The beauty of the “flip book” approach
In addition to his serious-minded approach to The Strange Case of Mr. Bodkin & Father Whitechapel, Keller departs from the usual “literary mash-up” approach by actually attaching Stevenson’s 1886’s novella to the back of his adaptation. The physical copy of the book exists in an innovative “flip book” format, where both sides feature the same cover art – but a different text.
According to Keller, the conception of the “flip book” came to him almost as soon as the idea for the book itself, a product of a visionary epiphany that inspired him to take advantage of Jekyll & Hyde’s public domain nature and use it as a very present companion to his own work.
“There were two reasons,” Keller explained. “One, I realized, early on, the marketing hook. I find that people who can have the book in their hands and flip it over really ‘get’ it. Second, almost everyone recognizes the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde,” but when you look at the actual percentage of people who have read the actual novel, it’s so few people. I wanted to introduce the original text (to new audience).”
And it seems the approach is working. Since publishing the book, Keller has found that his friends, family and readers everywhere are using his work as a gateway to a classic.
“When someone tells me the read the original, and realized how it was much different than what they expected, it makes me very happy, almost as much or more as when they tell me that they read my side of the story,” Keller said.
M. Elias Keller grew up in Bucks County, PA and now lives in Philadelphia. He earned degrees in Anthropology and Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. He has been a freelance and journalistic writer in Philadelphia and San Diego, as well as publishing short fiction in various literary magazines.
Indie Groundbreaking Book
Indie Groundbreaking Book: The Strange Case of Mr. Bodkin & Father Whitechapel
Jekyll and Hyde Reimagined
“The drug had no discriminating action; it was neither diabolical nor divine; it but shook the doors of the prison-house of my disposition; and like the captives of Philippi, that which stood within ran forth. At that time my virtue slumbered; my evil, kept awake by ambition, was alert and swift to seize the occasion; and the thing that was projected was Edward Hyde.”
So reads one of the most famous passages in all of English literature, a key juncture in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, that explains the true nature and the deep implications of a potion that can split a man’s personality down the middle. For me, in my university British Literature course, that passage (and its key introduction of the pure-evil “Hyde” personality) fueled a term paper argument that Stevenson’s work acted as a bridge of sorts between Victorian optimism and early twentieth-century pessimism. For M. Elias Keller, a Philadelphia-based author who has long been captivated by Stevenson’s work, the same passage served as a springboard for an innovative and fascinating literary venture.
The realization of that venture is Keller’s The Strange Case of Mr. Bodkin & Father Whitechapel, a novella that mirrors the structure of Stevenson’s original, but flips the form, beginning the story with a man (Mr. Bodkin) who is treacherous, cruel and manipulative, and then using the same potion device to bring out his suppressed benevolent side. Coalescing into some combination of pure tribute, parodic examination, adaptation, historical fiction, straight sequel, and “literary mash-up,” Keller’s own novella certainly seeks to “tell the other side of Stevenson’s story,” but the truly groundbreaking aspect of his work is in the myriad of ambitious directions it explores throughout its narrative.
Keller recalls that the genesis moment for the book came in 2009, when he was hiking in the Catskills and stopped in a public library to browse the stacks. Obviously, he did not have a library card and couldn’t check books out, but he was drawn to the crates that offered beat-up copies of old titles for 10 to 25 cents apiece. A copy of Jekyll & Hyde piqued his interest, taking him back to his high school and college days when he had read the book and been enraptured by it. So he splurged the quarter that it cost, and brought it home to rediscover Stevenson’s genius.
A few days later, the idea of examining the story from the other side began to germinate in Keller’s mind, brought on by recent news stories of financial struggles and corrupt bankers...an archetype that eventually took the form of his lead character, Mr. Bodkin. But even though the conceptual aspects of the work certainly provided a hook for Keller’s new story, it was ultimately Stevenson’s peerless storytelling and style that moved him to write it.
“When Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde was published, audiences didn’t really know that it was a magical potion turning him into a monster,” Keller explained. “Now, everyone knows the story, everyone knows that they’re the same person, but what has always amazed me is that, even knowing that, it is still completely suspenseful. I was just very impressed at the craftsmanship of the work, from a writer’s perspective.”
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Mr. Bodkin & Father Whitechapel is the way in which Keller is able to thoroughly adopt Stevenson’s Victorian prose. Throughout the novella, Keller’s turn of language feels remarkably natural, flowing in the same way as Stevenson’s from perspective to perspective, pure narrative to faux news articles and letters that advance the story indirectly. But while the voice feels like a remarkably natural one, Keller noted that it was the product of extensive research and consistent discipline.
“I started with (Stevenson’s) pamphlet and then immersed myself in Victorian lit and authentic news items, letters, etc. to get the voice of the time,” Keller elaborated. “The challenge was to write each sentence, not in the way may own ear would hear it, but in the way it would have been written by Stevenson. It was actually a very useful exercise for a young novelist to have, because it forced me to keep the attention on the authenticity (of the style) and the suspense of the story rather than trying to find my own voice; I had to get my own writing out of the way.”
The result of Keller’s mastery of style and his decision to flip the story on its head (I won’t give away the full consequences of Father Whitechapel’s angelic behavior, but rest assured that the implications are fascinating) is a project that, as its press release declares, “takes literary mash-ups to a new level of sophistication.” Recent years have seen a slew of ironic updates on classic works or historical events, from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but Keller’s work is far less reliant on the gimmick factor, paying genuine tribute to Stevenson’s original work rather than tarnishing it.
The Strange Case of Mr. Bodkin & Father Whitechapel is available on Amazon.com in both a “flip-book” paperback edition (which also includes the original text of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) for $9.95 and an e-book edition for $4.95. Those interested in learning more about Keller can visit his website at http://www.meliaskeller.com.
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Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In edition to writing for Independent Publisher, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.