Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Doctor Syn - A Smuggler Tale Of The Romney Marsh!

Doctor Syn: A Smuggler Tale of the Romney Marsh by Russell Thorndike is a book I've wanted to read forever and a day and finally I picked up one from Amazon and dashed off with it to my nook to finally at long last find the source for the great Disney production which attracted me to the character so many decades ago.

What he have in this 1915 novel is a character which is rather unlike the open and rather friendly Disney character who operates with cleverness and zeal to care for the poor people of Romney Marsh by using authority as a parson and his charisma as a bandit called The Scarecrow to protect them from oppression. The Doctor Syn of this story is a wild and spooky character who is respected by his flock but also somewhat frightened by him as he is wont to do wild things which beggar description.

When British soldier appear on the scene to rein in smuggling in the area it brings about a crisis as they bring along a strange man who can identify a presumably dead pirate named Clegg, a pirate who was famously hanged some years before. Syn we discover has some connection to Clegg and while the mystery isn't all that deep, the discovery of the truth unfolds leisurely though out the tale.

There are some great characters in the story such as Mipps, stout-hearted and charming coffin maker who has more than a few secrets. Imogene, a barmaid who herself might have connections to the old pirate Clegg. And much of the tale is told from the perspective of Jerry Jerk, a young boy who loathes his schoolmaster Rash and daydreams of becoming a hangman so he can have the teacher dangling from the end of his rope. Young master Jerk is a Huckleberry Finn type of boy who is filled with raucous thoughts of violence but is armed with a no nonsense attitude which makes him a sturdy ally for many.

On many levels this is a weird and violent yarn with secrets which lurk behind the think wooden walls of the small village which is often haunted by spooks who ride across the marsh in the dark of night. There's a neat creepiness to the story, but also a zany misdirection as it never seems to go where you imagine it should as attention is paid first to one character then another.

This is the first and also the last of the Syn novels. Many prequels were written some years later by Thorndike. Some time I need to get hold of them and check them out, if the writing is anywhere nearly as good as it is in this one.

After reading the novel I dug out my copy of Hammer's Night Creatures which adapts the story pretty thoroughly. Hammer was beat out by Disney for rights to the name, but did a pretty decent job of translating the events of the first novel to the screen. I was underwhelmed by this one when I first saw it, as it's a weaker effort than the classic Disney adaptation, but it is truer to the source material, even though Doctor Syn cannot be called that but is referred to as "Doctor Bliss". He is played rather energetically if more sanely by Peter Cushing.

And the very first adaptation called simply Dr.Syn starring George Arliss from 1937 I have ordered and on the way.  It seems a close adaptation of the novel too can be found here . In fact it seems likely the source for the movie by Hammer. 

I'll have to dig out the Disney version next. It's been several years since I savored this  outstanding classic entertainment with Patrick McGoohan as the mysterious Scarecrow.

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  1. Have you heard of the psychobilly band Captain Clegg & the Night Creatures? They were formed for and appeared briefly in Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 remake – but they later released a cd of music which is really quite good (if one likes this sort of thing, and I do.) Some of their tunes: “Macon County Morgue”, “Red Neck Vixen From Outer Space” and “Two-Headed Teenage Transplant”. Captain Clegg (really musician Jesse Dayton) and his band dress like Cushing and company from the Night Creatures movie…Check them out on youtube…Good rockin’ Halloween music…

    1. That was fun. Thanks for directing to that, I'd never run across them before and I rather like that brand of music, even if the macabre lyrics are over the top. Nice sound.

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