Books: Happy RLS Day!

Published On November 13, 2012 | By Joe Gordon | Books, Comics, Conventions and events

(a scene from a graphic novel adaptation of RLS’ Jekyll and Hyde by the great Mattotti)

Today is the 13th of November and it is the birthday of one of of the greatest writers to come out of the rich literary heritage of the city I am pleased to call my home, Edinburgh – the wonderful Robert Louis Stevenson. More than an Edinburgh, Scottish or even British writer, ‘dear Louis’ is one of that elite group of makkars who belong to the world, their work endlessly reprinted, translated, adapted into different media. Stevenson’s books have travelled the world, much as he himself did (as well as poet and storyteller he was a gifted travel writer, bringing the places he visited to life beautifully). His tales have been part of cinema since the earliest days of film, and the comics medium has adapted him endlessly across the last century and a bit, from faithful adaptations to astonishing visual delights that change the text somewhat but maintain the spirit, such as the legendary Mattotti’s interpretation of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (it remains my favourite comics adaptation of that magnificent, early psychological horror, a chilling tale Stephen King once referred to as the great prototype of the werewolf in horror fiction).

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson 2
(Stevenson’s childhood home in Edinburgh’s New Town, still there to see today, although as it says on the small notice by the doorbell, please don’t expect to go in as it is still a private home)

Kidnapped too has been remade and re-interpreted so many times for film, stage, radio and of course, comics, with a version just a few years ago by two giants of Scottish comics, Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy, being distributed free to schools across the Scottish capital to encourage more reading, while RLS’ Treasure Island remains, as a bookselling colleague of mine once put it, “one of the finest Boy’s Own adventure yarns ever committed to paper”. Works of fiction, of course, but inspired by his own native land, and the literary visitor here can still follow Stevenson and his characters, from his childhood home where he would watch the leerie light the lamps in Edinburgh’s New Town (see pic above) or a little outside the city at South Queensferry, the Hawes Inn, where some of Kidnapped takes place, on the banks of the mighty Firth of Forth – the Hawes is still there, now in the shadow of the hugely impressive Forth Rail Bridge, and still an inn:

(above, the Hawes Inn, South Queensferry, as depicted by Cam Kennedy in his and Alan Grant’s comic adaptation of Stevenson’s Kidnapped; below, the modern day Hawes Inn at dusk, photo from my Flickr)

Hawes Inn at dusk

And, until recently the pub’s sign celebrated this literary link, with an almost cartoonish depiction of an unwary lad about to be walloped over the head and bundled aboard ship (sadly last time I was there the sign had been replaced):

Hawes Inn 2

Ron Grosset and Cam Kennedy on the Waverley Books stand
(Scottish publisher Ron Grosset with artist Cam Kennedy and their display for the comics adaptation of Kidnapped at the first Hi-Ex Inverness comic con, pic from my Flickr)

And so today Edinburgh celebrates RLS Day, with events around the city and readers encouraged to share their thoughts on Stevenson on Twitter with the #RLSDay hashtag (see the Edinburgh City of Literature site for more details) and again I take any excuse to commend to you the writings of this wonderful author, be it in his original poems and prose or in one of the many comics adaptations that new artists and writers feel compelled to create again and again, so strong is the lure of his work. Happy birthday, dear Louis, happy RLS Day and happy reading to you all.

National Portrait Gallery 03
(Stevenson’s bust in the recently refurbished Scottish National Poetry Gallery in Edinburgh)

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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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