Dr. Syn, the Scarecrow
Real Name: Christopher Syn
Identity/Class: Normal human
Affiliations: Curlew (Jenny Banks, sidekick - see notes); Hellspite (Sexton Mipps - see notes)
Enemies: The King's Revenuers
Known Relatives: None.
Aliases: Captain Clegg
Base of Operations: Dymchurch-Under-The-Wall, Kent, England
First Appearance: Doctor Syn (1915)
Powers/Abilities: A good horseman and pistol shot. His main ability are his quick wits and keen intellect.
History: "Doctor Christopher 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.
He assumed the identity of the soon infamous pirate Captain Clegg, and roamed the seas for many years. Eventually he returned to England and the little town of Dymchurch-Under-the-Wall (a coastal village on Romney Marsh in the county of Kent, Southern England), where he became the vicar. But his past would not let him go. He learned 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, and with his faithful church sexton and ex-pirate colleague Mr. Mipps, he led the smugglers who made up of 'The Men of the Marsh'. By day Dr. Syn was a respectable vicar, by night he was the 'Scarecrow', the much feared and admired head of the smugglers.
Ironically, it may be in the masked Scarecrow that Syn truly was able to be himself. This persona finally allowed him to combine the compassion of the clergyman with the cunning and the swashbuckling style of the pirate captain."
- from The Life and Times of the Rev. Doctor Christopher Syn, Parson, Smuggler, and Sometime Pirate by Matthew Baugh
Comments: Created by Russell Thorndike, the Reverend Dr. Syn appeared in "Doctor Syn On The High Seas", "Doctor Syn Returns", "The Further Adventures Of Doctor Syn", "The Courageous Exploits Of Doctor Syn", "The Amazing Quest Of Doctor Syn", "The Shadow Of Doctor Syn" and "Doctor Syn".
There have been 3 films made with the Doctor Syn character. Probably the best known is the Walt Disney film made of the character which starred Patrick McGoohan in the title role, known either as "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" or "Dr Syn, Alias the Scarecrow". However the first one, called "Doctor Syn", was produced in 1937 and starred George Arliss and Margaret Lockwood and another was released in 1962 by Hammer Horror called "Captain Clegg" or in the US "Night Creatures" starring Peter Cushing. Strangley though in this the Vicar's name is Dr Blyss but the whole pirate / smuggler story is the same including the use of the all the other character's names. The change may have been down to a copyright issue, although this is uncertain. Thanks to "Gehenna" for correcting my spelling of Russell Thorndike's name, and informing me of the other two Scarecrow movies.
There is an excellent site devoted to producing quality images of Dr Syn, located at www.synpromotions.co.uk - the beautiful full length portrait of The Scarecrow astride his steed is from their site, and used with their permission (i.e. please don't steal it for use elsewhere without asking them first). Another, very detailed Dr.Syn page is available at www.drsyn.com and is well worth checking out if you want more details on the character; alternatively check out the excellent http://homepages.tesco.net/~davyo/drsyn.htm. There is also an in-depth site devoted to the Disney movie version, replete with dozens of excellent images from same, located at Tom Hering's Walt Disney's The Scarecrow site. Another site with Syn artwork is located here.
David Ramzan sent me the above image of Syn, painted for the 'Day of Syn' Dymchurch festival a few years ago. In it you can see various aspects of Syn's life, such as his church and ship, and also his sidekicks Curlew and Hellspite. Copies of it are available to buy from his website, www.arenaart.com
Dr. Syn has also made it into comics. The Disney movie received a three part Gold Key adaptation in 1964, and more recently, in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen we can see from a portrait that Dr Syn was a member of the 18th Century League, alongside the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Pimpernel's wife, Lemuel Gulliver (Gulliver's Travels), Natty Bumpo (Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans) and Fanny Hill. A similar portrait, minus the ladies, is visible in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film.
Matthew Baugh, whose own website on the character is quoted in the history above, notes in regards to Syn's sidekicks that "Russell Thorndike never gave Mipps a first name. He was always "Mr. Mipps" in the original stories, I believe 'Dimity' was the invention of William Buchanan when he wrote Christopher Syn (which was a reworking of Thorndike's Further Adventures of Dr.Syn). Buchannan also invented Squire Banks (a cross between two Thorndike characters, Squire Tony Cobtree and the Lord of Lympne) and his daughter Jenny. Jenny seems to be inspired by two characters from the Thorndike books also, Charlotte Cobtree and Cicily Cobtree, each of whom impersonated the Scarecrow in different adventures. In Christopher Syn it is Jenny Banks who takes the identity of Curlew. When Disney used Christopher Syn as the basis for their movie they saw fit to remove the element of romance and transformed Jenny into a new character named John."
There is also a small mention of the Disney film on a French site, Le Mystérieux docteur Syn.
CLARIFICATIONS: Not to be confused with
Any Additions/Corrections? Please let me know.
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