The Life and Times of the Rev. Doctor Christopher Syn, Parson, Smuggler, and Sometime Pirate
I like the movie and created a similar character called The Dark Skarecrow,one with super powers,gimmicks and such
by Matthew Baugh
Doctor Syn is one of the most interesting and unusual figures of the 18th Century. A tall, slender, charismatic man with a commanding presence, Dr. Syn was a man who would have succeeded in any career. Syn was a brilliant scholar and rousing preacher as well as being one of the finest swordsmen, riders, and seamen in all of England. Unfortunately, Christopher's promising career was cut short when he was betrayed in love and left his calling to pursue a quest for vengeance across the world.
Years later Syn would return to the little town of Dymchurch-Under-the-Wall, seeking to resume the quiet life of a country parson, but his past would not let him go. Learning that many of his parishioners were involved in smuggling, Syn resolved to protect them from the agents of the King's Revenue. Assuming the masked identity of the Scarecrow, Syn led the smugglers in a series of adventures that rival those of Robin Hood, D'Artagnian and his companions, or El Zorro in their daring and their success.
Ironically, it may be in the masked Scarecrow that we see the truest picture of this complex man. This guise allowed him to combine the compassion of the clergyman with the cunning and the swashbuckling style of the pirate captain.
In compiling a time-line of the life of this man who was by turns, villain, hero, and tragic figure I have drawn heavily on the earlier brief time-line of Mr. Andrew Henry. This has been extraordinarily helpful and I am deeply indebted to him.
Anthony Cobtree born. (This date is conjecture and is based on the fact that Tony is said to be several years older than Syn.)
Christopher Syn is born in Kent. I had originally written that Christopher had been born in Dymchurch but that is not stated in the novels. A more likely birthplace would be Lydd, or possibly New Romney. (Many thanks to fellow Syn fan Barry Marsh for pointing this out.)
Christopher's father and uncles are killed at the Battle of Culloden fighting on the Scottish side, leaving him the last male in the Syn line. His mother dies of grief soon after and Christopher is raised by an elderly uncle.
Events of Dr. Syn On The High Seas
Young Christopher Syn first meets Mr. Mipps, who is on his way to a life at sea. Syn saves Mipps from the King's Revenue and forges what will become a life-long friendship.
While a brilliant young Oxford scholar and Doctor of Divinity, Syn falls in love with the Spanish beauty Imogene Almago and rescues her from "Bully" Tappitt, whom he kills in a duel.
Syn and Imogene marry in a double ceremony with Tony Cobtree and his lady-love Caroline Gordon. They return to Dymchurch-Under-the-Wall where Tony is the son of the local squire and Christopher is installed as Vicar. (Caroline's maiden name is speculative, and is based on the fact that her maiden aunt is Agatha Gordon.)
Imogene is seduced away by Syn's supposed friend, Nicholas Tappitt, and Syn nearly loses his sanity out of rage and grief.
The birth of Imogene's son (While this lad is supposedly her son by Tappitt, Imogene will later reveal that he is actually the son of Christopher Syn. His name is never revealed in the series.)
Birth of Charlotte Cobtree. (Charlotte's birth is difficult to pinpoint. In Dr. Syn Returns she is introduced as a girl of 19, but only a few days later she celebrates her 21st birthday. I have assumed that the latter is the correct statement.)
Dr. Syn's odyssey in pursuit of Nick and Imogene begins. He follows them to Spain, but they learn he is following them and flee to America.
When he follows, Syn's ship is taken by the pirate known as "Black Satan". Syn kills the pirate in a duel and becomes the new pirate captain of the ship "Sulphur Pit". He is aided in this by his old friend Mipps, who had been one of Black Satan's crew.
Syn abandons his ship and crew to go searching for Tappitt and Imogene in the American wilderness and Mipps comes with him. Without Syn's knowledge Mipps has arranged a convenient accident which ignites the powder-hold of the Sulphur Pit, eliminating all witnesses who could tell of Syn's piratic acts.
Under the cover of taking a mission to the Indians, Dr. Syn and Mr. Mipps venture into the in the forests along the Mississippi. They share several adventures with the Native American warrior Shuhshuhgah who becomes a loyal ally.
Birth of Maria Cobtree.
Syn emerges from the wilderness and learns that Tappitt has become a whaler and has taken Imogene and the boy on a voyage with him. Syn becomes a ship's harpooner and adopts the alias "Clegg." (The name Clegg comes from Shuhshuhgah's name for a vicious biting fly.)
Birth of Cicely Cobtree.
Syn completes his whaling voyage, having failed again to catch up with Tappitt and Imogene. He learns that Tappitt is now in Kingstown Jamaica, where is known as "Black Nick." He has purchased a fast ship, the "St. Nicholas," and letters of marque. Syn steals the ship and it's crew from Tappitt and begins a new career of piracy. He re-names the ship the "Imogene" and christens himself "Captain Clegg." During this period he becomes the most infamous pirate of his day.
Birth of Dennis Cobtree. (There is some uncertainty as to Dennis' exact date of birth, because of the problematic dates in Doctor Syn and Amazing Quest of Doctor Syn which are discussed later.)
A mutiny against Captain Clegg is incited by the Cuban mulatto who was the only survivor of the destruction of Syn's first pirate ship. Clegg, Mipps, and Shuhshuhgah quash the mutiny and punish the mulatto by cutting out his tongue and marooning him on a coral shoal where he is certain to die. Despairing of piracy and his quest for revenge, Clegg slips away from his ship. His plan is to return to Dymchurch and live out his life as an obscure country clergyman.
The events of Dr. Syn Returns
A brig is wrecked on the rocks off of Dymchurch in the worst storm in living memory. The only survivor is Dr. Syn, who is greeted by his old friend Tony Cobtree, now the Squire of Dymchurch. Tony sees to that Syn is appointed Vicar of Dymchurch and Dean of Peculiars.
Syn is rejoined by Mr. Mipps, who has arranged yet another convenient powder-hold accident on the Imogene. Mipps becomes the church sexton and the coffin maker for the town.
Mipps becomes involved in the local smuggling business. When his activities attract too much attention from the authorities, Syn steps in. He decides that the only way to protect his parishioners from the hangman's noose is to organize them so well that they will never be caught. Adopting the masked identity of the Scarecrow he becomes adept at foiling the King's men at every turn.
A baby girl named Imogene is born to Black Nick and Imogene Syn, who have returned to England. (Doctor Syn will later invent a story that little Imogene is actually the daughter of Captain Clegg and a Mayan princess.)
Charlotte Cobtree, who has fallen in love with Dr. Syn, dies saving the Scarecrow from the King's men. Her death nearly shatters Syn's grip on sanity, but he manages to recover.
Dr. Syn finds Imogene on her deathbed and forgives her before she dies. She also tells him that he is the true father of her son, and that Tappitt left the lad somewhere in America. (At the novel's end Syn dispatches Shuhshuhgah to America to try and locate the youth, but neither is heard from in the series again.)
Black Nick is arrested and hanged. Before his death he confesses to being Clegg the pirate in return for Syn's promise to care for his daughter Imogene.
Events of Further Adventures of Dr. Syn
The story begins on a "...wet and sild November night." Dr. Syn is now thoroughly committed to his dual life as the kindly Vicar of Dymchurch and the mysterious Scarecrow.
Maria Cobtree marries a French aristocrat and moves to Paris. (This date is speculative.)
Events of Courageous Exploits of Dr. Syn
The Scarecrow's career reaches a swashbuckling high as he thwarts the King's Revenue, the British Navy, and the Prince of Wales himself.
Dr. Syn is a member of the first League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Events of Amazing Quest of Dr. Syn
A lawyer and a tontine involve Doctor Syn in an adventure that takes him to Wales to contend with a rival smuggler named Dolgenny.
(We are told early in the story that the year is 1780, but internal evidence makes this impossible. Dennis Cobtree's age is given as 17, and a difficult schoolboy named Jerry Jerk makes an appearance. Jerry is only 12 in Doctor Syn and could not yet have been born in 1780. The date of 1790 works so well here that I assume "1780" to be a typo.)
The French Revolution begins. Maria and her aristocratic husband are in constant danger living in Paris. Their will eventually be jailed and he will be executed by the revolutionaries.
Events of Shadow of Dr. Syn
Cicily Cobtree and the Scarecrow rescue Maria from the Reign of Terror. Monsieur L'Epouvantail (as the Scarecrow is known in France) manages to thwart both the British Revenue agents and the efforts of Robespierre in this adventure. The only person he cannot outwit is Cicily Cobtree, who has fallen in love with him and discovered his secret. Sadly, like her sister before her, Cicily dies while saving the Scarecrow from a trap. When Cicily dies Syn nearly loses his sanity for the third time in his life.
Events of Dr. Syn
In Captain Collyer the Scarecrow finally meets his match. Not only is the Captain clever enough to discern that Syn is both the scarecrow and the nefarious Captain Clegg, he also has working for him the Cuban mulatto who Syn and Mipps have long believed dead. The story ends with Syn dead at the hands of the mulatto and the Romney marsh smugglers shattered.
It is a very different Syn who appears in this story, less cunning and far more blood-thirsty. Though the last in the series, this was chronologically the first book to be written. It may be that Syn's biographer, Russell Thorndike, relied on more sensational sources which made his subject out to be more of a villain than he really was. It may also be that this is a wholly accurate account of Syn's final days, and that the death of Cicily really was the final blow his sanity could endure.
The book presents us with several historical impossibilities. Thorndike tells that the only thing that saved the Romney Marsh smugglers from execution was that captain Collyer was called away by the onset of the Napoleonic wars the day after Syn's death. When Collyer died in the war, the secret of the smugglers died with him in 1791. Unfortunately the source material is too badly corrupted to be certain.
Imogene, who has been raised as Syn's adopted daughter, marries young Dennis Cobtree. (Imogene gives her age in Doctor Syn as "Sixteen, or perhaps seventeen..." and Dennis is described as being "...eighteen summers." old. If the Doctor Syn were actually set in 1794 then Dennis would be 21 and Imogene would be 19. While this is not a perfect solution, is is much better than the 1802 date, which would make them 29 and 27 years old.)
Captain Collyer is killed in action at the Battle of Trafalgar. Whatever he had learned about the Romney Marsh smugglers dies with him.
Mr. Mipps, having escaped Captain Collier and fled England, has become a person of some importance in a Buddhist Monastery above the city of Poyang. There he delights the monks with his eerie stories of the Romney Marsh and the mysterious Scarecrow and his night riders.
As a last practical joke, Mipps sends a letter to Collyer to set him on a futile quest for a non-existent treasure. Unfortunately, the letter doesn't reach England until after Collyer's death and goes unread for a century.
The events of The Slype
Some residents of the city of Dullchester find Mr. Mipps' letter and engage in their own treasure hunt until they discover it is a fraud. (Rick Lai writes: "The Slype involves a murder which occurred before World War I, but the murder is revealed decades later by a stained glass painting in a church. The painting is supposed to be a "war memorial." Various references in the novel indicate that the war was World War I, but the most unambiguous reference is on the last page (chap. 46, p. 330) which mentions the memorial in the context of "the Great War." The novel takes place in December as shown by the celebration of Christmas in the penultimate chapter (chap. 45). December 15 falls on a Saturday (chap. 42, p. 278), which indicates that the year is 1923.")
BACK TO CHRONOLOGY CENTRAL
In 1962, Captain Clegg (known as Night Creatures in the U. S.) was produced by Hammer Film Productions with actor Peter Cushing in the lead role, directed by Peter Graham Scott. In the screenplay by Anthony Hinds, the main character's name was changed from Doctor Syn to Parson Blyss to avoid rights problems with Disney's upcoming film version, and Captain Clegg's screenplay follows the novel Doctor Syn and the screenplay of the 1937 film closely with the exception of a tightening of the plot. In the Arliss movie Doctor Syn, Syn escapes to sea with Mipps and the rest of the Dymchurch smugglers, whereas Captain Clegg ends more faithfully to the novel, with Parson Blyss being killed by the mulatto (who is then killed by Mipps) and then being carried to and buried in Captain Clegg's empty grave by Mipps. Night Creatures was never released on videotape in the United States, but is included in the two-disc DVD collection The Hammer Horror Series.
Patrick McGoohan stars as Dr. Syn, a priest by day and a pirate called Scarecrow ala Robin Hood, at night. Will the Kings men ever catch him? He seems to have one close call after another but its always exciting and full of action, suspense and adventure.
"On the southern coast of England/There’s a legend people tell/Of days long ago when the great Scarecrow/Would ride from the jaws of hell/And laugh with a fiendish yell." Okay, it may not be as catchy as "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," but anyone who was glued to their TV sets in 1964 to watch the continuing adventures and heroic exploits of Dr. Syn on the Disney anthology series, The Wonderful World of Color, should feel a shiver of excitement that goes beyond mere nostalgia at hearing this theme song again. Dr. Syn," which was based on British novels and legends explained on a fascinating documentary also included on disc one, is a Robin Hood or Zorro of sorts. But the difference is that Dr. Syn is a highly respected minister who completely fools the pompous bad guys. Yet, in this three-part series, the villains are fleshed out and not caricatured. The dignity and seriousness of the drama holds up beautifully today without the slightest sense of cliché. This Disney classic was based on the novel "Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh" written by Russell Thorndike and premiered on the TV Show World of Disney in 1963. This three part series was later edited as a movie and released theatrically six years later. Both the original three part series as well as the theatrical movie are included here. Essentially an updated Robin Hood style tale set in the 1700s it's a great family movie. While it is a bit dated now compared to other swashbuckling summer blockbusters (after all, it was made for TV originally) it offers a simple moral story and excellent acting, especially by Patrick McGoohan, who plays the title role. I loved this show as a kid, and it's well worth revisiting, young and old.
Old-fashioned to be sure, but The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh is still a ripping yarn and rousing family entertainment with its unforgettable hero, despicable villain, galloping chases and breathless escapes. Grandly produced in England, this three-part miniseries is "a story of high adventure and heart," as Walt Disney states in his folksy and avuncular episode introductions. Patrick McGoohan (known at the time for his iconic role as John Drake on Danger Man) stars as Dr. Syn, who leads a double life as a mild-mannered village vicar by day, and a fearsome avenger known as the Scarecrow by night. The haunting burlap-masked Scarecrow is a folk hero to the villagers, who are overtaxed by King George III, and brutalized by his press-gangs, who violently shanghai men into Navy service. Only two know the Scarecrow’s true identity, his sexton Mipps (George Cole), and the local Justice of the Peace’s son, John (Sean Scully, from Disney’s The Prince and the Pauper). There is a love story between John’s older sister and conflicted and compassionate English soldier Lt. Brackenbury (Eric Flynn), but it doesn’t slow things down or get too yucky. Over the course of three near-hour-long episodes, the Scarecrow foils attempts by his nemesis, General Pugh (Geoffrey Keen) to capture him, or intimidate villagers into giving him up. Leonard Maltin does his usual sterling job as enthusiastic host, who introduces the series, reflects on its place in the Disney canon, and credits the restoration efforts that made this pristine presentation possible. This two-disc set presents the miniseries as it originally aired, and also includes the widescreen feature film version that was released overseas. Disc one contains an interesting featurette about Dr. Syn’s historical and literary origins. Disc two features a segment about the British films that launched Disney’s live-action feature film career. This welcome addition to theWalt Disney Treasures line does full justice to one of Disney’s most wanted titles.
Another version, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, was produced as a three-part television film in color by Walt Disney in 1963, a miniseries before the term was ever coined. It starred Patrick McGoohan of Danger Man/Secret Agent and The Prisoner fame in the title role and was directed by James Neilson. McGoohan was almost completely unknown in the United States at the time; Secret Agent had not yet become a success on American television. While originally conceived and edited for American television (and announced in an advertisement by NBC in the Tuesday, July 9, 1963 issue of The Hollywood Reporter), The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was re-edited for a British theatrical run before the American television debut. Titled Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow, the British theatrical version was released on a double bill with The Sword in the Stone, and ran during the 1963 Christmas season (advertised in the January 1964 issue of Photoplay). This version was shown in Europe as well as Central and South America through 1966.
In the 1970s, the production was re-edited again for its first American theatrical release, on double bills with both Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Treasure Island. (The VHS version of the 1980s, sharing the removal of the Scarecrow's laugh from Terry Gilkyson's title song, was expanded to include the story material from all three TV episodes, while retaining feature film structure and credits; it was available for a relatively short amount of time.) Shortly after the US theatrical run, it was re-edited yet again for a two-part presentation on Disney's television series in the 1970s, simply omitting the middle segment. The original three-part miniseries version was first shown on Disney's Wonderful World Of Color, February 9, 16 and 23, 1964, and shown again there a few times, included in a late 1980s Wonderful World of Disney syndicated rerun package, and cablecast in 1990s on the Disney Channel. This version generally followed the storyline of The Further Adventures of Dr. Syn and made it clear that Syn did not die or stage his own death: at film's end, he is having a cup of tea with the Squire, who admits to now owing a debt of gratitude to the Scarecrow.
On November 11, 2008 The Walt Disney Company released a limited pressing of 39,500 issues of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh in DVD format for the first time as a part of the Disney Treasurescollection, and was now called Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. The issue sold out in three weeks, but as of February 17, 2009 the DVD was made available for members of the Disney movie club for $29.95. The two-disc set includes the American television version and the theatrical version Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow in widescreen format. It also includes the original introductions by Walt Disney (in which he erroneously indicates that Dr. Syn was an actual historical figure) and a documentary on Disney's interest in the property. The Disney version was shot on location in England. The church in the movie is St Clement's Church in the village of Old Romney, which was restored by the film company.
Laughton is a highly apted contortionist and is extremely flexible and agile due to heavy training. The Scarecrow is double-jointed and can fit his body through any aperture at least one foot wide. He is therefore able to escape from conventional locks and chains, and to perform various acrobatic stunts. Scarecrow is also a trained acrobat, escapologist and tumbler. He is also a master at training birds. He often carries a pitchfork as a weapon.
He has a flock of two dozen pet crows, which he has taught to perform a variety of actions in response to his hand gestures and tones of voice. At his command, the crows will attack and kill the victims he designates. The crows have been trained to attack anyone who rushes at the Scarecrow or points a gun at him. They are trained to carry off jewels, valuables, and anything else at which the Scarecrow points.
As a result of surgical implants given to him by doctors employed by the Firm, the Scarecrow's body produces a mutated pheromone that affects the adrenal glands of people and higher animals (even crows) within twenty feet of him, causing a sensory overload which triggers a panic attack. The same pheromone affects the Scarecrow's own adrenal system, giving him superhuman strength and stamina.
When the Scarecrow was raised from the dead by the sorcerer Stern, he was able to induce fear in his victims, and could survive and quickly recover from any injury he sustained when in the presence in the fear of others, even injuries that would be fatal to normal human beings.
The Scarecrow uses a substance called "Fear Gas" to cause his victims to hallucinate that their phobias have come to life. He wears his Scarecrow mask to enhance the effect of the hallucinogen (instilling fear in all who see him) as well as to avoid being poisoned by his own toxin. Although not physically intimidating, Scarecrow is adept in physical combat, using a style called "violent dancing", based partly on the crane style of kung fu and on drunken boxing.
The Scarecrow is an expert in psychology, with a focus on fear, and is a former certified professor on the subject. Due to prolonged exposure to his own gas, Scarecrow went from being frightened of bats to only being frightened of Batman. Scarecrow is both addicted to fear and incapable of fearing anything except Batman, whom he compulsively seeks in order to ease his addiction after the Caped Crusader's apparent death. Scarecrow is chosen as a bearer of the twin of Sinestro's yellow ring as a temporary Corpsman, giving him the powers of a member of the Sinestro Corps.
The Scarecrow at times wields a scythe which he uses in addition to his "violent dancing". Scarecrow also uses a hand-held fear gas sprayer in the shape of a human skull, straws which he leaves as a calling card, special straws which can be snapped in half to release a fear toxin (as seen in Batman: Hush), stuffed scarecrows which scare his victims, and a Sinestro Corps ring (as seen in the Blackest Night mini-series). In the video game Batman: Arkham Asylum, he has needles strapped to each of his fingers on his right hand with which he injects fear toxins into his victim.
The character and look of The Dark Skarecrow gradually evolved over his lengthy fictional existence:
As depicted in the pulps, The Dark Skarecrow wore a wide brimmed black hat and a black, crimson-lined cloak with an upturned collar over a standard black business suit. In the 1940s comic books, the later comic book series, and the 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin, he wore either the black hat or a wide-brimmed, black fedora and a crimson scarf just below his nose and across his mouth and chin. Both the cloak and scarf covered either a black doubled-breasted trench coat or regular black suit. As seen in some of the later comics series, the hat and scarf would also be worn with either a black Inverness coat or Inverness cape.
The Dark Skarecrow was an invisible avenger who had learned, while "traveling through East Asia," "the mysterious power to cloud men's minds, so they could not see him." This feature of the character was born out of necessity: time constraints of 1930s radio made it difficult to explain to listeners where The Dark Skarecrow was hiding and how he was remaining concealed. Thus, the character was given the power to escape human sight. Voice effects were added to suggest The Dark Skarecrow 's seeming omnipresence. In order to explain this power, The Dark Skarecrow was described as a master of hypnotism, as explicitly stated in several radio episodes.