Posted by: Mark | June 22, 2014

Spurs

Approximately 100 years ago, Tod Robbins wrote the short story “Spurs” which was loosely adapted into Freaks.

I’ve watched Freaks dozens of times but never checked out “Spurs.” I finally did yesterday.

A couple of things struck me:

The story is told ab ova (artsy talk for “from the beginning”). Freaks uses a frame story that gives it more of an uncertain feel, like a story you overheard in a bar, possibly true, possibly fake.

Jacques, the protagonist of “Spurs,” is nothing like the film freaks. He’s delusional and full of hate to normal people and fellow freaks. He hits on Jeanne Marie, the full-sized woman corresponding to Cleo in the movie, like Pepe Le Pew. Hans, his counterpart in Freaks, comes across as a sucker but I’ve always felt sorry for him. Jacques just seemed like an idiot.

There was no “one of us” to “Spurs.” Not the slightest bit of camaraderie existed among the freaks of print. Jacques hates the other freaks and they hate him.

Jeanne Marie is a horse-back rider, not a trapeze artist. I guess in 1923, a horse-back rider seemed more exciting. Maybe it’s just the Dick Grayson effect, but the trapeze seems to have aged better.

Jacques rides around on the back of a dog. The dog hates the woman Jacques marries and helps kill her ex-lover. It’s one of the least sympathetic dogs in literature.

“These pygmies died young!” Jeanne Marie had no plan to murder Jacques (unless she had to). This made Cleo much more of a villain. 

The freaks in the story include Griffo the Giraffe boy – a spotted freak with an incredibly long neck; M. Hercule Hippo – a giant; and Mlle. Lupa – a wolf woman. They all dislike each other and fight at the wedding reception. The non-freaks had to separate them or Griffo would have been killed.

The story ends with Jeanne Marie forced to carry Jacques on her shoulders as the horsey-back ride from Hell. Cleo does carry Hans in the movie but to a much shorter, less important extent.

It reads a bit more modern than Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist” or London’s “The Leopard Man’s Story.” It was written after the other two but it comes across as something I’d feel comfortable giving to students (and not expecting quite as much whining).

Everybody who sees Freaks remembers the “One of Us” chant. There’s really not so much that stick to my memory about “Spurs.”

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