Graphic look at a classic novella

1st February 2008 at 00:00
Reluctant readers are being enticed into fiction with one of the most enduring stories - which has been transformed into 'picture books'.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde remains one of the most popular and enduring of classics since it was first published in 1886 as a "shilling shocker". Even if you haven't read the book, you've probably seen one of the many film versions and you've likely heard of someone described as "a Jekyll and Hyde" character.

This enduring popularity makes Robert Louis Stevenson's novella a good choice for this year's One Book - One Edinburgh citywide reading campaign starting this week; a great book to get pupils, teachers and adult groups reading, researching, thinking and discussing.

We all know (or think we know) the story of the doctor whose mysterious (and impure) potion proves more than a mind-altering substance. It not only releases the evil within, it makes it physical.

As Dr Jekyll says: "Evil ... had left on that body an imprint of deformity and decay ... I have observed that when I wore the semblance of Edward Hyde, none could come near me at first without a visible misgiving of the flesh."

But his first sight of himself as Mr Hyde causes neither moral nor physical repugnance. In a statement which still has the power to shock, it causes Jekyll joy: "And yet when I looked upon that ugly idol in the glass, I was conscious of no repugnance, rather a leap of welcome. This, too, was myself. It seemed natural and human."

As a thriller, Jekyll and Hyde is a "good read" and perfectly pitched for teenage and young adult readers, especially the young male "reluctant readers" whom the campaign is particularly targeting this year. It is in many ways a very Scottish book (and very Edinburgh, despite its London setting) with its exploration of what RD Laing would later call "the divided self", its echoes of James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner and its influence on later novels such as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. But it also remains a book of universal significance in its exploration of the good and evil conjoined in every human being.

Heavy stuff. But heavy stuff in a popular package. For RLS is the storyteller par excellence.

The February campaign (slogan: "There's Nowhere to Hyde This February") run by the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust will see 10,000 free copies of the full book distributed to secondary schools, libraries, adult reading groups and other partner organisations. Four new graphic novel versions of the story (including Gaelic, Scots and modern text versions) have been published for simultaneous distribution.

"We want to stimulate a lifelong love of reading and to get as many of Edinburgh's citizens as possible reading this cracking story together, on their own initiative, or through schools, libraries and book groups," says Ali Bowden, the trust's director.

She and her colleagues are building on the success of last year's inaugural One Book - One Edinburgh campaign, which focused on another RLS novel, Kidnapped. "It was at first intended to be a one-off campaign. But such was its success that we had to have a rethink," says Ms Bowden.

"Then, we found that Cam Kennedy and Alan Grant, the team behind the graphic versions of Kidnapped, were so struck by Stevenson that they'd already begun to work on graphic versions of Jekyll and Hyde.

"So, we thought - well, if this is the Zeitgeist, let's go for it. The artists really led the way. Our intention now is for the reading campaign to become an annual one."

The graphic novel editions are of particular importance this year. Last year, they proved eminently successful in attracting "reluctant readers" and moving them on to the full novel. "As we have a major focus on young male readers this year, the graphic novel versions will be particularly important as they have the effect of making reading 'cool' with this group," says Ms Bowden.

The campaign will also include film screenings, public discussions and readings as well as three walking tours: The Gothic City, In Stevenson's Footsteps, and Deacon Brodie's Old Town (Deacon Brodie, respectable citizen by day and burglar by night, serving as a model for the JekyllHyde character).

A new play, Jekyll and Hyde: A Specimen, written and directed by Donald Smith, will also tour schools which become involved in the campaign.

"Jekyll and Hyde is still a very disturbing story which raises issues about society and moral evil which are relevant today," says Dr Smith, who last year wrote a stage version of Kidnapped entitled When Kilts Were Banned. In Kidnapped, the story was there. You just had to hone it. But Jekyll and Hyde is different. It's more allusive and indirect - so you have to interpret it.

"Our interpretation will be set in modern Edinburgh and will look at drugs and the effect of drugs on the mind, as well as raising questions about science and morality," he says.

With the One Book - One Edinburgh campaign now to be an annual event, will it be three in a row for RLS next year?

"It won't," says Ali Bowden. "I can't say what the book will be, but I can say it will be a classic by an author who is not often thought of as specifically Scottish."

Answers on a postcard, please - or watch this space ...

Throughout February, will feature reading lists, Stevenson information, a map of Stevenson's Edinburgh, details of the making of the new editions and a variety of activities, including puzzles, interactive games, worksheets and craft ideas.


Last year, five new editions of Kidnapped were published and 25,000 free copies given away. More than 40 events ranging from talks, masterclasses, exhibitions and workshops were attended by more than 1,400 people.

Many schools organised library displays, group readings, quizzes and treasure hunts, as well as dressing-up parades and competitions to design book covers. Queensferry High in Edinburgh even organised the "kidnapping" of a member of staff by senior pupils, while at St George's School, P7 pupils staged nine scenes they'd written on the novel.

Last year's Kidnapped campaign

"Many of the pupils are reluctant readers and it was surprising how well they took to the graphic version. The illustrations were well received and caught their imagination."

Canonmills Primary

"Very successful theme for our annual book week. Staff enjoyed having one book to share. Excellent range of activities and support worksheets."

Tollcross Primary

"This was a wonderful opportunity to introduce pupils to a great book, which many would never have picked up without this initiative."

Portobello High

"S1 have made sailor hats and wear these every time we read from the book. We are also planning our own adventure and mapping this out and attaching diary excerpts to the back. The pupils are really enjoying it."

George Watson's School.

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