“The Pursuit and Escape” is what Dickens titles chapter L of Oliver Twist. Have you reached this chapter yet, readers? If not… consider this a spoiler alert and come back to this post when you’ve finished the chapter.
You’re done already? Wow, you are fast readers.
Chapter L is the chapter where Bill Sikes flees to the “house” on Jacob’s Island. The angry crowd finds him there. He plans to escape off the roof using a rope.
“At the very instant when he brought the loop over his head previous to slipping it beneath his arm-pits…”
You remember what comes next: Sikes’ accidental hanging. This is almost as gruesome as Nancy’s death.
Let me show you the original illustrator’s depiction of this chapter. George Cruikshank called it “The Last Chance”. We see Sikes on the roof with his dog. If we look closely, we can see a few faces in the windows of the nearby houses.
This is the picture from the same chapter in the Great Illustrated Classics version. Illustrator Ric Estrada also shows Sikes and the dog on the roof with the rope, but he chose the perspective of the crowd on the ground.
I almost didn’t include the next illustration. In fact, I purposefully left the size small because I found it so disturbing. It comes from the Bullseye Step Into Classics series. For this children’s adaptation of Oliver Twist, Jean Zallinger was the illustrator. Zallinger decided to focus on the moment after Sikes was haunted by “the eyes” and fell to his death. If you can ignore the body (which I’m not sure is possible), I rather like the horror depicted on the faces of what used to be a blood-thirsty crowd and is now a traumatized group of people. Unlike Dickens’ original story, Oliver witnesses Sikes’ death in this version. Quickly skimming the text, I found that there were lots of changes made to condense the story.
I am sure Dickens had his reasons for destroying Sikes in this particular way. Just as I’m sure each of the illustrators had their reasons for depicting the scene in their own ways.
I am particularly disturbed by the last illustration: both for its content and for the children who were meant to view it. This book is a beginner chapter book. Amazon has this title listed for children in grade one and up.
But as the topics of our classic novels get darker, I’m going to be more cautious when I scout out children’s copies.
Fellow readers with children, how do you feel about versions of classic works made for kids?