Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jack of the Month: Jack Dawkins aka "Artful Dodger"

Brian and I like to read books out loud to each other, and we are currently reading Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.  Of course we are already familiar with the tale—who isn’t?—but we’ve never actually read the book.  So far it has been a ton of fun to hear Brian read with all of the characters’ British or Cockney accents.  My attempt at doing accents is really pathetic, so I’ve been letting Brian do all of the reading this time.  Normally we alternate chapters, but he’s just so good!!

So Brian was reading while we were sitting in our bed at the hotel in Los Angeles, and when the character of the Artful Dodger was introduced, it mentioned that his real name was Jack Dawkins.  I don’t think I ever knew that before, and I was very excited that his name was Jack.  I thought immediately, “He can be the next Jack of the Month!” 

Jack Dawkins, better known for his nickname the Artful Dodger, is sort of the leader of Fagin’s gang of young pickpockets.  His nickname comes from his ability to dodge from trouble in creative ways.  When he meets the innocent orphan boy Oliver on the streets of London, he takes him under his wing and helps him learn the tricks of his trade.  Dodger’s sort of like Oliver’s best friend, except for he quickly abandons him when Oliver is mistakenly accused of stealing.  That bad karma comes back to Dodger, however, because he is eventually convicted of stealing a snuffbox and is sent away!

This is how Dickens describes the character.
He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough; and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see; but he had about him all the airs and manners of a man.  He was short of his age: with rather bow-legs, and little, sharp, ugly eyes.  His hat was stuck on the top of his head so lightly, that it threatened to fall off every moment…  He was, altogether, as roystering and swaggering a young gentleman as ever stood four feet six, or something less…
Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger in the movie Oliver!
Notice Dickens never specifies that he wears a top hat, although he’s almost always depicted with one.  Some say that it has to do with George Cruikshank’s illustrations for the original edition, and everyone else has followed suit.  Just a little tidbit I uncovered while researching this.  Thought you might like to know!

The character of the Artful Dodger has appeared in several movie adaptations of the novel, and has been played by many actors.  The character was even turned into an animated dog in Disney’s Oliver and Company and voiced by singer Billy Joel.  But the most popular Dodger—and my favorite—would probably have to be actor Jack Wild’s portrayal in the 1968 Oliver! which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  The film, which is based on the musical, won Best Picture that year and is one of my favorite movies.  It’s better than the stage version in my opinion, and far better than the newer 2005 Oliver Twist by director Roman Polanski.

The Artful Dodger was once a British television show, there are two bands—one from the U.S. and one from the U.K.—both named Artful Dodger, Escape of the Artful Dodger was once a children’s show in Australia, and people often use the name to refer to someone who avoids responsibility or even when talking about the Dodgers baseball team.   Clearly, Charles Dickens’ character of Jack Dawkins/Artful Dodger has made quite an impact on the world, even today over 170 years after the novel was written.  You just can’t help but love that little scoundrel!

Source for this article:  Wikipedia

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