Not long ago, I logged onto an online web site, Abebooks.com, that sells used books from around the world. I was looking for cheap paperback copy of Robert L. Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” I found one, for $1, and ordered it.
I got the book, all right, only it wasn’t what I had ordered — there was a serious truth in advertising problem here ….
…. Or at least I thought so, at first. Then I went back to the web site, looked up my order, and …
…. Oops-ie. I had failed to read the fine print. My boo-boo.
So what I got was something else entirely. It was called “The Adult Version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” with a little note at the bottom of the cover that read, “Published for the literary entertainment of mature adults only.”
The book was written by a Terry Stacy — I have no idea if that’s a man or woman, but I doubt it’s a real name. The book was published in 1970 by Calga Publishers.
At first, I tossed the book aside and continued my hunt for the real thing, which I quickly found. The intro to Stevenson’s classic noted that the published version was actually a significant redraft of the original. Stevenson based the tale on a dream he had, but his wife found the first version so gruesome that she convinced him to burn it. So Stevenson wrote it again, from scratch.
The Calga version taps into that legend in explaining why a more sexually explicit version was needed. The preface noted that while Stevenson’s book achieved classic status, “this reputation (was) achieved in spite of the limitations imposed on the author … by the puritanical mores of the day,” and blamed “powerful censors” for a supposedly watered down version of the book. How would Stevenson’s classic have turned out, the book ponders, if there had been no limitations on language or expression?
“There can be no doubt that if this were the case, masterpieces such as ‘Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde’ would be even more realistic and more graphic.”
Hence, the “adult” version to prove just that.
“The adaptation of ‘Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde’ by Terry Stacy had achieved this goal,” the foreword gushes. “The story, though still occurring in its original setting in time and place, has been expanded and liberated and now includes a story-line, details, and wording that would have been deleted by prudish censors.”
Now, I don’t consider myself a prude, so I decided to give the adult version a try. I did read the entire thing, all 192 pages of it. And I can honestly say, as a decidedly bohemian-minded, non-prudish man, that this book was spectacularly, astonishingly boring.
Now, Stevenson’s own book, I will admit, is not such an easy read, either. His style hasn’t aged well and can be tedious at times. Still, his ideas are good and he keeps you reading.
Stacy’s book follows the skeleton outline of Stevenson’s classic, but he focuses mainly on Jekyll’s lawyer friend Peter Utterson — and on his sexual exploits. Each chapter contains about one page of plot, five pages of explicit bump and grind. The novel provides a little something for every sexual taste: men have sex with women, men with men, women with women, and there’s even a prostitute matched with a dog for the bestiality crowd. For those craving something more hardcore, there’s a hideously gory scene where an overexcited Mr. Hyde takes on two women, sadly for them. So from vanilla to extreme sadism, this book has it all.
But the sex scenes, which leave positively zero to the imagination, are so repetitious and monotonous that the book is a colossal snooze. I kept wanting to get back to the story of Dr. Jekyll, and not dwell on Utterson’s latest explicit escapade. I nearly tossed the book aside midway through, but I decided, hey, I paid for it, might as well get my money’s worth. But by the end of those 192 pages, I hadn’t, sadly.
So I think this novel actually ends up disproving Calga’s theory. The freedom we have today to be as explicit as we want doesn’t always make a piece of fiction more exciting, stimulating and challenging; mechanical descriptions of sex acts, minus any relevance to the plot, is dull stuff. Imagine if your favorite movie abandoned its plot after the first 10 minutes and just went to an explicit sex scene? The movie “Caligula” tried that, and it remains one of the worst cinematic monstrosities ever made.
The problem, I think, is when taboo subjects or shock value replace actual creative ideas. I notice this dilemma often on television today. Producers of the hit shows have more freedom today to show nudity, sex, or violence, since the competition from cable networks is so intense. But I’ve noticed TV producers mainly pull out the shock stuff when they’re running low on ideas, because the shock scenes rarely do much to propel the plot.
So … I’ve seen people vomiting and using a toilet on “E.R.” in ways that do nothing to beef up the story line. At the other extreme, I saw a kidnapping victim have his ear graphically sliced off on “Law And Order: Criminal Intent,” and watched a drug addict stripped of her shoes, then forced to walk across a room covered with broken glass, in “Criminal Minds.” The gore was explicit — and excruciating to watch, but didn’t do much whatsoever to make it a more interesting episode — just a more disgusting and stomach-turning one.
Calga is right that some very creative and forceful ideas may have been shunted aside in Stevenson’s age, when censors wielded greater influence than they do today, and standards on what was acceptable were quite different. But today’s taboo-breaking is more mindless than provocative, more an effort to cover up a pathetic lack of ideas than anything else.
Contact Michael Freeman at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.