Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books:
Doctor Syn by Russell Thorndike (1915).

My latest choice in Patti Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Books series is Russell Thorndike's Doctor Syn: A Smuggler Tale of the Romney Marsh (1915).

The mild-mannered vicar Doctor Syn is boring his congregation with his Sunday sermon when the British excise men (read tax guys—boo, hiss) arrive in their part of eighteenth-century Kent. Soon strange things start to happen: ghostly riders are seen in the marsh, the local physician with the unfortunate name of Dr. Pepper is knifed, a mulatto with connections to a notorious pirate disappears, and Syn seems to be up to more than saving souls.

For those who enjoy the derring-do of Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel or Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood, this book is right up their street. I am currently trying to work the word "Zounds!" into my everyday conversation.

Wounded at Gallipoli during World War I, actor and author Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885–1972) was the brother (and biographer) of actress Dame Sybil Thorndike and appeared in Laurence Olivier's films of Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III. Doctor Syn was filmed twice—in 1937 starring George Arliss in the title role and in 1963 featuring Patrick McGoohan as the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (the latter recently released on DVD). Thorndike himself also played Syn.

After Doctor Syn: A Smuggler Tale of the Romney Marsh Thorndike wrote the following:

Doctor Syn on the High Seas (1935)
Doctor Syn Returns (1936)
The Further Adventures of Doctor Syn (1936)
The Courageous Exploits of Doctor Syn (1938)
The Amazing Quest of Doctor Syn (1939)
The Shadow of Doctor Syn (1944)
The Slype (1927; not featuring Syn but including other characters from the series)


Fred Blosser said...

Hammer Films' NIGHT CREATURES (1962) with Peter Cushing is another adaptation. It was released on a "Hammer Franchise" DVD from Universal a couple of years ago. The hero's name was changed -- Cushing plays "Dr. Blyss" -- reportedly to avoid legal complications with the impending Disney version.

George said...

I remember watching the Disney episodes. Now I'll have to track down the books.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Thanks for the tip, Fred. Given the supernatural elements in _Doctor Syn_, it makes sense that Hammer would produce a version.

Happy reading, George!

Randy Johnson said...

Read this one many years ago, none of the rest though, and the Disney miniseries was a favorite in my younger days.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Writers like this really understood how to write adventure novel, didn't they?

Minnie said...

Arrived here via Martin Edwards's blog, & glad I did! Doctor Syn is wonderful, swashbuckling stuff. BBC Radio 7 regularly repeats a superb radio version (with Rufus Sewell in the title role), which is wonderfully atmospheric (listening to it, I could see Romney Marsh & smell the salt tang of the sea - lovely, as I then lived a long way from the coast). I don't suppose you can tune into that station in the USA; but the BBC has probably issued a recording - worth checking, if you're really interested?
Word verif, appropriately enough for a Chilterns [Midsomer, as in Murders] girl, is 'shire'!