JEKYLL’S MIRROR, my brand new cyber-age take on the legendary story THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE is officially published on 1st January (although you can get it early from Amazon by clicking here!)
I thought it might be interesting to write a series of short blogs about the origins and inspirations for the book. I often get asked ‘Where did you get your idea for your latest book?’, and the answer is almost always – lots of different places! It’s very unusual for an entire book to spring from just one source, and that is very much the case with Jekyll’s Mirror.
Over the course of a few blogs, I’ll be describing these different origins and influences, but let’s begin at the beginning: the first thrill of terror I felt at the idea of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Now, don’t click on the video below until I’ve explained what exactly this clip means to me…
Like most people, I suspect, I’d been vaguely aware of the idea of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous tale: a good doctor drinks a potion he’s concocted and transforms into the evil Mr Hyde. Of course, that’s a bit of a misunderstanding of the story. Dr Jekyll isn’t a saint and Mr Hyde has many more layers than those of a simple bogeyman. I discuss some of the false ideas about the story and what I consider to be its true meaning in Chapter 5 of Jekyll’s Mirror, and will probably write a blog about it, but let’s go back to my childhood and my first encounter with these characters…
Like Dracula and Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde has become part of cultural mythology and is deeply ingrained in our shared idea of ‘Story’ and the world around us. Newspaper headlines scream ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ when some foul but hitherto unsuspected murderer has been discovered; we use those richly suggestive names to describe people we know who have behaved out of character; in essence, we use and abuse the idea of the story while many of us probably haven’t read a single page of the original book.
Mr Hyde encounters those ‘pesky kids’
I’m not sure when I first encountered the good doctor. That introduction is lost in the mists of memory. It might well have been courtesy of that wonderfully batty Scooby Doo episode (I was a Mystery Inc nut when I was a kid), The Ghost of Mr Hyde, in which the great-grandson of the original Dr Jekyll uses his Mr Hyde alias to embark on a career as a jewel thief. Or the notion of the double-personality and the transformation might have come my way courtesy of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s thinly-veiled comic book version, the Incredible Hulk, Dr Bruce Banner now using gamma rays rather than those infamous ‘powders’ to unleash his inner monster.
Stan Lee’s comic book take on the story
However that first meeting occurred, I remained conscious, fascinated (at terrified!) by the idea of Jekyll & Hyde. A horror story in which the monster isn’t something ‘other’ – isn’t something ‘out there’ waiting to find you – but is hiding (hyding?) inside your very skin.
By the age of eleven I still hadn’t got round to reading the original book, but late one October evening in 1988 I begged my parents to let me stay up and watch a new TV movie starring Michael Caine. On the centenary of the most infamous murders in British history, ITV had produced JACK THE RIPPER, a thriller in which Caine played Inspector Frederick Abberline, one of the real-life policemen who had investigated the Whitechapel killings.
Richard Mansfield, the first actor to portray Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
The programme is a rather unconvincing account of the Ripper murders, using the silly idea of a royal connection to ‘Jack’, but it did feature a moment I found truly mesmerising. In 1888 the renowned American actor Richard Mansfield brought a stage version of Jekyll and Hyde to the West End. I’ll talk a little more about Mansfield and other actors who have tackled the role(s) of Jekyll & Hyde in another blog, but in the TV movie there is a moment where a modern-day actor Armand Assante recreates Mansfield’s transformation scene on stage. For the eleven-year-old me, the scene was absolutely terrifying –
The arrogant Dr Jekyll wishes to prove to his friends that his story is true: that he has shaken ‘the very fortress of identity’ and is able by his genius to transform his features. Assante channels Mansfield in a terrifying way, and it’s easy to imagine how, when the original play premiered in London in those hellish Ripper months of autumn 1888, people fainted in the theatre and the show was eventually banned. This short scene from the TV movie stayed in my mind: Jekyll’s hooting laughter, the bubbling skin, the pulsating face as the dark Mr Hyde begins to emerge.
Armand Assante’s Dr Jekyll prepares to drink the potion…
This was my first proper introduction to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Afterwards, I rushed out, bought the book and, in horror, devoured it. Since then I’ve reread it perhaps fifty times and have even written a stage version of my own. I find the ideas behind it – the nature of who we are and the dangers of repressing parts of our personality – absolutely fascinating.
But I will never forget this moment from the TV movie – that eerie hooting laughter has found an echo in one of my main characters Doreen Lackland who, when she transforms into her very own ‘Hyde’ in JEKYLL’S MIRROR, recreates the laughter of Richard Mansfield…
TO SEE THE TRANSFORMATION GO TO THE 57th SECOND OF THE VIDEO. It’s creepy… you have been warned!