Comment on Dr Syn

hopefully this section will grow, just send me anything and I'll add it here.

first up Michael's thoughts.

Dear People, I found your web site about Dr. Syn. I think it is excellent. Although I would love to see stills from the film adaptation starring Patrick McGoohan. I saw that film when it was first aired on tv and loved it. I read the comic book of it when I was a kid. Alas I don't have the comic anymore. About a year ago I found a copy of the paperback of the Disney novelization of the movie. It is a good book for small children. I managed to read the William Buchannan book and the original Thorndike books by borrowing them through an interlibrary loan when I was attending the university here in Sacramento, California. I had to persevere to do this. The books are very rare and had to be borrowed from across the country. The Buchannan book is very good. It is the book that the Disney movie was based on. His writing style is, in my opinion, more interesting than Thorndike's. I wonder why the young woman who rides with the Scarecrow in the book was given a passive role in the Disney movie. Perhaps McGoohan was uncomfortable with the romantic side of Dr. Syn. Thorndike's books, except for the first Dr. Syn novel, disappointed me. They did not hold my attention. The plots, the characters, the settings were great. But the author's writing style did not hold me. Maybe because I had to read these books in a hurry because I had to return them to the library quickly I just didn't have time to read them slowly and enjoy them in a gentle way. I was trying to read these books while coping with the tension of attending the university. I think I was expecting something gripping like the Hornblower novels, too. I read one of the Hornblower books out of curiosity. Until then I had assumed I would not like them. But the author's writing kept me interested > in the characters. There was something in these books that was missing from the Dr. Syn books. But please don't feel I am trying to rain on anyone's parade. If someone enjoys these books I think that is great! I saw the first movie adaptation of Dr. Syn starring George Arliss. That was very good although the video was made from a damaged print of the film. Arliss seems to be a small man with a personality that makes him seem taller. When he talks to his fellow smugglers in that cellar and later, at the end, in court, he asks the villagers to remember how he found them and what he has done for them, Arliss really seems like he has the authority of a great leader. Syn, the captain who is stalking him, and the boy who wants to be a hangman when he grows up come across as real people. Well, take care! > Sincerely, Michael

then Hal's

Hi! Last night i saw the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh on the Disney
Channel. It was the first time I have seen the series since I was a
much younger person (I'm currently 51). There is something about the
series and other heroes that were told by Disney that I regret have gone
by the wayside. I mean of course, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene
Autry, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, etc. The Scarecrow as presented by
Disney is certainly among them. I feel sorry for the kids today who
have been deprived of these characters both real and fiction. The idea
that a person would rise up for what is right and oppose wrong is sadly
missing in our modern society.
I decided to do a search on Christopher Syn and discovered your
site. You have done a great job with it. I read with interest what
James Mason wrote. I'm assuming it was the actor (one of my
favorites). By the way I think I also have the 45 of the title song to
the Disney show put away somewhere. Like you I have no way of playing it
even if I found it. Such is the way of technology. Walt Disney brought
to life many of the characters and people who helped shape my childhood
ideas of how the world ought to be, standing for right, defending the
helpless, ... I for one miss him.
Thank you for our time and effort.



The brilliant TIMELINE by Matthew Baugh

The Life and Times of the Rev. Doctor Christopher Syn, Parson, Smuggler, and Sometime Pirate
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 Dymchurch-Under-the-Wall, in the county of Kent, near the Romney Marsh.

April 6
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" Tappett, 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 Tappett, 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 Tappett, 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 "Sulpher 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 Tappett 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 Sulpher 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 Tappett 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 Tappett and Imogene. He learns that Tappett 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 Tappett 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

November 13
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 Tappett 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.)

October 21
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.

December 1923
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.")

The Life and Times of Doctor Syn was created for the sole purposes of entertainment and information. All rights reserved. The text of this page is © 2000-2001 by the author, Matthew Baugh. The design of this page is © 2000-2001 by Win Eckert.

CHRISTOPHER SYN – A Review by Jon Older

As collectors of Dr.Syn novels will know, next to “The Scarecrow Rides” by Russell Thorndike, “Christopher Syn” is one of the rarest of titles. It’s taken me the best part of 25 years to acquire a copy. One can probably attribute this to a small print run in the first instance and indeed most copies that come up for sale today seem to be ex-library editions (the Houston Community Library in my case). The novel, as issued in hardcover by New York publishers Abelard & Schuman in 1960 in an original dustjacket design by Harry Horner, is credited as being “by Russell Thorndike and William Buchanan.” Thorndike in fact had nothing to do with the writing of “Christopher Syn” but the text is largely based on Thorndike’s previously published 1936 novel “The Further Adventures of Dr.Syn”, and was itself the basis for the 3-part 1963 Walt Disney TV series “Dr.Syn-Alias The Scarecrow” starring Patrick McGoohan in the title role, which was re-edited and released in the UK as a feature film. (Disney also purchased the television rights to all the Thorndike characters in perpetuity to protect themselves; I know this because I tried to buy them myself about 10 years ago!) In spirit Buchanan’s book is very close to the Disney version, especially in its treatment of the Dr.Syn character.

The text itself is something of a disappointment, beginning as it does with a largely irrelevant introduction by the late actor James Mason. Buchanan’s writing is engaging enough and he does manage to capture elements of Thorndike’s style, but it is hard to see why Buchanan chose to simply re-write one of Thorndike’s previous books rather than contributing a wholly original story to the cannon. Certain characters are retained from the series – Mipps and Mrs.Waggets for example – and are reasonably consistent with Thorndike’s originals, while others are omitted and/or replaced by needless cyphers. Thorndike’s Anthony Cobtree, Squire of Dymchurch and highwayman Jimmy Bone are both sorely missed and their absence becomes more irritating as the book progresses as the process seems wholly arbitrary and adds nothing significant to the concept. The structure of the book is also very incidental (a charge which can equally be levelled at a couple of the Thorndike books) with a series of disparate adventures taking place one after the other rather than unfolding along a strong narrative plotline, which Thorndike does manage very successfully with “Dr.Syn on the High Seas”(1936) and “The Amazing Quest of Dr.Syn” (1938)
What is seriously lacking from Buchanan’s book is the darkness of the Christopher Syn character that Thorndike explores in his novels. Almost nobody gets hurt in this book (which is presumably what Disney liked about it). Compare the treatment of the same scene in both books, where Syn decides to make an example of a traitor by hanging him tied to a chair in front of the townspeople of Dymchurch. In Thorndike’s version the villain Hugh Brazlett is dispatched without compunction by The Scarecrow, but in Buchanan’s novel the victim (unaccountably the schoolmaster Mr.Rash) is let off by a sleight of hand trick with the knot – as portrayed in the Disney film version. With the following exchange, Buchanan completely glosses over the good doctor’s infamous past as the terrible pirate Captain Clegg, making him seem like a weekend sailor conducting pleasure cruises around the Caribbean:
“I look at you, my old master carpenter” continued the vicar “always remembering the days when you and I stood together a thousand times, and I’m grateful”
“Referrin’ to the days when we sailed the seven seas. Eh,Vicar?” And that’s it! It’s a serious flaw in the characterisation. Whereas Thorndike’s Clegg is a vital, but deadly figure, capable of and dealing out death to his enemies, and marooning his foes at the drop of a (three-cornered) hat, Buchanan’s version of the vicar is much more one-dimensional and far less dangerous – definitely not the dashing, darkly romantic anti-hero of the source books. On the plus side, considering that Buchanan was born in Illinois in the Midwestern USA and had never visited Romney Marsh, Kent or Dymchurch at the time of writing, he does manage to evoke the fictional landscape of the Dr.Syn books very well, and his characters never seem out of place within it. In many ways, the disappointments of the book are akin to reading the 7 Thorndike novels in narrative order and coming upon the final book “Dr.Syn” last – which, being the first one written in 1915, seems to suddenly jettison many of the on-going characters introduced in the subsequent books. Indeed, for my money, “Dr.Syn” is the least enjoyable of Thorndike’s novels for that reason.