Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In The True History of the Elephant Man, Michael Howell and Peter Ford have composed a work that incorporates a biography with a medical summary of the man known throughout England as the “Elephant Man.” Little is known about Joseph (or John) Merrick, who was born in 1862 or 1863 and who died in 1889 or 1890. It is now known, however, that he suffered from a disorder called neurofibromatosis, or von Recklinghausen’s syndrome. This hereditary disease causes soft tumors to form throughout the body and, in severe cases such as Merrick’s, a progressive, debilitating curvature of the spine.

Howell and Ford tell the story of the Elephant Man in twelve chapters. The biography details Merrick’s life from his early childhood in Leicester, England, through his “career” as a freak in the sideshows of Tom Norman and Sam Torr, to his death at the London Hospital. The young adult reader is introduced to the world of industrialized Victorian England and to the frustrations and heartaches of a young man who seemed destined to live his life either in workhouses or as an exhibition in freak shows. The reader is gradually shown the personality that lay beneath the physical deformities.

The authors describe how Merrick was finally saved from these horrible fates by the kindness of some of those around him, especially Sir Frederick Treves. Treves was a prominent surgeon at the London Hospital who befriended this young man and tried to aid...

(The entire section is 534 words.)