Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Story's in the Teller

At the risk of sounding TOO much like Woody Allen's version of Ernest Hemingway, something has occurred to me: All stories are worth being told. It's up to the writer to decide whether or not the story is right for them to tell it.

Every story that can be told reveals something about the human condition whether good, bad, indifferent or just amusing or puzzling. There's no such thing as a bad story, right? Only a story told badly. How many versions of Homer's The Odyssey are there? How many Boy Meets Girl? How many Man Versus Nature?

Let's take Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde as a for instance. Robert Louis Stevenson's classic is just that: Classic. It's been told so well that it begs to be retold and retold and retold. (This isn't a retraction of my post about remaking films. This is different. I promise.) How many versions of man's confrontation with his dark side can you count up? There's a Scooby Doo version. Film versions. Radio versions. TV versions. A musical. What's notable is that most of these adaptations choose to ignore the twist ending that makes the book a classic. We'll come back to that.

Then there are the stories that are based on the Jekyll & Hyde mythology. I would class Stephen King's The Dark Half as a Jekyll & Hyde story. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby launched the modern Marvel Comics Universe on the broad back of the Hulk and almost every other comic book creator has gone back to the Jekyll & Hyde well to mine something new when they take the character over. Alan Moore, in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (please ignore the awful film and read the comics), made Hyde more like the Hulk than anything else.

So what is it about the Jekyll & Hyde story that attracts so many people to it? Over 123 films made of the tale tell us that the fascination is likely about people losing control. Or maybe it's about morals. Or maybe it's about the duality of good and evil within each of us. Pick your poison.

What most often gets lost in the adaptations and retellings is that Hyde wasn't as ugly, physically, as he's now portrayed. It was Hyde's presence that caused revulsion in people, not his appearance. Just him being in the room with someone made them uneasy. There's no need to make Hyde, when he's used in other stories, a huge, hulking creature. Hyde is a man. A monstrous one, yes, but a man. Let's not forget that part.

The other thing that gets lost is the mystery of who Hyde is. Is he Jekyll? Is it someone else? We all know the answer now, but that's the way Stevenson told it. He wanted the reader to think about duality in Victorian England. It wouldn't hurt us to think about it now, either, for all of that.

All this to say that Stevenson told a wonderful story that inspired others to rip off or riff on. That story told by others is somehow less than what it should be. There are some that come close and Lee and Kirby's Hulk has a place in my heart that's a close second to Stevenson's.  As a writer, I've been searching for my own story and I think I've finally found it. I'm into revisions on it now and I'm excited to see it through. I doubt my story will have the same impact as Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, but it's mine. I'm the right person to tell this story at this time and no one can take that away from me.

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