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Doctor Syn

From Academic Kids

The Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn is the smuggler hero of a series of novels by Russell Thorndike, who was the brother of the celebrated English actress Dame Sybil Thorndike. The first book in this series, Doctor Syn: A Tale of Romney Marsh was published in 1915.

Doctor Syn was a brilliant scholar who also possessed many swashbuckling skills such as riding, fencing, and seamanship. He was content to live the quiet live of a country vicar until his wife was seduced away by a pirate.

Syn set out on a quest for revenge, in the process assuming the guise of the pirate Captain Clegg. With the end of his quest, Syn settled down to a more respectable life as the vicar of Dymchurch in Romney Marsh, Kent, and resumed his original name.

Syn learns that his parishioners have been smuggling goods from France to avoid the extravagant customs duties the government charges. Realizing that the townsfolk are falling into an ambush, Syn races to their rescue. A suit of clothing borrowed from a scarecrow makes an improvised disguise.

After this rescue Syn decides that he can only protect his people by becoming their leader. He makes a more elaborate scarecrow costume complete with eerie luminous paint. At night the respectable Dr Syn became 'The Scarecrow', the feared head of the smugglers. Together with the church sexton (and former pirate colleague) Mr. Mipps, he organizes the smugglers into a well-organized band of 'night riders', called "The Devil Riders" with macabre disguises and code-names. Syn's cunning is so great that the smugglers outwit the government forces for many years. The Dr Syn books detail his adventures and attempts to evades the Excise.

There are seven novels in the series written by Thorndike. Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh, Doctor Syn on the High Seas, Doctor Syn Returns, Further Adventures of Doctor Syn, Courageous Exploits of Doctor Syn, Amazing Quest of Doctor Syn, and Shadow of Doctor Syn. In 1960 American author William Buchanan used the character in his novel Christopher Syn. This is essentially a reworking of Further Adventures of Doctor Syn with a different conclusion and some conflation and renaming of the supporting characters. Christopher Syn became the basis for the 1964 Disney film. There was also a book adaptation of the Disney movie. This was titled Doctor Syn, Alias the Scarecrow and was written by Vic Crume.

At least 3 film adaptations have been made of Dr Syn's exploits. The first, "Doctor Syn" featured noted actor George Arliss in the title role. The second, "Doctor Syn, Alias the Scarecrow" was produced by Walt Disney in 1964 and starred Patrick McGoohan of The Prisoner fame. That same year "Night Creatures" was made with horror movie actor Peter Cushing as Dr. Syn. Because Disney had a stronger claim to the copyright, the main character's name was changed to Dr. Blyss.

In 2001 the first ever stage adaptation was performed at churches throughout the Romney Marsh, the final night being performed in Dymchurch itself. The cast combined professional actors such as Daniel Thorndike (the author's son), Michael Fields, Steven Povey and Ben Barton, along with various amateurs from the marshes. Although covered heavily by the press and filmed, pressure from Walt Disney (who still own all rights) has ensured that this production will never be released on video.

A 'Day of Syn' is held every even-numbered year (e.g. 2004) by the residents of Dymchurch for fund-raising purposes.

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