Adaptation Round #2: Jekyll & Hyde
As promised in my Another What Have I Been Up To Post, here is the post I promised about the adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson‘s novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This post will compare the original novel and the graphic novel adaptation by Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy. This article, of course, will feature spoilers for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. You have been warned!
Published in 1885 The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde tells the story of Dr Jekyll‘s experiments into the good and evil of man. Surprisingly the story isn’t told from Jekyll’s perspective but from his lawyer John Utterson, guiding the reader through this dark tale. You would think this would give the novel a mystery style of writing, however, due to the break up nature of the plot the story is quite disjointed feeling like a collection of incidents rather than a whole. This feeling isn’t helped by Stevenson‘s style which is much more telling rather than showing with many of the major set pieces, such as the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, happening off the page and our narrator, Utterson, being told about it. The worst example of this is the book’s final two chapters where Stevenson explains the plot by using a pair of letters written by Dr Lanyon and Dr Jekyll. One thing the book does get right is the description of Hyde. Rather than trying to describe the beast in detail, Stevenson cleverly gets the characters to describe how the feel around him. This allows the reader to imagine Hyde to the fullest of their imagination and so making him much worse in their heads.
The Graphic Novel
The 2008 graphic novel gave writer Alan Grant and illustrator Cam Kennedy the chance to fix some of these story telling problems. Sadly, I feel they missed the chance by instead doing a “shot by shot” adaptation of the novel. In many ways all they have done is add pictures to Stevenson‘s original words thus missing the point of adaptation, in my opinion. Grant does capture the essence of Stevenson‘s words brilliantly and at no point does the graphic novel feel a bridged. Yet there are still times that the words feel wasted. The best example is below when Utterson, alone in his study, reads Jekyll‘s will and says the following:
Tut! In case of the decease of Henry Jekyll, M.D., all his possessions are to pass into the hands of his “friend and benefactor – Edward Hyde!” And should Jekyll disappear for any period over three months Hyde should step into Jekyll’s shoes without further delay!
Surely in the visual medium of the graphic novel the above would be better shown as a close up of the will or as a thought bubble rather than a man reading out the plot to the reader. To be fair to Grant he does include the great line
If he is to be Mr Hyde, I shall be Mr Seek!
Perhaps the biggest let down of the graphic novel is the appearance of Mr Hyde. Suffering from the same problem as the comic adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s The Price (see Adaptation Round #1: Book V Comic), Hyde comes across as flat and a bit dull compared to the images I had in my head. Kennedy‘s Hyde looks like a short ginger man with spots and bad nails. Yet other artists have managed to catch the monstrosity of Hyde. A great example is Kevin O’Neill who drew Hyde in Alan Moore‘s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which you can see below.