the Robert Louis Stevenson classic — “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Having immersed myself in the original, shying away from all the movie versions while I was working on my own, I’m now curious about what other people think of when they hear that famous title.
There are so many variations on the seductive Jekyll/Hyde theme. Everything from “Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” with Boris Karloff, and a bunch of Jekyll & Hyde Looney Tunes cartoons (including “Hyde & Go Tweet” with Sylvester and Tweety) to less direct interpretations like the episode of the original “Star Trek” where a transporter malfunction splits off the aggressive (impulsive, assertive, commanding, violent, decisive) aspects of Captain Kirk into one Kirk, while leaving the contemplative (compassionate, thoughtful, empathetic, measured, passive) aspects to stew in a turmoil of indecision. The lesson in the “Star Trek” episode was that the whole Kirk functioned as a balance between his aggressive and passive halves, each bringing essential qualities to the table.
Every couple of years since the 1887 debut of a theatrical production in Boston, there’s been a new film, TV or stage interpretation. I know I’ve seen several film versions and read a few stories, too, but the one that comes to mind is the 1941 version with Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner. It loomed in my imagination even while I read the original.
Which Jekyll & Hyde version is the first to pop into your head? Is it the Jekyll & Hyde musical that debuted on Broadway in 1997 and is periodically revived in various venues? Is it the 1931 film starring Frederick March? There’s one with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, have you seen it?
In Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, the good Dr. Jekyll is surrounded by a group of supportive, if mystified, friends. The female characters in the tale are basically plot devices — a great deal less important than I remember the roles played by the two fine actresses in the 1941 film. That led me to the decision to write my version with a decidedly feminist slant. My good doctor is a woman and she has three close friends — and an entire cast of characters— in her busy life. I won’t go as far as to say that all the men are plot devices. One is, to a point, and the others just like any other characters, full personalities dedicated to serving the story. That’s the point in storytelling; characters must help move the plot forward, mechanical plot devices or not. Turn about is fair play anyway, right?