“What league am I talking about?” you ask.
None other than “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”
The 2003 movie was a seminal event in my reading life and with the announcement of a reboot in the works, I thought I’d take the time to revisit 13-year-old me.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore (and the these are most definitely not for children), the movie brings together seven 19th century superheroes (and one supervillian) for some Victorian high adventure.
I say superheroes because they were re-imagined as a sort of Justice League of the 19th century, but really they’re just ass-kicking protagonists from some of the best known novels of the age: There is the grumpy African adventurer and big game hunter Allan Quartermain, an invisible man named Skinner, Captain Nemo with his submarine, a snarky Dorian Gray, and both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The sole woman of the group, Wilhelmina Harker had some bad luck in Transylvania and the American entry is an over-his-head Tom Sawyer.
I didn’t know until researching this column that the original movie was widely panned by critics (and those of my friends that were adults at the time), but 13-year-old me wasn’t a terribly discerning audience and I loved it.
More than loved, I was obsessed with it. I spent one long, 8th-grade history class designing a fully operational sequel with my friend Stephanie. If I had known they were going to reboot it, I would have written down our ideas and sent them to Fox.
The best part of the movie was that it got me to read all the books. And I wasn’t the only one to do this. During freshmen bonding with my college roommate, I discovered she had done the exact same thing.
It was only after seeing this movie that I became really interested in reading the classics. Actual diary entries from the time period include the review: “Tom Sawyer is a good book” (Feb. 18, 2004) and the observation “I like classics.” (Oct. 3, 2004) shortly after purchasing a copy of “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” You can really see the young Rainy Day Reads columnist taking shape here.
“Twenty Thousand Leagues,” “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” and “Dracula” were some of the first Victorian novels that I read and remain some of my favorites.
Without the movie, and Sean Connery’s performance, I may never have discovered Allan Quartermain and H. Rider Haggard and my life would have been poorer for it. Without the more literary ambitions of some of the other novels, “King Solomon’s Mines” ends up be ridiculously good fun for an 1885 debut.
Full disclosure: I gave up on “Dorian Gray” and I never read the specific Sherlock Holmes where Moriarity makes his appearance in (Wikipedia not being as in vogue then, I started at the beginning of a 1,000-page “Complete Sherlock Holmes” volume and hoped he’d show up before I got bored), but I still was very thorough about the reading list. I wanted to read them all, because of the movie.
So my advice to you, if you or your children struggle to find joy in the classics, watch “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” It is proof that old books can be fun and that Victorian literature had characters every bit as exciting as Iron Man or Thor.
And if you happen to have a complete set of the original novels on hand, so much the better for you.
Read the books:
Allan Quartermain — “King Solomon’s Mines”(1885) by H. Rider Haggard.
“The Invisible Man” (1897) by H. G. Wells,
Captain Nemo — “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (1870) by Jules Verne.
“The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson.
“The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1890) by Oscar Wilde.
Wilhelmina Harker — “Dracula” (1897) by Bram Stoker.
“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876) by Mark Twain.
James Moriarity — “The Adventure of the Final Problem” (1893) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
NOT FOR CHILDREN — “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” several volumes by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill.